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Music

The five best songs written about Howard Hughes

American filmmaker, business magnate and engineer, Howard Hughes, is remembered for many reasons, ranging from his pioneering strides in aviation to the films he produced, such as 1932’s Scarface. Throughout his illustrious career, Hughes was celebrated for his numerous achievements and quickly rose to become one of the richest Americans in history.

Hughes’ life reads like a work of fiction, and one notable part was the moment he became a recluse later in life after suffering from the debilitating after-effects of a severe plane crash. Nevertheless, one thing we cannot ignore is the extensive portfolio of business interests he maintained until his death in 1976, which ranged from military technology to mass media and even medical research. Never before had the term ‘finger in every pie’ been more fitting. 

Famously, Hughes was a larger than life character who was known as much for his womanising as he was for his business efforts. It was in the ’60s when he moved to the top floor of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and began his period as a recluse, which only served to increase the intrigue shrouding him. Added to the life-changing injuries sustained in the crash, it is also claimed that this solitary period was also informed by episodes of OCD and drug abuse. 

Another prominent part of the mystery surrounding Hughes was the assertion that Hughes had some form of connection to the Watergate scandal. However, it has never been proven, but stories such as these have kept his story alive for 46 long years since his death. 

On April 5th, 1976, Hughes died on an aircraft en route to a hospital in Houston, owing to kidney failure. It was tragically ironic that he died on an aeroplane, but such was the life of one of history’s most intriguing figures. 

Although he had departed the mortal realm, his character would continue to permeate popular culture, and we’ve seen his influence on the characters of Iron Man and Batman, as well as in the BioShock video games and in The Simpsons. For anyone wanting to understand him more, Martin Scorsese’s biopic, The Aviator, is a good place to start. 

So today, on the 46th anniversary of his death, we’ve listed the five best songs that mention this behemoth of popular culture. Expect to see some classics and some lesser-known cuts, but one thing is certain. Each of these tracks is stellar.

Five songs written about Howard Hughes:

‘Howard Hughes’ – Ride, Twisterella EP (1992)

Taken from 1992’s Twisterella EP, ‘Howard Hughes’ by English shoegaze legends Ride became a fan favourite when it was included as a bonus track on their lauded sophomore record, Going Blank Again, which features anthems such as ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and ‘Mousetrap’.

A hazy, languid piece featuring the organ that colours much of Going Blank Again, ‘Howard Hughes’ is a real delight, and you’ll have it on repeat. Think of it as something of a sister track to the incredible ‘OX4’.

‘Me and Howard Hughes’ – The Boomtown Rats, A Tonic for the Troops (1978)

1978’s A Tonic for the Troops by Irish heroes, The Boomtown Rats is a bonafide classic. Featuring timeless cuts such as ‘Rat Trap’ and ‘Like Clockwork’, it’s one of the better albums from the new wave era. One of the standout album tracks is ‘Me and Howard Hughes’.

Featuring the unmistakable opening riff, one would argue that ‘Me and Howard Hughes’ makes a strong claim for being The Boomtown Rats’ best song, after ‘Rat Trap’, of course.

‘Reward’ – The Teardrop Explodes (1981)

The best-known hit by Liverpool neo-psychedelic rockers The Teardrop Explodes, there’s much to love about ‘Reward’, including its repetition of the American businessman’s name. There’s a stomping beat, driving bassline, a powerful brass section, and a great chorus to boot.

Massively ahead of its time, ‘Reward’ is simply exquisite. It’s strange that The Teardrop Explodes aren’t bigger than a cult band, but for those of you who have never heard them before, be prepared to be blown away.

‘Talk To Me’ – Joni Mitchell, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977)

‘Talk To Me’ is track two on Joni Mitchell’s critically lambasted ninth album, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. The album is noted for its experimental style, which developed the loose jazz fusion of Mitchell’s previous album, Hejira.

‘Talk To Me’ is one of the better moments on the record, and Mitchell sings: “Or we could talk about power / About Jesus and Hitler and Howard Hughes”. 

‘The Wall Street Shuffle’ – 10cc, Sheet Music (1974)

‘The Wall Street Shuffle’ by English rockers 10cc is so unbelievably ’70s. A classic rock song fused with cheesy pop hooks and funk rhythms, it’s a dynamic piece that features some of the band’s best lyrical work, four years before the poetic masterclass that is 1978’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’.

There are flecks of Steely Dan here, and we understand what the Stockport band were trying to achieve. It’s a real journey, and it’s catchy as hell. As well as mentioning Howard Hughes, they also mention the famous financial dynasties of Getty and Rothschild. It’s a real who’s who of American money men.