For better or for worse, we are living in the age of the musical biopic. Success breeds repetition in Hollywood and once one musical life story hit the top of the box office charts, it was inevitable that a slew would follow. Thus, we thought we might point the producers in the right direction by compiling a list of musical backstories primed for the biopic treatment.
For entertainment reasons, we’ve decided to venture towards the veritably barmy side of things. On paper, kooky mixed-up milieus and mad as March happenings might sound like they would preclude productivity, but in the music industry, mania can somehow produce magic and there are a fair few stories worth savouring that would have a cracking soundtrack to boot.
Below we have collated these tales and dissected the scenes that seem most cinematic. From David Bowie at the height of his Thin White Duke hell scoffing only bell peppers and quaffing milk, to a little-known music revolution off the coast of Africa, these are musical movies we’d dearly love to see.
5 albums that should be made into movies:
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
Picture the scene: Stevie Nicks has just written a masterpiece on Sly Stone’s bed while remorsefully weeping about her breakup with Lindsey Buckingham. The song, ‘Dreams’, is a masterpiece and destined to become one of the biggest pop-rock songs of all time. The issue is that it is only half-finished. The next day she must take it to Buckingham, the man who it was written about, and entrust the song to him for the benefit of his elevating expertise.
Thereafter, she must also enter a silent, darkened, studio room and crowd around a microphone to record the three-part vocal harmony with Christine McVie (also going through a caustic breakup with John McVie who was watching on) and the dastardly Buckingham himself. They are all huddled inches apart around the same mic, there is more tension in the room than if each party had needed a fart in an elevator. On the count of four, they must pour their heartaches out, no doubt in that very moment adding to it. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a performance under any more emotional duress.
During the recording process, each and every single member of the band was going through a period of severe emotional turmoil, and each and every one of them was consuming enough cocaine to snowcap a mountain. In fact, when the record producer pranked them by spilling a fake bag of it on the floor he nearly caused an instantaneous mass breakdown.
Station to Station – David Bowie
Imagine a protagonist who is simultaneously self-aware of his own madness yet completely complicit with it. During the recording period of Station to Station, Bowie had just enough wits remaining to be aware that he wasn’t, in fact, being cursed by Deep Purple and his swimming pool wasn’t really the lair of Satan, yet he was equally gripped by an overpowering fear that wrestled his rationality towards the underworld and he had no choice but to store his own urine and hire a witch to exorcise his pool.
In fact, when Bowie was fresh from the other side of his Thin White Duke era Station to Station hell, he even likened the period itself to some sort of twisted cinematic fiction. In 1977, he riled against Los Angeles, “It’s the most vile piss-pot in the world […] It’s a movie that is so corrupt with a script that is so devious and insidious. It’s the scariest movie ever written. You feel a total victim there, and you know someone’s got the strings on you.”
As Bowie said himself, “My other fascination was with the Nazis and their search for the Holy Grail. […] I paid with the worst manic depression of my life. […] My psyche went through the roof, it just fractured into pieces. I was hallucinating twenty-four hours a day. […] I felt like I’d fallen into the bowels of the earth.” Needless to say, Bowie, did not take well to Los Angeles. Somehow, despite no memory of ever even recording an album, Station to Station miraculously turned out to be a masterpiece—and it is one we’d all dearly love to be privy to the making of, presumably even our late protagonist would’ve loved to have known what the hell happened too.
Yes, Please – Happy Mondays
Yes, Please is a tale of sun-drenched disaster that had management calling ‘no mas’ as it bankrupted the iconic Factory Records. One of the beautiful things about modern music is that the engines of income are often the least reliable folks in history. If you were sat in the waiting room of a job interview and Bez wondered in with his pilot hat on, so full of whizz that his eyes were pulsating like a bass-rattled speaker, you’d fancy your chances, but as fate would have it, he was technically a lynchpin figure in a multimillion-pound corporation.
In order to protect their wayward assets, Factory Records decided the best plan to mitigate issues going into the recording of their fourth album would be to stow the band away on a Caribbean Island free of the heroin that had begun to besiege Shaun Ryder’s life. Even Ryder couldn’t turn down Barbados, so he happily braved withdrawal to get the album made in the luxury of white sands, coral seas, and, as it turned out, monumental amounts of crack cocaine.
CEO Tony Wilson was brimming with optimism when he waved goodbye to the band at the airport. 48 hours later he was informed that Ryder had started racking up 50 rocks of crack in a day. Once he heard about the spiralling problem, he chartered a flight straight over and as his plane was coming into land, he peered out the window and genuinely witnessed Ryder and Bez wheeling a sofa down to the street apparently to sell for binge funds. As if the burgeoning crack issue hadn’t hindered the album enough, Bez later overturned a hired jeep and was fortunate to escape with merely a broken arm that nevertheless halved his maraca shaking capabilities. Ryder was suffering from substance-induced writer’s block.
After splurging hundreds of thousands and, in the process, leaving a small crack epidemic on the island in their wake, they returned to the UK with unusable recordings with no vocals and a heavily hindered sonic fidelity owing to the rapidly diminishing equipment available to them in the recording studio as mass pilfering ensued. Ryder held firm on these master tapes nonetheless and threatened to destroy them if he wasn’t given some money. He was happy to settle for the £50 he was offered, but the flagging Factory Records was soon bankrupt in a mess of its own making.
Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart
In the lead up to Captain Beefheart recording Trout Mask Replica, Don Van Vliet, the Captain himself, was out of a label and out of luck. Then a blast from his childhood past would offer a helping hand. Frank Zappa had grown up with Vliet in what must surely be one of the weirdest High Schools in Los Angeles County, which would place it high in the running for weirdest worldwide, and Zappa had just set up two of his own labels. Bizarre and Straight were the names of the labels. Naturally, he signed the madman Vliet to Straight and gave him total creative control over his next album.
With the keys to creative oblivion tucked firmly away in the back pocket of his jeans, Vliet and his merry band of musical brethren absconded to a small, rented house in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles. Therein a commune was formed and at the heart of it was the Captain who at times seemed to have lost sight of the album entirely. For eight months the band remained in this stuffy abode, and everything seemed to unravel. After years of being passed around labels like the last toke of a joint, he was determined to craft an album that would make Zappa proud, although it’s hard to see how that led to The Barrel particularly.
To explain The Barrel, we shall lean on a vignette put forth by John French, otherwise known as Drumbo, no prizes for guessing what he played. When he was drafted in, he recalled making a mistake one session and having Vliet fly off the proverbial handle. Vliet commanded Drumbo to “get in the barrel”. Unwittingly he climbed into the old beer cask at the behest of the Captain. Therein, Vliet repeatedly struck the barrel with a stick and berated Drumbo’s performance with a fury akin to the Devil’s father on the sidelines of a football game. This mere single incident is a paradigm of life within the ‘Commune on the Hill’ and the near-year long torture process that resulted in one of the maddest records in history.
Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde – Various Artists
In 1968, a cargo ship was making its way from Baltimore Harbour to Brazil for an exhibition on state-of-the-art synthesisers in some swanky resort. The ship never made it. A few months later, the cutting-edge cargo began washing up on the shores of the Cape Verde Islands. The synthesisers were then locked away in a church by Portuguese authorities who controlled the islands. After all, the area had very little access to electricity anyway. They awaited collection by the Americans, but the Americans never came.
This fateful wreckage coincided with a vision that intellectual and anti-colonial revolutionary, Amílcar Cabral, was beginning to form. He suggested that the synthesizers be divided equally amongst all the local schools in the archipelago. The morning after, Cabral’s vision had been enacted, and Cape Verde’s youth woke up to find themselves the proud possessors of the sort of technology that even Beatles producer George Martin would love to possess.
When these students slowly learned how to work a proto-Moog and came of age in the years that followed, a cosmic-disco explosion swept through Cape Verde. Technology mingled with traditional African rhythms in the sort of postmodernist mix of advancement and art that Pet Sounds was trying to herald. Eventually, the liberating boom of music toppled the stifling colonial regime and kids essentially armed with synthesisers and good intent established peace and interdependence from the wreckage of a ship. The album Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo is the physical tome of that musical revolution.