It seems like no one is satisfied with their level of celebrity. TV stars want to work in film, film stars strive to make it big on Broadway, and me, I want to direct. This week I'm taking the high road and looking at the cross-over successes: those precious few TV stars whose recordings actually cracked the Billboard Top 40.
1. Miami Vice stacks the Deck
Miami Vice was all the rage in the early 1980s. It inspired men to wear unconstructed suit jackets over pastel T-shirts, it inspired a company to sell a razor that left a fine layer of stubble on a man's chin, and it inspired Epic Records to offer Don Johnson a record deal. Despite Johnson's very dicey vocal ability, the Miami Vice name carried enough cachet to entice Stevie Ray Vaughn, Bonnie Raitt, Ron Wood and Willie Nelson to contribute their considerable talents to his debut album. His single "Heartbeat" hit number five in 1986.
2. Eddie Murphy's Girl Likes to Party all the Time
In the dreadful early 1980s era of Saturday Night Live, a young comic named Eddie Murphy was the breakout star. He became famous for many recurring characters, including Velvet Jones, Mr. Robinson, and Buckwheat. His comedic genius was recognized by bigwig studio types, and as a result he co-starred in such big budget films as Trading Places and 48 Hours. But that wasn't quite enough to satisfy Murphy's all-conquering celebrity mojo; he hoped to be a singing star as well. He recorded an album produced by his superstar pal Rick James, and had some fleeting success. In 1985, the single "Party All the Time" (his only major hit) peaked at number two on the charts.
3. Travolta gets (Re-)discovered for the First Time
John Travolta owes his recording success to the young daughter of a Midland Records executive. She was watching an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter when Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino sang an impromptu and improvised chorus of "Barbara Ann." She told her dad about this cute guy on TV who could sing, and once dad did some research into Kotter's ratings and demographics, he hustled Travolta into the recording studio. His 1976 ballad "Let Her In" hit number 10 in 1976 and landed him guest shots on a number of talk shows as well as American Bandstand.
4. Another Cassidy hits it Big
If you were a warm-blooded teenage girl in the late 1970s (not me, of course"¦I, um, was a mere child at the time"¦), you arranged your weekend schedule so that you were planted in front of the TV at 7:00 Sunday night in order to watch The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. If it happened to be a Nancy Drew episode, you changed the channel and finished your homework. But when Shaun Cassidy was onscreen, the real world melted away and you were transported to some parallel universe by his huge blue eyes, carefully layered blond hair, winning smile and "aw, shucks" personality. Thanks to his pedigree "“ he was the half-brother of teen superstar David Cassidy "“ it was only a matter of time before Shaun would be handed a record deal. His very first single, a remake of the Crystals' "Da Do Ron Ron" went all the way to number one in July 1977. He wasn't exactly a "one hit wonder," either; he also landed in the top 10 with "That's Rock and Roll" and "Hey, Deanie."
5. The Soundtrack to Father's Day
Paul Petersen had just turned 13 when he landed the role of Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show. He was 20 by the time the show ended, and had managed to become something of a teen idol in the meantime. On one episode young Jeff hesitantly sang a sappy ballad to his father in front of his cool rock and roll friends. Colpix Records offered Petersen a recording contract (despite Petersen's own protests that his vocal range was limited). "My Dad" was released as a single soon after. It cracked the Top 20 in 1962, and since there are so few heartfelt songs about Pop from an appreciative son's point of view, it still gets radio airplay on many stations every year around Father's Day. Click here to get an earful.
6. A Detective Finds his Voice
David Soul's first love was singing. He'd tried his hand at a musical career in the early 1970s, billing himself as The Covered Man and appearing on talk fests like The Merv Griffin Show wearing a mask. When that gimmick failed to make him a superstar, he started auditioning for acting roles. His big break came in 1975 when he was cast as Det. Ken Hutchinson on the police action series Starsky and Hutch. Once the show was a hit and Soul's face was regularly plastered in teen magazines, he was able to sing without hiding his face. "Don't Give Up on Us" hit number one in April 1977.