Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
On October 24, following a prolonged, pre-production process that stretched out for years and years and years, the story of Freddie Mercury and his iconic band Queen will finally hit the big screen. I have no idea at this point whether the film, which is titled Bohemian Rhapsody, will be any good. As a matter of fact, the long history of dramatized rock star excess is riddled with some of the biggest stinkers in cinema history. That being said, just take one look at the trailer that was recently released and tell me it didn’t get your heart pounding?
The beats are perfect, beginning right from the top with the so-called “Note Heard Round the World” that Mercury belted out at Wembley Stadium during the Live Aid concert in 1985, and continuing with a montage of dramatized scenes from his life. There he is coaching Brian May through his guitar parts on the song “Bohemian Rhapsody. There’s Mercury dunking on the sexual abilities of some drab record executive. There he is in a glittering onesie, an elegant fur, and the tightest, whitest pair of jeans any man has ever been grafted into it. All the while, snippets of Queen’s most recognized and beloved tracks play along in a masterful mash-up. It’s supremely well-done.
In recent years, it seems that many people have actually figured out the right way to properly execute the musical biopic. Major shoutout to the satire Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story for forever ruining some of the cheesier tropes that have bedeviled many such projects over the years. The 2014 film Love & Mercy was a masterful re-telling of the life of head Beach Boy Brian Wilson and his struggles with mental illness. Chadwick Bozeman all but disappeared into the role of James Brown in the film Get On Up. And of course, Straight Outta Compton might have actually been one of the most compelling dramas of all of 2015.
With all of that in mind, here below are 10 bands and artists way overdue for the proper musical biopic treatment, excepting cases like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors where it’s pretty much been done.
The important thing that most of the good music biopics understand is that you can’t try and tell the entire story. There are too many people and too many years to really get into everything. For example, if you were to create a film about AC/DC, it’d be best to focus on that pivotal stretch between 1979 and 1981 when they released Highway To Hell and just as they were about to crack into the rock stratosphere, their lead singer Bon Scott died. Undeterred, they hire Brian Johnson, and record one of the biggest albums in the history of recorded music, Back In Black.
9. Van Halen
As opposed to AC/DC, the most interesting piece of Van Halen’s history has nothing to do with their switch from one lead singer to another. No, as laid out by Greg Renoff in his fantastic biography of the group Van Halen Rising, David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony, and brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen, spent years and years before they even touched fame toiling in obscurity out in the San Fernando Valley, playing massive, illegal backyard parties and iffy dive bars in Pasadena, chasing girls and a highly coveted record deal, while running constantly from the cops. A film about Van Halen has enough drugs, hoodlums, and unbelievable antics that you don’t even need to get past their first album.
If you’re doing a film about Aerosmith, it might be best to run with the cautionary tale angle. A Boston band makes good, finds the warm embrace of heroin, lives life to its absolute maximum, before nearly destroying themselves. They move upstate to work on their 1977 album Draw The Line, living in a house together, that increasingly becomes an unloveable sty. The enigmatic lead guitarist can’t even be bothered to wake up and write with the puffy-lipped lead singer anymore and is eventually fired. Cut to years later, everyone cleans up their act and they release “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.”
7. Guns ‘N’ Roses
The story of Guns ‘N’ Roses could be most compellingly framed at the rock and roll Citizen Kane with Axl Rose as the increasingly paranoid, increasingly out-of-touch, increasingly egomaniacal protagonist. Forget the Appetite For Destruction years, and cut straight into the Use Your Illusion tour. Show the riots, the weird afterparties, the other band members waiting around for hours as he gets his ankles taped. Show Izzy, Slash, Duff, and everyone else eventually drift away until it’s just Axl, staring into a mirror while he’s having his hair braided. I suppose in this analogy, a toy racecar he got from the Indy 500 or something could be his Rosebud or something.
6. Allman Brothers Band
This probably won’t happen for a long, long time, given the fact that a stunt-person died when they actually tried to make a film about Gregg Allman some years ago, causing production to get shut down, and the director to go to jail, but nevertheless, the story of the Allman Brothers Band is too unbelievable to leave untouched forever. Stick the focus on Duane, the young virtuoso who records with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Eric Clapton, all while inventing the genre of Southern Rock on the fly, before dying at the age of 24 in a tragic motorcycle accident. A major, tug-at-your-heartstrings production.
5. The Eagles
Groan all you want Big Lebowski fans, have you seen The History Of The Eagles documentary? Forget limiting it to the field of music docs, it’s one of the all-time greatest non-fiction films ever, and the dramatized version has every opportunity to be just as good. Give the film to Martin Scorsese — any potential feature with this much cocaine really needs Marty’s touch — and allow him to give it the proper Goodfellas/Casino treatment that this classically American story deserves. A band that rose from obscurity, became the biggest thing in the world, and flamed out in spectacular fashion at a political fundraiser of all places.
4. Led Zeppelin
Anyone who’s ever read Stephen Davis’s pulp biography Hammer Of The Gods knows that Led Zeppelin’s exploits — embellished as they might be in that particular book — deserve a place on the big screen. It’ll probably never happen as long as Jimmy Page is around — no one is more careful or controlling of their artistic legacy than Mr. Page — but one day, we need to watch John Bonham drive his Rolls Royce into a swimming pool. We need to watch Robert Plant scream “I’m a Golden God” from the balcony of the Continental Hyatt House in Hollywood. We need to watch Page whip up a few black magic spells. We need to watch John Paul Jones… patiently fiddle with his mellotron while waiting for the rest of the band to show up for the recording sessions. Okay, maybe we don’t really need that last one, but the rest is cinema gold!
3. David Bowie
You know how the film I’m Not There cast a variety of different actors to portray a variety of different of Bob Dylan’s guises and personalities over the years? That exact formula would work wonders with David Bowie. Few other artists in rock history have donned such distinct personas as Bowie, from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke and beyond. Bowie was amorphous, ever-changing, always evolving. You can’t hope to find a single actor that could capture the totality of who he was as an artist, and it’s best to not try.
2. The Rolling Stones
There are two different Rolling Stones capsuled films you could make that I would line up on opening day to see. The first, a dramatic re-telling of their 1969 tour through North America as written by Stanley Booth is his classic book True Adventures Of The Rolling Stones, that culminates with the disaster at Altamont. The second film would be set entirely in the South of France as the band works on their 1972 album Exile On Main Street. This would be more a story about Keith and his decent into a full-blown heroin addiction in one of the most beautiful locales on the planet, working to create his band’s magnum opus, all the while Mick Jagger pulls apart from the group and weds Bianca at a star-studded ceremony, as recounted by Robert Greenfield in his book A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones. Fuck it, let’s just do both. Cast Harry Styles as Mick and watch the millions fly in.
1. Fleetwood Mac
How is it possible that we haven’t gotten a biopic about this band yet? I don’t know about you, but I feel kind of cheated. No one group in the history of rock has been more marked with drama than Fleetwood Mac. Hell, it’s 2018 and they just kicked out Lindsey Buckingham for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear. I don’t even know where to begin to make a film about this band to be entirely honest. There are so many ups and downs that it’d be a shame not to film them all, but then you’re looking at a full-blown HBO miniseries. The writing and recording of Rumours might be the easiest way to go here, but then again, have you heard some of the stories about the making of Tango In The Night? My lord! Somebody please get Irving Azoff on the phone and make this a reality.