Sing a Song With Movie Stars



William Shatner wasn’t the first—and certainly won’t be the last—actor to enjoy a secondary measure of fame for his contributions to the art of music, however unlikely. If you only know “the Shat” from his much-mocked 1968 album The Transformed Man and haven’t heard the legitimately excellent spoken-word/music odyssey that was 2004’s Has Been, you’ve missed out.

Previously in this space, I’d plugged in the MovieFanFare juke to play some terrific songs written about actors. Now it’s time to spin some platters where the stars themselves are doing the crooning.

Choosing pieces by Garland, Gene Kelly, or any other vintage performers who are easily thought of as song-and/or-dance talents is far too easy. And as much as I’d love to plug “In a Very Unusual Way” from Nine here, just because I positively adore Nicole Kidman and almost everything she does, I prefer to seek out and share instead some pieces more from the melodic hinterlands.

Now that you know what to be in the mood for, let’s proceed:

“The Bold Fisherman,” Humphrey Bogart/Bing Crosby/Lauren Bacall 

Bogart fans are sure to recognize this tune, but not from this performance. Most know this song from this movie. Here, not only do you get some excellent repartee between Bogie and Bacall, you get almost Groucho-like kidding back and forth between Crosby and Bogart (“It just could be that you’re old enough to stop singing”) as terrific, old-fashioned showbiz foreplay before the main event. This is a 1952 performance taken from the 1966 vinyl release “Bing Crosby and His Pals.”

“The Sun Is Gray,” Natalie Wood

You didn’t get to hear her singing voice in West Side Story; chances are, you may not have heard her voice here, either, if you happened to miss director Arthur Hiller’s failed 1966 farce Penelope. Sadly the film is unavailable on video. In the film, this ballad sung by the lovely Ms. Wood comes after a voiceover explanation that, at the time she met her husband-to-be (a wealthy banker she is later to steal from, played by Ian Bannen), she was working at her “first New York job” in this Greenwich Village cellar club.

I was hard-pressed when it came to choosing which of the videos available to present for this song; there’s a version online with superior audio, and then there’s the version that is a not-so-great-looking capture from the movie. I chose the film scene…mainly because of the “Plush Pig” and the funky, Brian De Palma-esque camerawork. Even in the murk of this video, you can appreciate just how beautiful she was.

“If,” Telly Savalas

I want to preface this piece of glorious culture shock with very little, except to say oh yeah, it was a chart-topper…and ohmigod ohmigod.

What else is there to say, except who loves ya, baby?

“Der Adler,” Udo Kier

How do you follow the grand Savalas? There aren’t many effective ways, but one of them is to point out that there was (and is) only one Udo Kier. After all, are you going to be the one to argue when Udo Kier screams in your face that he controls the world? Not me. Here, he’s spouting wings and wiggling around like Andy Warhol’s Dracula against the backdrop of some vintage 1980s-era music video greenscreen effects; what’s not to love? Enjoy this mind-melting performance and lament that more of this sort of thing doesn’t exist in the world…or perhaps celebrate that fact, since its rare insanity is part of its charm.

“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” Zooey Deschanel/Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Maybe this is cheating just a little. Many people already know Zooey Deschanel’s work as a singer/songwriter. Maybe too, you remember that oh-so-cute scene from Elf. And maybe some of the more “with-it” among you know that her 500 Days of Summer co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt (now popularly known as is-he-or-isn’t-he-the-next-Batman) formed the company HitRecord in 2004, and is no stranger to the music scene himself.

So be it. This is too adorable not to include. And for you single, amateur musicians out there, this will serve as a reminder to start honing your skills to persuade that special someone to join you for a kiss when the old year goes out and the New Year comes in.

Let’s not hear of “Over the Rainbow” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Stretch yourself a little and tell us what hidden gems we’ve missed when it comes to movie stars working the scales.