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Back in the studio, to make our latest Number One
—The Who, Success Story
Like any common musical theme, different bands handle it different ways, but they all (often enough) have the similar subjects of Money, Isolation, and occasionally Drugs and Sex. The Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism can be seen very clearly at work among the below examples.
- "Rockstar" by Everclear. And Nickelback. And Hole... Hell, just about any song called "Rockstar" anyway... (There are 15 songs on that list, just so you know)
- The Nickelback song is a subversion, as the narrator is someone who aspires to be a rock star, and for all the wrong reasons. They played this straight in "See You At The Show."
- Hole's example is more complicated: the song in question was originally named "Olympia", and it was written to mock the Riot Grrrl movement, but it wasn't meant to be on Live Through This. The last song on Live Through This was originally named "Rockstar", but it featured lines like "Barrel of laughs to be Nirvana/I'd rather die", so it was thrown off the album because Kurt Cobain's suicide happened shortly before the release date, and it was replaced with "Olympia". However, there wasn't enough time to print new sleeves, so "Olympia" got stuck with the title "Rockstar" instead.
- "Limelight" by Rush, which puts Rush's usual spin on the theme. (In other words, it's somewhat bittersweet and disillusioned, although not anywhere near as openly pessimistic as some of the songs on here.)
- Pink - "So What" (which is actually a subversion, since it's really a Break Up Song making fun of this genre. The video is hysterical.)
- The Raspberries - "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" (about wanting to be a success)
- The Who - "Success Story" (about disillusionment with the business), and "How Many Friends" (about people only pretending to like you because you're famous). Half of The Who by Numbers could go here really.
- They also have "New Song" from Who Are You
- Bad Company - "Shooting Star" (about burnout, being a One-Hit Wonder, and suicide)
- Rick Wakeman - "Ghost of a Rock and Roll Star" (about becoming out of date and irrelevant - perilously self-referential, some might claim)
- Nick Lowe's "They Called It Rock" which is odd, in that we get both the lead-up (They went and cut a record/the record hit the charts/and someone in the newspaper/said that it was art) ...the happy high days and money of a one-hit-wonder (Hey long distance, it's a rock and roll romance/CBS is gonna pay a great big advance/Hey Atlantic, come on take a chance/Arista say they love it but the kids can't dance to it) ...and the eventual fall and moving on with life (They cut another record, it never was a hit/Someone in the newspaper said it was shit/The drummer is a bookie, the singer is a whore/The bass player's selling clothes he never would have wore) All within a quick, fast, marketable song, interspersed with the two-line chorus of "They called it rock, hey, they called it rock."
- "They Called It Rock" itself is a faster remake of "Shake and Pop" from the same album, where the lyrics are nearly identical save for the Title-Only Chorus and the instrumental backing is slower.
- Cypress Hill has both "Rock Superstar" and "Rap Superstar" on the Skull and Bones album. (They are almost exactly the same, except "Rock Superstar" features rock instrumentation.)
- Boston - "Rock & Roll Band", which is basically the story of the band's rise to fame.
- Foreigner - "Jukebox Hero"
- Grand Funk Railroad - "We're an American Band". Originally written as a reprisal to a member of Herman's Hermits (a British band) making fun of them in a bar.
- Green Day - "Rock N' Roll Girlfriend"
- ACDC - "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N' Roll)".
- And, of course, "Rocker."
- The Barenaked Ladies have a bunch of these, including "Celebrity," "Box Set," "New Kid (on the Block)" and a number more where themes of celebrity & rockstardom are touched upon. It's a pretty major theme throughout their album "Everything to Everyone." Interestingly, a number of the songs are clearly not about the Ladies themselves - New Kid (on the Block), for example, is sung from the perspective of a member of that band.
- "Pinch Me" was written by Ed as more personal and stealthy version of this -- torn between the band's relative success in America and his home in Canada.
- David Bowie - "Ziggy Stardust" - The rest of the album, however, is not one of these.
- "Star" is also about the desire to be a rock n roll star.
- Dire Straits' classic "Money For Nothing" is a song about being a rock star, from the point of view of someone who is not a rock star - a furniture hauler who imagines musical stardom as the easy life.
- and "Heavy Fuel" - sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll from the eyes of a rocker.
- "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger is about the life of a traveling rock star, though somehow Metallica's video version is about a Single Mom Stripper.
- "Shining Star" by INXS is a cynical deconstruction about what becoming a rock star does to you. Complete with Funny Aneurysm Moment when you realize what happened to Michael Hutchence six years after this song was released...
Let them gun you down while you run around / Before your shining star has gone
- "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh.
- "Like A Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan is a more cynical view. Not surprising, since he wrote it at a time when he was fed up with the music industry.
- Ditto "Positively Fourth Street."
- The album Being There By Wilco is chock full of these, but especially "Hotel Arizona"
- "Have You Seen Me Lately?" by Counting Crows
- Also, "Mr. Jones". The more well known version, about wanting to be famous, is iffy, but the version from across the wire definitely falls into this, considering it's basically about being disillusioned about being a rockstar.
- "Hit In The USA" by BEAT CRUSADERS
- "The Killing Road" by Megadeth
- Given a dark twist with "Myxomatosis" by Radiohead, which is either about how Executive Meddling affects artists, or how misinformed fans result in disillusionment.
- Marilyn Manson had a Rockstar Album in Antichrist Superstar (also a meditation upon the vapidity of society and the morality of an Ubermensch). The straightest example thereon is "Angel With The Scabbed Wings", though. "He will deflower the freshest crop / Dry up all the wombs with his rock and roll sores"?
- "Rock N' Roll Dream" by Crooked X
- Mike Skinner from The Streets isn't exactly a rock star, but The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living is about the work required producing an album.
- Pretty much the entirety of Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd's album about Syd Barrett.
- Heck, The Wall is a concept album about a rock star who becomes disillusioned with his fame, and goes crazy because of it among other things.
- That album's "Young Lust" in particular is an example of this trope.
- Heck, The Wall is a concept album about a rock star who becomes disillusioned with his fame, and goes crazy because of it among other things.
- Kid Rock, on countless occasions.
- "So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star" by The Byrds, which tells you to "Just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play". It was written as a sarcastic swipe against the success of The Monkees and their "manufactured" nature.
- "Rock 'n' Roll Star" by Oasis
- "Rich and Famous" by Gamma Ray is a Rockstar Song that's also a Take That against Money Songs and similar aspects of the rock star lifestyle.
I don't believe in fame, I believe in music / I don't believe in money, I believe in the power of love / I know I got a brain and I know how to use it. / I don't want no one to stick his finger in my pie.
- U2 have two rather dark takes on this trope, 'The Fly' and 'Gone'.
- "Love Song" by Sara Bareilles, is kind of a Subversion of this trope, about refusing to be a sellout.
- "King of Anything" could be about the exact same thing if you plug her label in as the smartasses who think they know what kind of artist she should be more than she does.
- Aversion: "Rock & Roll" by The Velvet Underground (or Lou Reed) is not at all about being a rock star, but about how a friend of Reed's was saved by a chance encounter with rock & roll back in The Fifties.
- "It's Electric" by Diamond Head, which was pretty faithfully covered by Metallica
- Folk metal band Skyclad has "Penny Dreadful", a song against rock stars and selling out.
Commercial suicide's appealing after ten years on this losing streak / 'Cause I'd rather be called sour and bitter than be deemed the flavor of the week. / I saw you in a magazine, they're calling you messiah. They must be living in a dream - they couldn't be more wrong.
If I ever write / Any songs about being a rock star / Slap me please, all right? / That ain’t me.
- "Endless Sacrifice" and "Never Enough" by Dream Theater. John Petrucci's lyrics are about his sacrifice of family life for the life of a touring musician, and his wife Rena's sacrifice of her own music career to tend their home.
- Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, almost certainly the Trope Codifier.
- "Rock Show" by Wings.
- "Modern Times Rock n Roll" and "Let Me Entertain You," both by Queen.
- "Take The Long Way Home" by Supertramp, which has a spiritual double meaning.
- "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive.
- Reel Big Fish love the cynical side of these; "Sell Out" and "Don't Start a Band" are two of their most popular songs. On the same CD as "Don't Start a Band" is "One-Hit Wonderful", ranting about being constrained by the popularity of a certain hit--in their case, the aforementioned "Sell Out".
They don't love you/they just love/that one song!
- "Starz in Their Eyes" by Just Jack, which although it has a catchy and upbeat tune, is rather cynical about fame.
They'll keep you down by any means / By the end of the night you'll be stifling your screams. / Since you became a V.I. Person / It's like your problems have all worsened / Your paranoia casts aspersions / On the truths you know. / And they'll just put you in a spotlight / And hope that you'll do alright / ........Or maybe not.
- "Rockstar" by Third Day
- "Passing Phase" from the rock musical Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rodewald of The Negro Problem.
"Every night play rock and roll
- Witchfynde's "Big Deal", about turning down a contract from a big-name record company:
"Come in, take a seat boys, while we take control of you,
- The Tragically Hip's "Family Band" and "Escape is at Hand".
- Weezer's "Beverly Hills" is a parody.
- "Across The Sea" is a straight, bittersweet example.
- They Might Be Giants' "Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal" is about failing to become a rockstar by not getting any radio play.
- "Opening Band" by Paul and Storm is about being the band that kills time on-stage before the real rock stars show up.
- "Superpowers" by Five Iron Frenzy portrays being on tour as an endless series of petty hardships, ultimately concluding "I wanted to be famous, now I want to take it back."
- Contrast that with "It Was Beautiful", a song they wrote at the end of their career, looking back fondly on all the people they met and cool places they got to visit while on tour.
- Starflyer 59 has written at least one song about being a rock musician for every album since 1999. Some albums, like Leave Here a Stranger are arguably nothing but rockstar songs. All of them take a very unromantic view of being a musician. Apparently Jason writes what he knows, and he doesn't think his day job (he's a truck driver) is interesting enough to write about more than once.
- "We Are The Roadcrew" by Motorhead. Takes a look at some of the joys, and perils, of life on the road.
- MGMT's "Time to Pretend" is another dark take on the concept:
"We'll choke on our own vomit, and that will be the end - we were fated to pretend..."
- "The Marshall Plan" by Blue Oyster Cult.
- "Gypsies On Parade" by Sawyer Brown is about how the public doesn't see a successful band's homesickness and road fatigue. (Yes, they're a country band, but still ...)
- Iggy Pop's "Dead Rock Star" from his album Skull Ring.
- Saliva's "Superstar" is at the more cynical end of the scale, describing somebody getting caught up in the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll lifestyle only to wind up dead at 27.
- Rihanna (in a more pop setting) has 'Rockstar 101.'
- "Top of the Pops" and "The Moneygoround," by The Kinks, both on the same album. The first is about the exhilaration of getting a number-one hit; the second is a Take That against money-grubbing executives.
- "Hellraiser", written jointly by Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde, and Lemmy Kilmister.
- Styx has "The Grand Illusion", "Superstars" and "Man in the Wilderness". "Rockin' the Paradise" uses it as a metaphor for fighting a decaying establishment to restore American prosperity.
- 10cc - "The Worst band in the World" (presumably a self-parody...)
- "The Entertainer" by Billy Joel.
- Also "Piano Man" by Billy Joel.
- "Wanted Dead Or Alive" by Bon Jovi
- Prefab Sprout's "Electric Guitars" edges into Affectionate Parody territory.
We were songbirds, we were Greek gods, we were singled out by fate
- Ben Folds' "Rockin' The Suburbs" is another parody of the type.
- Good Charlotte have the song I Just Wanna Live. This was featured on their third album - Y'know, the one they made after they attained massive success... With Lifestyles of The Rich & Famous, which lashed out at people complaining about their success. Lampshaded within the song.
- The Hold Steady's "Rock Problems"
- "Party Poison" and "Vampire Money" by My Chemical Romance. Maybe a subversion, because even though they have their share of rock cliches in the lyrics, both are about how the lifestyle is pretty much bullshit.
- "Top of the Pops" by The Kinks is about a young rocker's rise and rise, including an appearance on the eponymous TV show. This being Ray Davies, you can see the fall coming around the corner.
- Disturbed has the songs "Remember", "Awaken", "Rise", "Just Stop", "I'm Alive", "Sons of Plunder" and "Monster" (thought these are mainly referential, told from a perspective that could only come from a rock star).
- Big Time Rush have the popstar song "Famous," which, while ostensibly asking "do you want to be famous?" basically says "look at us, we are famous."
- ABBA's "Super Trouper" is about the life of a star while the band's on tour.
- The Veronicas, not once, but twice, "Popular" and "Hollywood" on their second record.
- John Cale's "The Biggest, Loudest, Hairiest Group Of All"
- The entire album Saints of Los Angeles by Motley Crue is basically an autobiography of the band (the album was, in fact, inspired by their book The Dirt), from their humble beginning playing nightclubs in LA to becoming international superstars.
- "Cover of the Rolling Stone" by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, which is a parody of these kinds of songs (it was written by Shel Silverstein). It's about how they're not famous enough yet.
- "The Loadout" by Jackson Browne has some elements of this when he talks about life on the road, but it's mostly about thanking the fans and the roadies for all their support.
- Lindsay Lohan has "Fastlane", "Rumours" and "A Beautiful Life (La Bella Vita)."
- Hilary Duff has "Wake Up" and "Haters"
- A vast majority of the songs sung by the fictional Hannah Montana fit this trope (although they were mostly about being a secret Rockstar, in the loosest meaning of the word) but some examples are "Rockstar", "Old Blue Jeans", "The Good Life", "Mixed Up", "Just A Girl", "Supergirl" and "Ordinary Girl".
- Hannah Montana's real world counterpart has "Fly On The Wall" and "Robot".
- "La La Land" by Demi Lovato
- The Jonas Brothers have "Hollywood"
- "Country Star" by Pat Green is another rare country music example.
- "Partners, Brothers and Friends" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is an interesting example, dealing both with the good (the fun of being on the road and the family atmosphere of a band) and the bad (broken bus, a bad cold, radio heads who can't decide how to handle the band's eclectic music).
- Factory Girl by The Pretty Reckless, an unusual celebration of the lifestyle.
- Quite a few of Drake's songs talk about the sudden fame he achieved (well, not exactly sudden,as he had already been on Degrassi the Next Generation for 7 years before becoming a rapper).
- "Stand Up" by James Durbin
- Britney Spears with "Outrageous", "Overprotected", "Piece Of Me", "Mona Lisa (Both Versions)", "Rebellion", "Kill The Lights" and "Circus".
- Unsurprisingly, there are some country equivalents of this. "Crazy Town" by Jason Aldean (referring to Nashville), "Neon Rainbow" by Alan Jackson, "Honkytonk U" by Toby Keith, "Start a Band" by Brad Paisley and Keith Urban.