It is not uncommon for successful musicians to make a foray into acting. Johnny Flynn, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Amiee Mann, Steven Van Zandt, and Tom Waits are just a few of the big names that come to mind. Perhaps it says more about the art of acting when we perceive musicians-turned-actors to be pretty successful versus actors-turned-musicians.
It seems the ratio between the two favours the former; we tend to be more critical of successful actors who make a foray into music. A symptom of this could be that music is more conspicuous and accessible and therefore easier to criticise — we know a good song when we hear one but deciphering ‘good acting’ is something even experts struggle with.
Another way of saying this is that the art of acting is more subjective than music. If a piece of music is extremely dissident sounding, it becomes more apparent immediately to the audience that that musician is not doing a good job. While bad acting can be fairly obvious, its threshold allows for more wiggle room to be mediocre.
Some of the more popular actors-turned-musicians have been fairly idolised as naturally being both. Names such as Johnny Depp, David Duchovny, Fred Armisen, Robert Pattison, Miley Cyrus, and Hugh Laurie come to mind who have effortlessly played in both circles.
Then there are the very obscure examples of actors-turned-musicians, who merely meant it as a joke. Remember the time Joaquin Phoenix came out of hiding and pretended to be a rapper? It was a masterful form of method acting, and he blurred the lines beautifully between fiction and reality. Not to mention Captain Kirk (aka William Shatner) and his penchant for making saccharine lounge music.
We decided to take a look at the 10 actors who you probably didn’t realise released an album. Below, you’ll find that list.
10 actors you didn’t know released an album
The actor who portrays a sinister American gangster so convincingly, one would be wary of crossing him in real life, started his career in the entertainment industry as a lounge singer, believe it or not. He also played the guitar for a string of bands, including Joey Dee and the Starliters.
Pesci released his debut in 1968, called Little Joe Sure Can Sing! and, musically related, Pesci introduced Franki Valli and the Four Seasons to singer-songwriter Bob Gaudio who wrote some of the band’s most successful songs. Yes, essentially, Pesci made Franki Valli and the Four Seasons and even worked for the same group as Jimi Hendrix played. What’s more, he sounds just like Franki Valli.
Momsen rose to prominence for her role in the TV hit Gossip Girl. Momsen always felt closest to music and set her heart on becoming a famous musician one day. Her acting career served as a good jumping-off point.
When Gossip Girl wrapped up in 2012, she was able to focus her full energies on her music career. She formed the band The Pretty Reckless in 2009, who recently released an album this year, called Death By Rock and Roll.
Say what you will about the songwriting; her voice is pretty remarkable, as is her stage presence, which makes complete sense considering she is an actress.
The ‘Black Widow’ has had a very successful acting career. Johansson was formidable in the Sofia Coppola film, Lost in Translation and her star hasn’t stopped rising since.
Since she was a young kid, Johansson has always wanted to be in musicals, as she explained: “That’s where my dream career was going to be when I was eight years old, like the young Cosette in Les Miserables. Then I started making films and I never ended up doing musical theatre,” she remarked to The Associated Press.
In 2008, she released her album of Tom Waits songs, titled Anywhere I Lay My Head, which included one original. The interesting part is that she had some guest performers on the record, such as the likes of David Bowie, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Celebration. TV on the Radio’s David Andrew Sitek produced the record.
The actor, Kevin Bacon, is not only a serious musician but also a very prolific one, and along with his brother, Michael Bacon, has released around eight albums in total. The band is aptly named, The Bacon Brothers.
The Bacon Brothers have been around since 1995. The band appeared on Episode 16 of Live From Daryl’s House. The brothers also have played numerous charity events to raise money for good causes, such as Hard Rock Cafe’s ‘March on Stage’.
Gwyneth Paltrow is a very successful actress who is also widely recognised for her work as a social activist. She is part of the Robin Hood Foundation and is also an artist ambassador for ‘Save the Children’. While Paltrow has never released an album of her own, she has released a few singles and has collaborated with many others, so we think she deserves a spot on the list.
In 2000, she released the single ‘Cruisin” with Huey Lewis. It wouldn’t be until ten years later when she released another one as a solo artist, called ‘Country Strong.’ In addition to her short string of singles, she has also performed in film musicals: Glee and Duets are two productions she has appeared in.
Billy Bob Thorton
One of the revered bad boys in the film industry, Billy Bob Thorton has made a pretty substantial foray into a music career, having released close to 20 albums with his rock ‘n’ roll band The Boxmasters, and as a solo artist. He was best friends with Motorhead rocker Lemmy Kilmister, and the two would hang out downtown L.A. if that gives you an idea of how Thorton rolls.
Billy Bob Thorton formed his band, The Boxmasters, in 2007. Their earlier material was largely influenced by hillbilly stylings, which developed from another idea Thorton was flirting with at one point. He wanted to take British invasion classics and Americanise them. The Boxmasters have toured with and opened for Willie Nelson, a bunch of times.
Jennifer Love Hewitt
Perhaps actors get a bad rap and unfairly so when we hear they’re making a venture into music. We enter into their music world with preconceived notions about them because of the films we’ve seen them star in.
It doesn’t make it any easier when the megastar Jennifer Love Hewitt announced that her second 1995 album would be titled Let’s Go Bang.
In all seriousness, Hewitt has a magnificent voice and fans became quickly acquainted with it when she released her debut in 1992. Although, some may have already been aware of this, as she made her start in the entertainment business as a child actress and singer, appearing in national television advertisements.
Jada Pinkett Smith
Smith began her acting career in 1990 when she appeared in a minor role in True Colors. Subsequently, she starred in the television series, A Different World from 1991 to 1993.
Her breakthrough was when she starred in The Nutty Professor with Eddie Murphy.
Smith made her debut in music in 2002. What might be even more surprising is that her group, Wicked Wisdom, is a metal band, no less. Wicked Wisdom has two albums out: My Story was released in 2004, and Wicked Wisdom in 2006.
While the Home Alone child star, Macaulay Culkin has remained relatively quiet since a run-in with the law after he got busted with drugs, he created a bizarre but funny band in 2013 called The Pizza Underground.
The group mainly parodied Velvet Underground songs by changing the lyrics to pizza-themed ones.
The Pizza Underground didn’t exactly get all that much love and largely existed in obscurity. They were short-lived and consequently disbanded in 2018.
Culkin’s comedy group played at The Rock City in Nottingham on tour in the UK when he was booed off the stage during his kazoo instrumental. The rest of the tour then got cancelled.
The most surprising actor to be on this list is Jackie Chan. The world-renowned martial artist has starred in an insurmountable amount of films — some are classic kung-fu cult films while others are major Hollywood films, such as the Rush Hour trilogy.
It’s not like Chan has dabbled in music a little here and there, he has recorded and produced over 20 albums in five different languages. Considering that he is also an outspoken political activist, this is a man who doesn’t waste any time at all.