The 1980s were a great time for non-musicians to find major success in the music industry. Bruce Willis got in on the action with his cover of The Staples Singers’ ‘Respect Yourself’ in 1987, while Don Johnson was belting out the awesomely cheesy track ‘Heartbeat’ the year before. Both of those songs topped out at number five on the Billboard Hot 100, but when it came to actors landing hit songs, nobody got closer to the top than Eddie Murphy.
In 1985, Eddie Murphy was young, rich, and beloved. As the most exciting comedian since Richard Pryor, Murphy had dominated every form of media, from his unmatched television success on Saturday Night Live to his wildly popular standup tours to classic films like Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places. After the former became the highest-grossing film of 1984, it seemed like Murphy couldn’t soar any higher — and then Pryor allegedly bet him $100,000 that he couldn’t sing.
Murphy had plenty of singing imitations in his back pocket, from the guttural squeals of James Brown to the funky soul of Stevie Wonder, but what did his own singing voice sound like? It turned out to be a high tenor not terribly unlike his Michael Jackson impression. Murphy wasn’t a traditional musician, but he had an ace up his sleeve to prove Pryor wrong: ‘Super Freak’ singer Rick James.
With James as his songwriter and producer, Murphy stepped into the studio to record the funk-pop track ‘Party All the Time’. With the help of Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro, James crafted an indelible earworm that was just easy enough for Murphy to sing and catchy enough to become a legitimate chart hit. Knowing he was going to come out on top, Murphy included a message to Pryor in the liner notes to the song’s parent album How Could It Be: “To Richard Pryor, my idol, with whom I have a $100,000 bet. No, motherfucker, I didn’t forget”.
Pryor was going to have to pay up, because ‘Party All the Time’ quickly began rising up the charts in the fall of 1985. By Christmas of that year, Murphy had risen all the way up to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, with ‘Party All the Time’ only being kept from number one by Lionel Richie’s ‘Say You, Say Me’. The song’s video was getting MTV airplay, the track was getting spins on pop radio stations, and Murphy was now dominant in yet another area of the entertainment world.
By the end of the 1980s, both Murphy’s acting career and singing career began to slow down. Murphy released his follow-up album So Happy in 1989, with a more funk-centred focus thanks to producer Nile Rodgers. There was no ‘Party All the Time’-esque hit on So Happy, and the album failed to make a major dent on the charts. One more LP followed, 1993’s Love’s Alright, but by then Murphy’s singing career was largely finished.
Murphy put out a reggae single, ‘Red Light’, back in 2013 and was allegedly working on a new studio album with Snoop Dogg. No additional songs or updates have dropped in the decade since, but Murphy can always rest his musical legacy on ‘Party All the Time’, a silly bet between comedians that almost became a number one single.