Used to be you could call yourself a movie star when you saw your name “in lights.” Of course, these days you don’t much see actors’ names on the marquee…even when there is a marquee. Maybe it was fair to say you’d truly made it when you got your name “above the title”—but is that really a fair assessment today…or do you have to get your own “character” poster to know you’ve hit the big time?
Then again, when this is where the “character poster” has gone…can it still be said there’s anything that special about this particular honor?
No, it’s time for a new criterion to be established to separate the greats from the wannabes. Let’s make it impossible from here on out to call yourself any kind of a big deal until there’s a song written about you.
By no means is this an exhaustive list—there are only five we’re going to cue up on the MovieFanFare jukebox today—so you may feel free to add the great songs-about-stars not represented here down in the comments. Now pump up the volume (or put on your headphones) and enjoy:
“Lon Chaney’s Gonna Get You If You Don’t Watch Out,” from The Hollywood Revue of 1929
What better selection to start with than this ditty from one of the earliest talkies in cinema history, paying tribute to one of the (if not the) greatest performers of the silent era? Clearly echoing that great joke “Don’t step on it! It might be Lon Chaney!” from the time, this is a charming tune made all the more enjoyable by the parade of 1,000 faces. (I know this is an MGM release, but I’m pretty sure at 3:27 you can see a costume modified from the one Lewis Wilson wore in the 1943 Batman serial from Columbia. You be the judge) An extra piece of fun is that the YouTube channel where this video lives is apparently operated by the grand-nephew of Gus Edwards, who is performing the vocals.
Want more songs about Lon Chaney? Of course you do.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Bauhaus
If you’ve seen The Hunger, this tune will no doubt be familiar to you. It’s been used in other films and television programs, but it’s reasonable to say that the splashy 1983 vampire flick starring David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, and Catherine Deneuve is where the song made its bones for film fans. It’s the first single from English goth-rockers Bauhaus, and its hip, eerie pulse will get anyone in the mood for some Bela Lugosi blockbusters…even though cinephiles know the title’s a bald-faced lie.
“Ingrid Bergman,” Woody Guthrie/Billy Bragg
Yes, she’s the greatest. Never actually recorded by Woody Guthrie, who wrote this piece as a sensual commentary on the (once) scandalous romance between Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini, this song was realized first by alt-rocker Billy Bragg for the 1998 album Mermaid Avenue. Woody (and, by extension, Roberto)—I so get it. And so do you, if you have ever looked through a lens or approached the stage to ask for “more,” or “less,” or “this way,” or “that way”…or simply watched in awe and quiet ecstasy while—without any assistance or interference from you at all—an actress matched beauty with smarts to burn that invisible something across a frame or out to an audience.
“Marlon Brando’s Laundromat,” Pony Up
Any song about Brando deserves to be as eccentric as he was. This piece by Canadian indie pop group Pony Up certainly delivers on that score, employing snippets of great dialogue from Brando classics as it goes (so yes, there’s a bit of profanity here and there, what with the occasional excerpt from Last Tango in Paris). The fun thing about this video is the variety of terrific stills from the great one’s long career (which, I’ll now take issue with our own Movie Irv’s verdict, is not the least bit overrated!) and it really puts you in the mood to grab a Brando disc off the shelf.
“Winona,” Matthew Sweet
Her name does not appear anywhere except the title, but the lyrics are certainly evocative of the kind of emo longing experienced by many a Winona Ryder fan for the object of their affections. Winona bowed out of the public eye for a while and had her troubles…but redemption is a big thing here in the USA. Just ask Robert Downey, Jr.—or, uh, the people of South Carolina. So let’s hear it for the pixie beauty that charmed you in Beetlejuice, earned your respect with The Age of Innocence and Girl, Interrupted, gave birth to Spock Redux, and deserves a screen renaissance of her own.
You’re up, reader DJs: Name us some other great tunes about the stars of the past or present!
And when you’re in the mood for more…go back for oldies posts: I Can Has Cheeziest Movie Songs Ever and The Five Best Movie Music Covers.