Top 20 Greatest Singles by 80s Actors
By Jon O'Brien | October 15, 2021
Not content with fame in movies and TV, many 80s actors tried their hand at making pop songs…
Actors moonlighting as pop stars wasn’t strictly an 80s development. Who can forget Telly ‘Kojak’ Savalas’ hitting No.1 in 1975 with his erm, interesting, spoken-word rendition of If, for example? But it was the following decade where pretty much every other thespian – from soap opera regulars to Hollywood A-listers – who could hold a note seemed to make a bid for the charts.
Ignoring anyone already renowned as a double threat at the time, here’s a countdown of the era’s most listenable (and a few unlistenable) side hustles.
20 Nick Berry – Every Loser Wins
Several years before his rendition of Buddy Holly’s Heartbeat instantly gave everyone that Sunday night dread, Nick Berry harnessed the power of another prime-time ratings hit to kickstart his intermittent music career. Co-penned by EastEnders’ theme tune composer Simon May, Every Loser Wins spent three weeks at the top of the UK charts in 1986. But its greeting card sentiments and schmaltzy melodies were first performed at the piano by Berry’s floppy-haired pin-up Wicksy in the Queen Vic.
19 David Hasselhoff – Looking For Freedom
Originally a local hit for Schlager singer Tony Marshall 10 years earlier, David Hasselhoff’s Looking For Freedom spent eight weeks at the top of the German charts in 1988. Despite his “Big in Deutschland” reputation, the self-parodying Baywatch star only scored a further two Top 10 hits in the country. But hovering above the Brandenburg Gate in a bucket crane, his memorable New Year’s Eve performance of the cornball anthem ensured that The Hoff would somehow always remain synonymous with the East-West reunification.
18 Letitia Dean and Paul Medford – Something Outa Nothing
Good ol’ Wicksy actually had a hand in this low-rent Five Star knockoff, too. The cheeky chappy ‘wrote’ the track as a member of EastEnders’ supergroup The Banned before leaving over that age-old problem of creative differences. Sharon (Letitia Dean), Kelvin (Paul Medford) and Ian (Adam Woodyatt) had no qualms about entering the song for the talent contest sponsored by who else but Walford Savings Bank (although a spot of self-sabotage denied them victory).
17 Stefan Dennis – Don’t It Make You Feel Good
“Don’t It Make You Feel Good?” asked the third Neighbours star to try being a pop star. If ever there was a rhetorical question, it was the title of this unintentionally hilarious one-hit wonder. Reaching as high as No.16 over here, Stefan Dennis’ debut single ticks off every cliché in the overblown late 80s pop handbook. Yet you almost have to admire how much the man best known as Paul Robinson commits. Bizarrely, the character was in attendance when Toadie and Karl Kennedy lip-synched to the track in one of 2021’s most super-meta scenes.
16 Dennis Waterman – I Could Be So Good For You
Contrary to what the Little Britain sketch would have you believe, Dennis Waterman didn’t “write da feem toon” to the decade’s most lovable rogue crime drama, Minder (the Waterman in the song’s credits refers to his then-wife Patricia). But yes, the catchy barroom singalong of I Could Be So Good For You, a UK No.3 hit back in 1980, does have his unmistakable “Cockney Cowboy” vocals all over it. It’s certainly aged better than Waterman’s collaboration with his wheeler-dealer co-star George Cole, What Are We Gonna Get ‘Er Indoors.
15 Anthony Hopkins – Distant Star
“I can’t remember much about it except it wasn’t very good,” Sir Anthony Hopkins told The Guardian in 2012 about his very minor brush with the UK charts 26 years earlier. Few are likely to disagree with the Welshman’s succinct review of his No.75 ‘hit’. Indeed, Distant Star is little more than Hopkins reciting various slushy clichés (“Sail a million oceans… climb the highest mountain”) over some minimal melodramatic synths. You can truly believe the Oscar winner’s claim that the whole thing was knocked together on a Sunday evening in Weybridge.
14 Neil – Hole in My Shoe
Only denied a No.1 by the juggernaut of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes, this 1984 single did win the only Best Comedy Recording award ever handed out at the BRITs, pipping Roland Rat’s Rat Rapping in the process. Originally recorded in the late 60s by Traffic, Hole In My Shoe was, of course, the flower power anthem The Young Ones’ resident hippy Neil (Nigel Planer) often sang the odd line from in the anarchic sitcom. However, this full-length cover allowed the character to truly stamp his own wonderfully dopey mark.
13 Jeff Wayne ft. Richard Burton (Ben Liebrand Remix) – The Eve Of The War
After barely scraping into the UK Top 40 on its 1978 release, the opening number of Jeff Wayne’s rock opera masterpiece War Of The Worlds became a surprise No.3 hit 11 years later. And all it took was a Dutch house DJ putting a donk on it. Ben Liebrand’s remix of The Eve Of The War no doubt upset plenty of prog rock purists, but amidst all the very late 80s 808 patterns, the imposing tones of its original narrator Richard Burton still possessed the power to terrify.
12 Anita Dobson – Anyone Can Fall In Love
It’s a testament to just how quickly the British embraced EastEnders that the soap spawned three hit singles within a year of its premiere. Putting some rather mundane words (courtesy of Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborator Don Black) to Simon May’s iconic instrumental theme tune, Anyone Can Fall In Love was first out of the blocks in August 1986. And who better to perform it than the Queen Vic’s inaugural landlady Angie Watts? Perhaps inspired by her then-new boyfriend Brian May, Anita Dobson’s version also gets a squalling guitar solo.
11 Jimmy Nail – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore
Whoever would have expected Oz from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet to have a decent set of pipes? Jimmy Nail surprised everyone in 1985 with this moody funk-lite take on Rose Royce’s biggest UK hit – coincidentally his future Evita co-star Madonna had covered it just a year earlier. The hangdog Geordie had some pretty impressive company, too. Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt took guitar duties, while Queen’s Roger Taylor not only served as co-producer, he also provided its clattering In The Air Tonight-esque drum solo.
10 The Blues Brothers – Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
Although it belatedly charted in the spring of 1990, The Blues Brothers’ Everybody Needs Somebody To Love was, of course, first released on the soundtrack to their iconic same-named comedy 10 years earlier. This rollicking cover of the R&B classic first performed by Solomon Burke is perhaps the standout. However, without the sight of Jake and Elwood Blues, aka John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, whipping the crowd up into a frenzy in their iconic suits and shades, it inevitably loses some of its feelgood appeal.
9 Bruce Willis – Respect Yourself
Bruce Willis may have become a monosyllabic fixture of those action B-movies you find clogging up the supermarket DVD charts but in 1987, at the height of Moonlighting’s success, he was the most effortlessly charming dude on TV. Willis then channelled his “every guy wants to be him, every girl wants to date him” persona into a brief music career steeped in the sounds of Motown: debut album The Return Of Bruno was even released through the iconic label. His cover of The Staple Singers’ Respect Yourself was by far its best homage.
8 Don Johnson – Heartbeat
UK audiences appeared to prefer Jan Hammer’s synth-tastic Miami Vice theme to its star’s musical endeavours. While the former peaked at No.5, Don Johnson’s Heartbeat missed the Top 40 altogether. Still, as guest appearances from Ronnie Wood, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson on its same-named parent album showed, the pastel-suited star took his sideline more seriously than you’d expect. Johnson sure commits himself to this Kenny Loggins-esque soft-rock anthem, growling and fist-clenching his way through multiple key changes.
7 Jason Donovan – Too Many Broken Hearts
Nothing Can Divide Us suggested SAW were happy to give their second Neighbours protégé the dregs of their all-conquering Hit Factory. But perhaps spurred on by the insatiable response to Jason Donovan’s on/off love story with Kylie Minogue, the trio upped their game for this 1989 UK No.1. You’d be hard-pressed to find any semblance of the guitar that the artist formerly known as Scott Robinson confidently strums in its mountaintop video but Too Many Broken Hearts undoubtedly boasts one of SAW’s most uplifting earworm choruses.
6 Patrick Swayze – She’s Like the Wind
She’s Like The Wind was actually intended as an ode to Jamie Lee Curtis’ mechanic in forgotten 1984 comedy Grandview, U.S.A. Instead, co-writer/performer Patrick Swayze ended up recycling the track three years later as a paean to the Baby that nobody puts in a corner. The late actor acquits himself surprisingly well here. Played as Johnny drives away in his 1957 Chevy after being fired from Kellerman’s Mountain House, the anachronistic power ballad also helped propel the Dirty Dancing soundtrack to sales of 32 million.
5 The Art Of Noise ft. Max Headroom – Paranoimia
After The Art Of Noise provided the theme tune for his eponymous chat show, Max Headroom, aka Matt Frewer,
then returned the favour by lending his disembodied stuttering presence to this typically addictive piece of art pop. Differing wildly from the version that appeared on the band’s first post-Trevor Horn/Paul Morley effort In Visible Silence, this 7″ single sees the Channel 4 icon attempt everything from counting window bars to reciting poetry in a bid to get some much-needed shut eye.
4 Eddie Murphy – Party All the Time
Eddie Murphy’s attempts to conquer the Billboard charts are widely considered to be more embarrassing than The Adventures Of Pluto Nash. Yet his first entirely musical album, 1985’s How Could It Be, featured two Stevie Wonder co-writes and this infectious synth-funk jam written and produced by Rick James. Ignored in the UK until Sharam’s
Top 10 remix two decades later, Party… was apparently the result of a $100,000 bet with future Harlem Nights co-star Richard Pryor over Murphy’s singing ability. We’re still not sure who’d have actually won, though.
3 Tracey Ullman – They Don’t Know
A sketch show regular thanks to A Kick Up The Eighties and Three Of A Kind, Tracey Ullman made an unlikely pivot into retro pop in 1983, subsequently scoring three Top 10 hits. Originally recorded by Kirsty MacColl – who provides backing vocals here – They Don’t Know was both the biggest and best. The comedienne has often been dismissive about her musical past but the fact that she remains aggrieved that Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon kept the song from No.1 suggests even Ullman appreciates its vintage girl-group appeal.
2 Kylie Minogue – Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi
Kept off the top spot for three consecutive weeks by Enya’s Orinoco Flow, Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi was the first sign that Kylie Minogue could handle something outside SAW’s usual shiny, happy mould. There’s a beautifully melancholic streak running through both its surprisingly subtle melodies and the accompanying video in which the pop princess gets stood up in post-war Paris. Despite regularly cropping up in Minogue’s setlists, the semi-bilingual hit appears to have been largely forgotten since its 1988 release.
1 Eighth Wonder – I’m Not Scared
Pet Shop Boys were on such a winning streak during their late-80s imperial phase that they were able to give away some of their best material to other artists. Before reigniting Liza Minnelli’s career and continuing to revive Dusty Springfield’s, the duo helped pluck Eighth Wonder out of relative obscurity with a sleek, sensual synth-pop affair that reached its No.7 peak the same week that their very own Heart retained pole position.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe would later tackle I’m Not Scared themselves on third LP Introspective. But their extended seven-minute version lacks the ingredient that made the original so alluring: Patsy Kensit. The Absolute Beginners actress had formed the band in 1983 with her older brother Jamie and Geoff Beauchamp (guitar), Lawrence Lewis (bass), Jake Walters (drums) and Nigel Davis (percussion) and released their first single Stay With Me (UK No.65) in 1985.
Kensit’s voice on I’m Not Scared is so featherlight it’s in danger of floating away. However, her coquettish delivery contrasts perfectly with the juddering percussion and pulsating basslines of the Pet Shop Boys and Phil Harding’s production. None more so than during the Gallic middle-eight where she makes the bizarre opening demand – apparently misquoted from a John Betjeman poem (“Take these dogs away from me”) – sound like the most suggestive of come-ons. The entirely French-translated B-side, J’ai Pas Peur, is unsurprisingly even more seductive. You only wish that as with Liza and Dusty, Pet Shop Boys had worked their magic on an entire album.