Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Top 10 Singers/Actors

Following the lead of the Dallas Morning News, I thought I would go ahead and make my own Top 10 list of musicians/actors of all time. The grading will be based on a balance of popularity, quality, and legacy.

Like the DMN, I'm going to rule out obvious vehicles for selling records. Think Elvis movies. Beatles movies too. I know A Hard Day's Night is considered a classic. But it's not like the Liverpudlians ever acted in non-Beatles movies. Well, I think Paul did. But not anything good. And he's my least favorite Beatle. Yes, including Ringo.

I'm ruling out singing cowboys also. No rational reason. Just something doesn't feel right about including them. Sorry, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Frankie Avalon, no beach-movie sing-alongs, either. As you might be able to tell, the more separate the two careers, the better the rating. Although there might be a sensible exception or two to that rule.

One last rule you should know about this game. Everyone else is playing for second place behind .....

1) Bing Crosby - 41 number one hits. The greatest-selling single of all time - "White Christmas." Best Actor Oscar in 1944 for Going My Way. According to Wikipedia, the number three movie star in motion picture history in terms of tickets sold, behind only Clark Gable and John Wayne. Arguably the only one on this list who was simultaneously the most popular singer and the most popular movie star of his era.

2) Frank Sinatra - Perhaps the most storied singer of the 20th Century. Ol' Blue Eyes' musical career speaks for itself. Had a strong movie career both in and out of musicals, most notably in On the Town, From Here to Eternity, and The Manchurian Candidate. Won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for From Here to Eternity. Was nominated a few other times.

3) Judy Garland - "Over the Rainbow" and her string of classic musicals (The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in Saint Louis, Easter Parade, A Star is Born, etc.) seal the movie end. But she had a numerous top ten hits and albums during those years, featuring music both from and apart from her film career. Her recording career culminated in her 1961 Grammy-award-winning live album from Carnegie Hall.

4) Doris Day - Hardly a hip choice at first glance. But read Allmusic rave about her "sultry" early jazz and swing recordings. She became a major box office draw in the late fifties and early sixties in innocent romantic comedies like Pillow Talk and The Pajama Game. Had a number of number-one hits, plus one that wasn't. That would be "Que Sera Sera," which didn't exactly suffer from failing to reach the top spot.

5) Yves Montand - Along with his ex-flame Edith Piaf, one of the signature French singers of the 20th Century (although he was actually Italian). He starred in gobs of French and international movies, most notably Cluozot's Wages of Fear and Costa-Gavras' Z.

6) Will Smith - The funny thing about Will Smith is that until recently, I have always thought of him more as a rapper doing the movie star thing. But looking at his contributions, I would say that his movie work puts him in better stead on this list. Yes, The Fresh Prince sold albums, but "Parents Just Don't Understand" isn't exactly a standard in the Great American Songbook like recordings previously mentioned here. However, he's been an undeniable box office machine, has enormous screen charisma, and has admirably improved his acting over the years.

7) Kris Kristofferson - "And Kris, he is a movie star/he's moved out to L.A." sings a lamenting Hank Williams Jr. in "All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down." He is talking about his friend Kris Kristofferson. As a songwriter, there are an estimated 450 recorded versions of his songs. Ones you might know include "Me and Bobby McGee,""Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," and "Help Me Make It Through the Night." As an actor, Kristofferson has appeared in plenty of junk, but also in top-shelf films like Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, as well as John Sayles' Lone Star and Limbo. Of course, no discussion of Kristofferson's film career is complete without mention of his lead role in the occasionally brilliant disaster Heaven's Gate, the biggest box office bomb of all time.

8) Barbra Streisand - The Morning News chose both Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand. My parents, whom I'm visiting, both insist on Midler. As much as I would like to, I think you have to go with Streisand. Her success is pretty undeniable no matter how unappealing it might be to me.

9) Lena Horne - Lena Horne makes the list as much from bravery as success. Obviously, her exceptional musical career is greater than every person on this list except for Crosby and Sinatra. Less well known is her film career with MGM in the 1940s. She mainly lended her voice to various singing roles that were easy to edit out for distribution in the South. However, she did appear in a lead role in two predominately black films - Stormy Weather and Vincente Minnelli's first feature, Cabin in the Sky. She was a racial pioneer and faced all sorts of racist crap. Read up on her bio. It's really amazing.

10) Dean Martin - Why Dino? 1) My mother recommended him. 2) Of the remaining candidates, he's the one guy who I strongly feel gave a great performance in a great film - as the recovering alcoholic deputy in Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. A lot of hits, both musically and movie-wise along the way.

Honorable Mention (no particular order): Rudy Vallee, Bette Midler, Cher, Sammy Davis Jr., David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Levon Helm, Magali Noel, Faye Wong, Hoagy Carmichael, Diana Ross, Ann-Margret, Glen Campbell, Ice Cube, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Nick Cave, Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, James Taylor and Dennis Wilson in Two-Lane Blacktop, and .............. who else?


Alexander Coleman said...

Love it, though I do think Dean Martin was also pretty great in Minnelli's Some Came Running. I wish he had been given more challenging roles in films. He was certainly game whenever he had a juicy opportunity. Just saw Five Card Stud, a decent Western with Robert Mitchum, and though it doesn't require much, Martin is solid. And his conflicted politician in Ada with Susan Hayward is largely superior to the film.

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, you have assembled a great list of singers/actors...and I am grateful that our Dino made the list, and no disrespect meant, but I certainly think that our great man is far better then the frankie who you gave second spot to...for example looks at the great variety of roles that our Dino played in over 50 flicks...and who knocked the Beatles off the charts...only our Dino...never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool...oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth...

Chuck said...

I think some sort of shout-out should be tossed Tom Waits' way. Love him in Short Cuts particularly.

K. Bowen said...

Shout out to Tom Waits. Never even crossed my mind. That's why we have comments.

It also highlights a pertinent question .... why was it so difficult to find an appropriate rock-ish musician for the list. I nearly chose David Bowie, but didn't feel strongly about it. Otherwise, most of the rock musicians are one-hit wonders as far as filmmaking goes.

As for Dino .... didn't mean to slight him in the least. I've seen praise for him in The Young Lions, as well, a film that I saw years ago and don't remember that well. But holding your own against Brando and Clift is no small feat.

ANd I do believe this is the first time that someone has called me "pallie" on my blog. Awesome.

Pinko Punko said...

I think The Young Lions looks great- the widescreen, the black and white. I don't know how good a film it is, but I don't remember it being bad. It used to be an AMC staple. it was hard to watch because they have so many commercials.

Chuck said...

I don't know K-I think I'd support Bowie. I'm not sure if he's a great "actor" but he's a magnificent presence. Especially in THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and LABYRINTH.

dino martin peters said...

hey pallie, like so glad you like bein' called pallie...thanks for the comments..and forgot to mention that your mother has great taste in my Dino-opinion...and as one totally sold out to our Dino, like of course I wanna see Dino in the numero uno slot on your list....

K. Bowen said...

Chuck, exactly. Bowie would have been fine, the best of the rock stars. You can include The Last Temptation and The Presige. Still, I just didn't quite strongly enough about anything I've seen him in.

It's interesting to ask why crooners and popsters seem more adept at acting than rockers. My guess is that crooners and popsters are used to playing emotions created by other creators for other people's enjoyment, whereas a rock star is more likely to perform their own songs which are sprinkled with their own personality.

But who knows? I do know that my mother, in fact, has good taste.