One of the more peculiar pop culture happenings is when professionals decide that just because they’re good at their particular craft, they should inevitably be good at other ones. We’ve had a substantial number of musicians become actors, some of them successfully so — and in some cases ended up being better actors than they were musicians (Will Smith, Mark Wahlberg).
But there are also those actors who’ve decided to take a crack at being a musician, and that’s an equally strange happening. Frequently, the results are disastrous — look no further than the great Ashlee Simpson SNL incident of 2004, The Bacon Brothers, Kevin Costner’s country-western nightmare album, or, God forbid, Lindsay Lohan. But there are some actors who’ve given singing or playing an instrument a shot that have worked out pretty well (the first asshole who says 30 Seconds To Mars gets a fucking beating). So, since I’m in a positive state of mind for once, I decided to focus on the good ones. So here you go, freaks: The Eight Best Actors Turned Musicians:
8) Juliette Lewis - Juliette Lewis and the Licks: I admit, I’m not always a huge fan of her acting, and girl is fucking crazy when it comes to fashion choices. But I’ll also say this: she can rock the fuck out, and that’s something I can get behind. Her stuff with The Licks was uneven (I’m still on the fence about the New Romantiques), but when she nails it, it can be some pretty sweet rockin’ punky goodness.
7) Ryan Gosling - Dead Man’s Bones: Gosling gets points for originality, that’s for damn sure. He’s got a surprisingly interesting voice — it’s a little uneven, but it’s got heart. The sound of Dead Man’s Bones is eclectic as hell, a sort of a gothic mix of country, bluegrass and blues. It’s fascinating, and tracks like this one, which is coupled with the L.A. Inner Mass Choir and The Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir, are pretty rich sonic experiences.
6) Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer - Spinal Tap: I originally was going to leave them off the list, since the band was basically a gimmick for the movie, but then I realized — it’s fucking Spinal Tap. How can I leave them off? They win points for sheer ridiculousness.
5) Zooey Deschanel - She and Him: Zooey’s voice is perfect for this brand of sweet, charming musicianship. It’s a bit too twee at times, but they’ve got some legitimately great songs, and her work with Matthew Stephen Ward deserves some solid accolades.
4) Donald Glover - The Childish Gambino: Actors turned rappers are especially rare — or rather, turned good rappers are rare. Donald Glover’s alter ego, the brash, nasally voiced, politically incorrect, brutally satirical, heartfelt Childish Gambino is absolutely brilliant. His brand of nerd-rap is at times hilarious, at times poignant, but always inventively clever — and he’s got pretty good flow, to boot. This track is particularly impressive, particularly due to his adorable ode to Tina Fey in the middle of it.
3) Jack Black and Kyle Gass - Tenacious D: Jack Black has rapidly become absolutely insufferable as an actor, to the point that whenever I see him cast, I want to punch you (yes, you) in the balls and throat. But there’s no denying that Tenacious D is a brilliant invention. Their lyrics are hysterically funny, their musicianship is solid, and he’s got a hell of a voice. So much so that I can forgive The Pick of Destiny. No, wait. I can’t. But still…
2) Jenny Lewis - Rilo Kiley: This one’s cheating a little, since Lewis was mostly acting as a child and is far more well-known for her music career, between Rilo Kiley and her work with The Watson Twins. Regardless, she’s a fantastic songwriter with a terrific voice and a gift for a wicked turn of phrase. This is also one of my favorite songs ever.
1) Steve Martin: There’s no denying that Martin’s acting carer is headed south like it’s tied to a lead anchor. But he’s a flat-out fucking outstanding musician. Seriously, he’s a goddamn banjo virtuoso and has the Grammys to prove it (one of the few times the Grammy’s actually gave out a well-deserved award). His work with the Steep Canyon Rangers is excellent, but to celebrate his deserving top spot on this list, you get a double dose of something even better — first, him paired with the great Earl Scruggs, and second, his team-up with Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka.
LATE ADDITION! Thanks to Four Eyes: