15 Actors Who Released Albums
Some actors are content just acting, whether it’s on stage or in front of a TV or movie camera. But others feel the urge to be multihyphenates of some kind. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an actor on a TV show trying out their hand at directing an episode of the program. Sometimes, an actor writes and directs, too. And sometimes, an actor picks up a guitar or a microphone or some other musical instrument and starts to sing, whether or not they can actually sing or play music. With the arrival of Reckless & Me, the second album from Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland (because that’s right — Jack Bauer has recorded two albums), let’s look at 15 of the most memorable, if not automatically good, examples of actors and the albums they made.
1. Clint Eastwood
Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favorites
That title is no lie. This album was released in 1963, years before Clint Eastwood was either an A-list movie star or movie director. Back in the heyday of the Western TV show Rawhide, Eastwood recorded an album of “cowboy favorites,” the types of songs that a cowboy on the range might listen to on one of those lonesome nights with just a horse to keep you company. If the description or title sounds a bit goofy, well, so is this album. Eastwood’s voice doesn’t entirely peek through — there’s little of the rasp that he brought to the heinous “Gran Torino” — and the album poster is just kind of silly to reconcile with Eastwood’s well-earned tough-guy persona over the last 50 years.
2. William Shatner
The Transformed Man
William Shatner appeared in seven Star Trek films, and to date, he has recorded six albums. That is not a typo. His first foray into music is perhaps the one that got him the most jeers, The Transformed Man. Released in 1968 — during the heyday of the original NBC airing of Star Trek — The Transformed Man earned a lot of scorn and mockery. This album of six tracks balances Shakespearean monologuing by Shatner with modern rock songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (yes, really) and “Mr. Tambourine Man”. It is roughly as terrible as you would think, but it didn’t stop the original Captain Kirk from his next five albums. Truly the final frontier of music.
3. Leonard Nimoy
Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy
Or maybe this is the final frontier. Because, sure, William Shatner recorded six albums in his career. But the Spock to his Kirk, Leonard Nimoy, recorded seven albums. Don’t try to beat Spock to the curb, because you will lose. One of his early albums, Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy, features what is arguably the most memorable song Nimoy ever recorded, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. If you’re asking yourself, “Leonard Nimoy recorded a song about the lead character of The Hobbit?”, the answer is an unequivocal, inexplicable yes. Yes, he did. It’s pretty goofy! But even here, Nimoy seems to have a bit of a sense of humor about how ridiculous he sounds, unlike his co-star.
4. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd (as The Blues Brothers)
Briefcase Full of Blues
Two years before they starred in their own movie, the Blues Brothers — AKA John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd — released the live album Briefcase Full of Blues. The incongruity of two outrageous comic actors playing the role of R&B performers fairly straight somehow makes for a very charming, tuneful album. They’d performed some of the songs previously on Saturday Night Live, such as their bouncy and energetic rendition of “Soul Man”, but the whole thing is just a lot of fun to listen to. It doesn’t exactly give you a hint of what the 1980 film would be like, but it distills why the Blues Brothers were so fun back in the day.
5. Eddie Murphy
How Could It Be
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd aren’t the only stars of SNL on this list. Eddie Murphy, back in his heyday, released three studio albums, including his debut How Could It Be. The album itself wasn’t a huge flop — coming out a year after Beverly Hills Cop and Murphy’s star being on the rise probably helped — but one of its songs is an all-time clunker: that would be “Party All The Time”. It’s a song about Eddie Murphy telling us that his girl loves to...well, look at the title. In spite of the album having some A-list talent alongside Murphy including Stevie Wonder and Rick James (the latter of whom co-wrote “Party All The Time”), the album is very much a relic of the 1980s.
6. David Hasselhoff
David Hasselhoff’s musical career is well-known enough by now; even though he was never a huge musical hit in the States, he did well enough in European countries to have recorded — no joke — 13 studio albums to date. His debut, released in 1985, was Night Rocker. (One of his later compilations was called Knight Lover. Get it?) The album opens with the title track, which is not the best example of Hasselhoff’s musical cred, but it does feature a sick saxophone solo and lyrics like “I want to rock you all night long”. And he’s recorded 12 more albums! Somehow!
7. Bruce Willis
The Return of Bruno
Here’s something crazy to consider about Bruce Willis’ debut album, The Return of Bruno. (And it’s not the fact that Bruce Willis made an album called The Return of Bruno.) This was released a year and a half before Willis’ star-making turn in Die Hard. Riding high off the TV show Moonlighting, Willis got behind the mic for this self-indulgent R&B album released by Motown Records (yes, really, Motown Records), where he performed songs from the perspective of an alter ego named Bruno. Though it’s an easy punchline now, The Return of Bruno was a decent hit in 1987, with the single “Respect Yourself” hitting the top 5 Billboard singles chart. Over 30 years later, it’s doubtful Bruno is returning again anytime soon.
8. Joe Pesci
Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You
Remember when Joe Pesci won an Oscar for his work in the searing Mob thriller GoodFellas? It’s important to keep that in mind when you listen to the novelty album known as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just For You, with Pesci as the lead singer. The first song is called “Yo Cousin Vinny” (because, you see, Joe Pesci once starred in a film called My Cousin Vinny), and it sets the tone for the songs: loud, cacophonous, full of gleeful profanity, and barely sung songs that are closer to the speak-singing style evinced by actors in 1960s-era movie musicals. Pesci’s musical career ended with this album, and while it’s not the worst example on the list, you can kind of see why.
9. Christopher Lee
Charlemagne: By The Sword and the Cross
The last decade or so of his life brought Christopher Lee renewed mass appeal, as he appeared in some of Tim Burton’s later films as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was able to spin that success into the world of music as well, in his debut album Charlemagne: By The Sword and the Cross. As you can imagine from the title, it’s a metal concept album about the Roman emperor Charlemagne. Lee only performs the voice of Charlemagne as a ghost, and the music surrounding him is as bombastic and melodramatic as you might imagine from the title and hook. It’s nice that Lee got to work in the recording studio and all, but you really have to be a very specific subset of fan to dig this.
10. Robert Downey, Jr.
A few years before he became Tony Stark and turned into a linchpin of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey, Jr. released this studio album in which he covered two songs but wrote the other eight and performed them all. Whatever else is true, The Futurist sounds less like a tossed-off vanity project (again, being released in 2004 meant it didn’t come at the highest point of his acting career), than an album aiming for complexity. Downey, Jr.’s singing voice has an extra twang or two, perhaps in part to hide his natural singing voice, but it’s not painful to listen to. The lyrics seem intentionally vague, but the music itself is, y’know, fine. And for the types of albums on this list, that’s kind of high praise.
11. Steven Seagal
Songs from the Crystal Cave
Hey, hey, get back here. This list isn’t done, and I’m not letting you leave before I tell you about this genuine, for-real album performed by Steven Seagal. Seagal’s first album, Songs from the Crystal Cave, features songs with pretty dicey or just cliché or laughable lyrics (“My God is better than your God” is an actual lyric Steven Seagal sings here). But it also, apparently, featured Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Stevie Wonder and Steven Seagal! They’re the original odd couple! Anyway, in listening to this album, it’s no surprise that it never took off and only led to him making one more album the year later, titled Mojo Priest.
12. Ryan Gosling (as Dead Man’s Bones)
Dead Man’s Bones
You’re forgiven for thinking that Ryan Gosling’s musical career began with his work in La La Land. No, a few years earlier, he and collaborator Zach Shields had created an album titled after their group, Dead Man’s Bones. The songs on the album are decidedly odd, with a children’s choir backing a series of pieces of music inspired by Gosling and Shield’s joint belief in and fear of the supernatural. It’s admirable that Gosling performed and sang here, but the music is a little too dirge-y and opaque to get into. It’s not an album that suggests we’ve all been missing out on Ryan Gosling as a distinct musical presence.
13. Steve Martin
The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo
From the earliest days of his stand-up comedy, Steve Martin has sported a banjo. Though his film roles eschewed the instrument, and you might have assumed that it was an affectation in his stand-up, Martin’s later musical career proves that untrue. The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo is a folk album with songs written and performed by Martin on banjo, along with a handful of big-name stars helping him out. Everyone from Dolly Parton to Vince Gill shows up here, and Martin himself only sings on a couple of the tracks. It’s something of a vanity project — how many stars could get an album like this off the ground? — but if you enjoy, or can tolerate, banjo, this album’s a decent listen.
14. Jeff Bridges
The success of Jeff Bridges’ work in Crazy Heart led to him signing a record deal with Blue Note Records and releasing this album two years later. Bridges’ music feels very much in line with the types of songs he performed in Crazy Heart, and his voice is perfectly equipped for such blues-y country tunes. Of course, it helps that people like Roseanne Cash and Ryan Bingham appear on the album as guest performers. Their appearances also help lend credence to the album overall. Bridges has only released a spoken word album since the release of Jeff Bridges, but this album suggests he could record another country-styled set of songs and do it halfway decently.
15. Seth MacFarlane
In Full Swing
Seth MacFarlane, whether you like him or not, contains multitudes as a creator. When he came up in the TV industry, it was as the creator of the puerile and loudmouthed animated show Family Guy, but MacFarlane has a couple of other great loves he’s been able to indulge in: science fiction (with his Fox show The Orville as well as the Cosmos revival), and old-fashioned standards. MacFarlane’s fourth studio album, In Full Swing, came out a couple years ago (and soon after his voice performance in Sing, where he played a gangster mouse who loved to sing these kinds of songs), and is one of the more charming titles on this list. It’s a bit hard to hear MacFarlane’s sincere take on swing music and not wonder if you’re being pranked, but he’s got a solid enough voice that hearing him sing old-fashioned stuff like “Almost Like Being In Love” is surprisingly impressive.
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