Friday, July 18, 2014

Best Songs About Hollywood

Hollywood has achieved a near mythical stature in popular culture. The fabled Los Angeles district possesses a romantic and mysterious allure, which has made it a constant source of inspiration for songwriters, filmmakers and novelists.  It has been both praised and condemned in song. Some songwriters have painted Hollywood as this quixotic place where one’s wildest dreams, fantasies and ambitions can be fully realized.  Conversely, other songwriters have lambasted Tinseltown as a deceptive seductress who lures in the naive and blindly ambitious with false promises of fame, wealth, glamour and happiness.

There have been numerous songs written about Hollywood over the years, and I thought I’d put together a list of my 11 favorite tracks about Tinseltown in no particular order—and away we go!

Holly Wants to Go to California – Funkadelic (1979)

This bittersweet ballad about chasing the Hollywood dream of fame and fortune is an underrated gem on Funkadelic’s 1979 Uncle Jam Wants You album. The track is surprisingly touching; it’s definitely not your typical Funkadelic cut. There is minimal instrumentation on the song, just a piano accompanying George Clinton’s vocals and a distant crowd cheering in the background. The spare, stripped-down arrangement works really well here. And Bernie Worrell’s stirring gospel piano playing lends a poignancy and power to the song and nicely showcases George Clinton’s ragged, soulful vocals. The P-Funk mastermind delivers an understated yet powerful vocal performance. The cracks in his voice give the song a more intimate and real feel, which helps bring the message home. The song was co-written by Clinton and Worrell.

Uncle Jam Wants You at Amazon

Hollywood – Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan (1977)

Chaka Khan and Rufus reflect on the shallowness and superficially that’s often concealed behind Hollywood’s glamorous façade on this gorgeous R&B/pop ballad. It tells the story of a young man who plans to move to Hollywood in hopes of finding fortune, fame, thrills and excitement. The song describes Hollywood as a wreck yard of broken dreams and false promises and is largely inhabited by plastic people. Chaka delivers a tender and moving vocal performance on this track. The song is very well-arranged and has a nice mellow vibe to it.

“Hollywood” was written by Rufus members André Fischer and David “Hawk” Wolinski and was a single from the band’s platinum-selling album Ask Rufus, released in 1977. The song had a strong showing on the U.S. charts, peaking at #3 on the R&B charts and #32 on the pop charts. The full lineup for Rufus at the time of the album’s release was Chaka Khan (lead vocals, background vocals), Kevin Murphy (keyboards, background vocals), Tony Maiden (guitar, background vocals), André Fischer (drums, background vocals) and David “Hawk” Wolinski (keyboards, background vocals).

Hollywood at Amazon

Hollywood City – Carl Perkins (1962)

This hoppin’ single by rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins makes you want to jump on a first train or plane to Hollywood, because he makes it sound like such a blast. The track boasts Perkins’ signature rockabilly guitar licks and a hot harmonica solo. The song was written by influential singer/songwriter Otis Blackwell, who had penned a number of seminal Rock & Roll classics—including Elvis hits “All Shook Up “ and  “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Hollywood City at Amazon

Hollywood Squares – Bootsy’s Rubber Band (1978)

“Hollywood Squares” is one of Bootsy Collins’ most fun and imaginative tracks. It’s bursting with style and creativity and showcases Booty’s blissfully spaced-out sense of humor. The track is filled with great hooks and cool, inventive touches, such as regal French horns and a dramatic orchestral intro. And Bootsy’s bass work is bang on as usual. It’s just a brilliant piece of quirky funk and one of the strongest tracks on the Rubber Band’s third studio album, Bootsy? Player of the Year (released in 1978), which is saying a lot considering there are so many great cuts on this collection. The song was written by Bootsy, George Clinton and Frankie Waddy. The song peaked at #17 on the U.S. R&B charts.  The full lineup for Bootsy’s Rubber Band was as follows:  Bootsy (vocals, bass, drums, guitar), Phelps “Catfish” Collins (guitar), Joel “Razor Sharp” Johnson (keyboards), Robert “P-Nut” Johnson (vocals), Gary “Mudbone” Cooper (vocals, drums, percussion), Frankie “Kash” Waddy (drums) and the Horny Horns (Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Richard Griffith, Rick Gardner).

Hollywood Squares at Amazon

Hollywood – The Runaways (1977)

This rockin’ track is about the dream held by many struggling bands of one day of making the big time and becoming rock stars. It’s one of the Runaways’ best-known tracks and is from their sophomore album Queens of Noise, released in 1977. “Hollywood” features some ace playing from the Runaways and a ferocious, balls-out lead vocal performance from Joan Jett.  This track captures the influential all-female rock band in all its badass glory.

The song retains the same lineup from their 1976 self-titled debut album: Cherie Currie (lead vocals), Joan Jett (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Lita Ford (lead guitar, backing vocals), Jackie Fox (bass, backing vocals) and Sandy West (drums, percussion, backing vocals). The track was written by Jett, Fox and band producer Kim Fowley, and it was featured in the 2010 biopic The Runaways, which starred Kristen Stewart and Dakota fanning.

Hollywood by the Runaways at Amazon

Hollywood Swinging– Kool & the Gang (1974)

This rousing R&B/pop anthem is one of Kool & the Gang’s best-known ‘70s songs. It has a fun, celebratory vibe, like a huge block party going down in the middle of the street on Hollywood Blvd.  There are so many great hooks on this cut, including an irresistible bass line, the “Hey, hey, hey/What ya got to say?” chant and an indelible chorus: "Hollywoooood, Hollywood swinging!” The song was inspired by the band’s experiences in Hollywood during the recording of their Live at P.J.’s album, released in 1971. The lead vocals are sung by band keyboardist Ricky West.

“Hollywood Swinging” was a single from Kool & the Gang’s gold album Wild and Peaceful, which was released in 1973, and was penned collectively by the band. The song performed extremely well on the charts; it was band’s first #1 single on the R&B charts, and it peaked at #6 on the pop charts. The full lineup for  Kool & the Gang at the time of the song’s release was the following: Robert “Kool” Bell (bass, vocals); Ricky West (electric piano, vocals); Claydes Smith (guitar); George “Funky” Brown (drums, vocals, percussion); Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas (alto saxophone, flute, congas, vocals); Khalis Bayyan (tenor and soprano saxophone, vocals) and Robert "Spike" Mickens (trumpet, vocals).

Hollywood Swinging at Amazon

Lost in Hollywood – System of a Down (2005)

Alternative metal band System of a Down excoriates Hollywood in this scathing track. “Lost in Hollywood” paints Tinseltown as a decadent paradise that sucks the soul and humanity from those who move there. The song condemns those in Hollywood who exploit the naive and ambitious with false promises of fame and fortune. The song was inspired by a female friend of SOAD guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian, who handles the lead vocals here.  She moved to Hollywood despite Malakian’s warnings of the dishonest and parasitic people who live there. The musician grew up in Hollywood, so he knew firsthand the type of two-faced, shady people she’d be coming in contact with.

This song is from the band’s multi-platinum album Mezmerize (2005) and was co-written by Malakian and SOAD lead singer Serj Tankian. The somber ballad contains beautiful and haunting background harmonies from Malkian and Tankian. It’s just a superb song, both musically and lyrically, and contains a quiet, understated power. In addition to Malakian and Tankian, the other two members of SOAD were John Dolmayan (drums) and Shavarsh "Shavo" Odadjian (bass, backing vocals).

Lost In Hollywood at Amazon

Celluloid Heroes – The Kinks (1972)

Influential British rock band the Kinks included this beautiful ode to screen legends on their double album Everybody's In Show-Biz, released in 1972.  The wistful ballad is a great example of Ray Davies’ exceptional songwriting abilities. The Kink’s chief songwriter and lead singer can take on just about any subject and craft a brilliant song out of it. The track has Davies taking a nostalgic stroll down Hollywood Boulevard as he reminisces about silver-screen icons from the past, including Greta Garbo, Bette Davis, Rudolph Valentino and Marilyn Monroe, and how stars like these never really die because they live on through their films—and are viewed by some as just an image on the big screen rather than real people made out of flesh and blood.

Davies also reflects on the not-so-glamorous side of the film biz and sings about the stars who became lonely and unhappy due to the isolating effects of their massive stardom, as well as those who fell victim to the excesses of celebrity and fortune (drugs, alcohol, etc). And the song even touches on the multitude of nameless struggling actors and actresses who never made it in the film industry.

The lineup for the Kinks at the time they released Everybody's In Show-Biz was as follows: Ray Davies (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, Resonator guitar), Dave Davies (lead guitar, slide guitar, backing vocals, banjo and 12-string guitar on “Celluloid Heroes”), Mick Avory (drums, percussion), John Dalton (bass, backing vocals) and John Gosling (keyboards).

Celluloid Heroes at Amazon

Hollywood Tonight – Michael Jackson (2011)

This dynamic Michael Jackson track reflects on the price of fame. It’s about a woman who gives up everything to achieve her dream of becoming a famous movie star. But once she realizes her dream, she learns that fame is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Now a huge star, she’s has no privacy, constantly hounded by bullying paparazzi and rabid autograph-seeking fans at every turn.  She now lives a fishbowl existence where her every move is heavily scrutinized.

This song illustrates what a talented songwriter MJ was.  In addition to the infectious, hook-filled grooves he’d come up with, he was a great storyteller lyrically, often drawing from his own personal experiences as a pop star in penning some of his best songs (i.e., “This Place Hotel,” “Billie Jean,”  “Stanger in Moscow,” “Dirty Diana,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”).

The song's powerful groove boasts a pulsating beat that’s reminiscent of the one on MJ’s classic smash “Billie Jean.” It also has a driving bass line and funky rhythm guitar licks that are also similar to those on “Billie Jean.” The song was co-written by MJ, Teddy Riley and Brad Buxer. It’s was the second single off his posthumous album Michael, released in 2010. It had been a previously unreleased song that was written during the recording sessions for his 2001 Invincible album. The song has a great dance-filled music video, which stars talented Algerian-born French dancer Sofia Boutella. The video contains plenty of MJ nods, from his signature dance moves to his iconic attire.

Hollywood Tonight at Amazon

Hollywood – Connie Francis (1961)

This snappy rocker is by chart-topping pop superstar Connie Francis. It’s about a bumpkin who fancies himself the town Romeo and walks around like he’s a Hollywood star (“Who's the local yokel with the horn rimmed bifocals?”). But in reality he’s never even been out of his small town. The song was penned by singer/songwriter John D. Loudermilk and features a rockin’ saxophone solo by legendary sax man Boots Randolph.

Hollywood by Connie Francis at Amazon

Candle in the Wind – Elton John (1973)

Although this moving Elton John ballad is a tribute to legendary film star Marilyn Monroe, it’s indirectly a searing indictment of the Hollywood star system that was in place when she worked in the film industry—of how it exploited and used actors (treating them like mere commodities), building them up and then discarding them once their popularity began to wane.  Monroe’s tragic story has become a cautionary tale of the downside of Hollywood superstardom.

The song was penned by John and his longtime songwriting partner lyricist Bernie Taupin. It’s from the pop legend’s multi-platinum album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973). Surprisingly, the song wasn’t released as a single in the U.S., but it charted at #11 on the pop charts in the UK. In 1997, John rewrote the song’s lyrics as a tribute to Princess Diana following her tragic death in a car crash, and he performed it live at her funeral. This revised version of the song shot to #1 in a number of countries, and Guinness World Records has it listed as the second best-selling single of all time, with more than 33 million copies sold worldwide.

Candle In The Wind at Amazon