A Star Is Born: "C'mon, Esther, let's rock these sumbitches."
A Star Is Born: "C'mon, Esther, let's rock these sumbitches."

Film Faux-Pop Stars

Why wait to see Chris Gaines on the silver screen? There are already countless unconvincing rock wanna-bes with a feature film in the can. Heartthrobs like Riff Manson, outlaws like John Norman Howard and martyrs like Steven Shorter. Never heard of 'em? Consider yourself formally introduced:

1. Don't Knock the Rock (1956)

Producer Sam Katzman's second rock exploitation film followed his earlier riot-inciting Rock Around the Clock. This flick has bona fide rock 'n' roll luminaries like Little Richard, Bill Haley and His Comets, the Treniers and Alan Freed, but Katzman decides the real rock story begging to be told is the rise to fame of . . . Arnie Hanes?!! Hanes is played by Coral recording artist Alan Dale -- a guy who couldn't rock if you stood him on the San Andreas Fault and sawed off the heel of his shoe. Not even performing the first Burt Bacharach-Hal David motion picture song could prevent him from getting his passport to obscurity furiously stamped.

2. Sing Boy Sing (1958)

Before Elvis impersonators were a dime a dozen, teen idol Tommy Sands rose to fleeting superstardom as an ersatz king of rock 'n' roll. Basically a rock remake of The Jazz Singer, with Tommy as the lonely-at-the-top Virgil Walker, torn between rock and religion. Will he choose "Rock of Ages" or rock like "Soda Pop Pop"? Hmm, on second thought, don't sing, boy!

3. Juke Box Rhythm (1959)

Before there was Marilyn and Charles, there was Riff Manson. Sam Katzman again repeated the Don't Knock the Rock formula. In a film with the Earl Grant Trio, the Treniers, the Nitwits and Johnny Otis on hand to sing "Willie and the Hand Jive," who does Katzman pick to portray an aspiring rock star? Why, Jack Jones, of course. Jones was the same guy who'd eventually warble "The Love Boat Theme," which rocked only slightly harder than "Juke Box Rhythm." But then there's Jack's Paleozoic attempt at voguing, a dance craze called "The Freeze"! Strike a pose, poseur!

4. Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

Finally, a celluloid rock god that rubs his artifice in your face. Jesse Pearson camps it up as the soon-to-be-boot-camped idol Conrad Birdie. What's not to love? He dresses like Gary Glitter, sports more hair grease than Victor Mature and Jerry Lewis combined, plays unplugged guitars that still manage to echo and tremolo, kisses girls just to watch them faint and has a band that stands around to catch the lifeless lasses as they fall. We are not worthy!

5. Privilege (1967)

Former Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones stars as Steven Shorter, a British-government-controlled rock star meant to brainwash teens and keep them out of politics. His hand-shackled performance of "Free Me" would no doubt inspire the latter-day do-nothing stage gestures of Oasis mono-brow Liam Gallagher.

6. Wild in the Streets (1968)

See what happens when you don't keep kids out of politics? Fourteen-year-olds get the right to vote and they elect rock star Max Frost as president. Frost leads another American revolution, throwing LSD in the water supply and shipping anyone over 35 to work camps. Even Max's mom, Shelley Winters, isn't exempt from the spiking and has a worse trip than she did during The Poseidon Adventure. In the real world, Max Frost and the Troopers would score a Billboard Top 30 hit with "The Shape of Things to Come" before melting away from the memory banks.

7. Performance (1970)

In Mick Jagger's first film role, he plays a decadent, drugged-out rock star who switches personalities with a British gangster holed up in his mansion. Why can't he just switch blood types like Keith?

8. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

How scary can a Brian DePalma film really be? How about casting Paul Williams as Swan, the evil music-biz honcho behind Death Records, in a glum glam-rock revamp of The Phantom of the Opera? Among Swan's discoveries are a band called Undead, a girl named Juicy Fruits and a guy named Beef whose high-carb rock must've given Meat Loaf the courage to come out of the icebox the following year.

9. A Star Is Born (1976)

Kris Kristofferson plays John Norman Howard, a boozin', coke-snortin', washed-up rock star who arrives DUI onstage on a Harley and sings perhaps the worst faux rock song ever, "Watch Closely Now" -- written by the evil Swan himself, Paul Williams. Even more humiliating for Kris, he discovers Barbra Streisand's character Esther Hoffman singing in a nightclub and pushes her to even bigger rock stardom than his own. And with even worse Paul Williams songs! As if someone named Esther Hoffman could actually be a rock star.

Kristofferson did get to act more like a rock star off screen during the production of the film, telling Barbra's hairdresser-boyfriend turned producer Jon Peters, "If I want any shit from you, I'll squeeze your head." In case you're starved for a real rock star during this interminable two-and-a-half-hour snore, Tony Orlando makes a cameo as "Himself." Let the canyons rock!

10. The Comeback (a.k.a. The Day the Screaming Stopped) (1978)

Director Pete Walker engineers Jack Jones' return to the rock-film genre with this gory horror film. Jack plays Nick Cooper, a once-popular American singer who tries to jump-start his faltering career by recording an album at his old home in Britain. The same house where his wife was hacked to death by a monster. Good idea if you're recording a Nick Cave album, bad idea if you're gonna insist on sounding like . . . Jack Jones! "Snuff... exciting and new...."

11. The Idolmaker (1980)

Ray Sharkey starred as Vincent Vacarri in this fictionalized account on the life of Bob Marcucci, a guy who made fake rock stars for real (Fabian and Frankie Avalon). Marcucci even served as the technical adviser, making damn sure his celluloid counterpart came off way cooler than his discoveries Caesare & Tommy Dee. All that's missing are the payola exchanges he would've needed to get Alan Freed to play shite like "It's Never Been Tonight Before."

11. Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

Eddie says to his band, "I want something great. I want something that's never been done before!" Guess that something must be copying Bruce Springsteen. Note such em-Bossed tunes as "Boardwalk Angel," "On the Dark Side" and "Wild Summer Nights." The script kills off Eddie Wilson, but he makes a second film from beyond the grave -- Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives!. The career of the film's star Michael Paré and that of his song supplier, John Cafferty, have yet to emerge from the dark side.

12. Comeback (1982)

Yet another film about a washed-up, leather-pants-bustin' rock star. In a big acting stretch, it's real-life washed-up rock star Eric Burdon. Eric plays Rocco, a self-destructive has-been of John Norman Howard proportions, this time without a guardian angel like Streisand watching over him. All he has is a manager whose idea of a motivational pep talk is, "When you're dead, you're great." Songs include "The Road" and "Who Gives a Fuck."

13. Hearts of Fire (1987)

It's hard to know what's worse, Bob Dylan playing washed-up rock star Billy Parker -- a man who can't even trash a hotel room convincingly -- or watching Rupert Everett playing nauseating Eurotechno pop star James Colt. Worse, the movie seems a showcase for nobody rock diva Fiona, who screeches the kind of songs Jim Steinman eats and excretes for breakfast. Dylan contributes several Self Portrait-worthy songs ("The Usual," "Couple More Years") and lets Fiona yell at him like she's one of Cinderella's stepsisters. Maybe a better title for this film would've been her oft-uttered phrase, "What the fuck, James?"


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