8 Pop Songs From The 1980s That Are About Movie Stars - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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8 Pop Songs From The 1980s That Are About Movie Stars

An eclectic line-up of Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Michael Caine, Eve Marie Saint, Robert De Niro, John Wayne, Rosanna Arquette and Bela Lugosi star in our collection of 1980s songs about movie stars.


Movies and pop songs go hand in hand. The 1980's perfected this relationship with title tracks from hit films including Footloose, Flashdance, Fame (lots of F films really), Ghostbusters and The NeverEnding Story, to name just a few. Add to them tracks like The Power Of Love, (I've Had) the Time Of My Life, Danger Zone, The Heat Is On, and A View To A Kill which when heard all instantly invoke mental pictures of the respective films they featured in. But we're not bothering with those tracks today, instead we've rounded up 8 pop songs from the 1980s that we're either about or name-checked famous movie stars, beginning with three classic Hollywood icons for the price of one...



Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes
Bette Davis Eyes was originally written and composed by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon back in 1974, but it was American singer Kim Carnes who had a huge hit with it in 1981. Spending nine non-consecutive weeks on top of the US Billboard Hot 100 (originally on top for five weeks, then interrupted for one week by the Stars on 45 Medley, then returned to the top spot for another four weeks), it was Billboard's biggest hit of the year for 1981. The song was also a number one hit in 21 countries and peaked at number 10 in the United Kingdom.

Actress Bette Davis, at the time 73 years old, wrote letters to Carnes, Weiss, and DeShannon to thank all three of them for making her "a part of modern times" and said because she was featured in a pop song her grandson now looked up to her. The song went on to win the Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, after which Davis sent the trio roses as well.

And I did say you get three movie stars for the price of one, as the first line "Her hair is Harlow gold" is a reference to Jean Harlow, and later in the song there's the line "She got Greta Garbo's standoff sighs". You can have those two movie star for free though. (All three, would also be name-checked on Madonna's 1990 hit Vogue)

Now, of which golden era Hollywood movie star did Bette Davis once say...
"He needed willowy or boyish girls like Katherine Hepburn to make him look what they call now macho. If I'd co-starred with [him], I'd have eaten him for breakfast."
Meow! She's talking of non other than Cary Grant. I suspect Miss Davis wasn't invited to his wedding...



The Fall - Cary Grant's Wedding
The late, great John Peel's favourite band have been called "the most prolific band of the British post-punk movement." Probably because between 1979 and 2017 they released thirty-two studio albums, and more than three times that number when live albums and compilations are taken into account.

This track comes from their 1980 live album Totale's Turns (It's Now Or Never) and, fact fans, features 18 year old Marc Riley, the groups' former roadie, now promoted to bass guitar. You may know him from his years as one half of Mark and Lard on BBC Radio 1 (Riley being the Lard) and his continuing DJ work on BBC Radio Six Music.

And it's a two for one track as Buster Keaton is also name-checked in the lyrics.

Next up, a song that very nearly was Al Pacino's Waiting...



Bananarama - Robert De Niro's Wating
Released in 1984, the 'Nana's highest charting UK hit (it's actually a three way tie with this, Love In The First Degree, and Help!) came together out of a love for Martin Scorsese's films and escapism into a fantasy world with their favourite movie star. Depending on which member of the group you ask, the reason behind that escapism, may or may not be date rape.

Pacino was given the boot from the lyrics early in development as De Niro's name flowed better in the song. After its release the actor asked to meet the trio, inviting them for a drink at Kettners in Soho. As original member of the group Sara Dallin recalled,
"When the song came out, he was in the UK filming Brazil. We were all sitting there when this guy knocked on the window. It was a freezing winter’s night and he had a bobble hat and glasses on, and we just thought: “Who is that person trying to catch our attention?”

We’d no idea it was him. He had his producer with him, who did most of the talking. I think De Niro was quite shy."
Perhaps Bananarama's hit Shy Guy was also about De Niro?

Our next song is unique on the list as it actually includes vocals from the actor named in the title...



Madness - Michael Caine
In the UK charts at the same time as Bananarama's Robert De Niro's Waiting, Madness scored their 17th successive hit with a song about an informer during the Troubles.

Madness were entering their more reflective, sad phase, after spending the best part of the last 5 years jumping up and down in music videos and generally having a ball with the pop world. Here they're much more serious though, with lyrics to match that suggest a state of paranoia and mental disintegration.

Obviously the song is named after English actor Michael Caine and includes his vocal samples, recorded specifically for this. When he was approached to appear on the record, Caine initially refused, but his daughter on hearing his decision made him change his mind, telling him how popular Madness were.

The song's hook, "My name is Michael Caine" is a repetition of Caine introducing himself by name, and recalls his role in the 1960s spy film The Ipcress File, in which his character, Harry Palmer, repeats his name while trying to stay sane under torture.

Our next track may or may not be about a movie star, no one can quite make up their mind...



Toto - Rosanna
In 1982 aspiring actress Rosanna Arquette, who was still three years away from stardom when she featured opposite Madonna in the film Desperately Seeking Susan, was in a relationship with Toto keyboard player Steve Porcaro and would often visit the band during rehearsals and recording sessions.

At that time, co-founder of the group David Paich penned a track which would go on to be the first single and opening track from their 1982 album Toto IV, and win the 1983 Record of the Year Grammy Award.

The song simply titled Rosanna became a hit around the world, and Miss Arquette was quick to claim it was about her. Singer Bobby Kimball later said,
“It was just an opportune moment for [Rosanna Arquette] to grab the brass ring and run with it. She was just starting her career, and the song was so big that she went on several talk shows and said it was about her."
That mythology has long stuck in the public's conscious, but songwriter Paich revealed...
“Rosanna is about three girls I knew, all rolled into one. After I met Rosanna Arquette I just stole her name and stuck it on there.” 
But even if the lyrics aren't specifically about Rosanna Arquette, the title is certainly inspired by her, plus the "Rosanna" in the music video above is Cynthia Rhodes, who at that point had already featured in the films Flashdance and Xanadu. Meaning she's a movie star (and, fact fans, the video also features a young Patrick Swayze as one of the dancers!). So, whichever way you look at it, this song and its music video is steeped with movie star connections.

From an arguably tenuous link to one which now causes the singer some embarrassment...



Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Rattlesnakes
Some years after the Commotions broke up, Lloyd Cole admitted to being embarrassed by some of his lyrics on Rattlesnakes, specifically:
"'She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On the Waterfront'.
Yes, some of the earlier lyrics were very naive. But I was a young man! I really was. You can just imagine me trying to wear a French trenchcoat at the time, thinking I looked very cool when, in fact, I looked really stupid. But maybe that's why people liked it"
His reasons for choosing Eve Marie Saint, who won the Academy Award For Best Supporting Actress for her turn in 1954's On The Waterfront was because she had a look of beautiful fragility. Not really something you could attribute to the next movie star...



Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead
Although originally released in August 1979, Bauhaus' first single Bela Lugosi's Dead never charted. However, the track gained notoriety throughout the 1980s, primarily after being featured in the 1983 horror film The Hunger, when Bauhaus can be seen performing the song during the opening credits and introduction. It was also included on their 1982 live album and reissued in 1988 as a CD single, although it still didn't chart despite more airplay and additional support.

The song takes its name from the horror film star Bela Lugosi, who is famously known for his role as the title character in the 1931 film Dracula. I don't know if the news was just slow to reach the members of Bauhaus but Lugosi actually died in 1956; 23 years before the song was written and recorded.

As bizarre as Bele Lugosi's Dead may be, it can't hold a candle to this NSFW final song...



Haysi Fantayzee - John Wayne Is Big Leggy
If you're at all prudish then please do stop reading now!

Often dismissed as nonsensical madness, John Wayne In Big Leggy is actually about the song's protagonist, a well-endowed John Wayne, having sex with a Native American female. When Wayne's bandolier restricts their intimacy, she suggests he remove it. He refuses and suggests he sodomize her instead!

I kid you not. The song incuded lines like...
  • Shotgun, gimme Gimme low-down fun
  • John Wayne in Lover's Lane, making whoopee with his squaw, but his bullet belt keeps a-gettin' in the way
  • I know a trick we ought to try, turn right over, you'll know why
  • He's as big as a ranch
  • He stands so high. It's enough to make any red skin cry
...I think you can imagine what the "big leggy" was a euphemism for.

The song was intended as a comment on the treatment of indigenous people during the European colonisation, and was written after one half of the group Jeremy Healy read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by historian Dee Brown. John Wayne is meant to represent the European colonist, while his partner is the Native American people.

Healy later revealed,
"It was an allegory for treatment of which the white settlers used, but on the Native American Indians. However, I wrote it like John Wayne having anal sex with a squaw. I thought this was hilarious!"
Released in 1982, unusually for a song with explicit sexual content, it escaped being banned from broadcast and was play-listed on BBC Radio 1. The band even performed the song twice on Top of the Pops and on Saturday morning children's television.

Scarring the nation's children forever!

What's your favourite song about movie stars? Let us know in the comments below.

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