Recently, news broke that Bob Dylan will be given his own biopic. While many may claim “It’s about damn time” (present company included), these things take time. Subject matter, supernova resting on the horizon, acclaimed discography, and a production house that can see the vision for box office and authentic storytelling.
Prior to this news, many musicophiles (it’s a word) have still been clamoring and rewatching the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody.
It seems musician biopics are lottery winners of golden statues (see: Ray, Amadeus, Walk the Line, Judy, Rocketman, the aforementioned Rhapsody) and this James Mangold-helmed movie will be no different. (You heard it here first.)
In the works for the internal duality musicophile and cinephile are Amy Winehouse, Elvis, Bob Marley, and recently unveiled Aretha Franklin, portrayed by the electric Jennifer Hudson. Yet, there are still a bevy of Grammy and ASCAP extolled folks who are in the waiting room of Hollywood’s biopic arena.
Let’s discuss the 15 musicians who still deserve a biopic…
15. Marvin Gaye
The reason this musical maven begins the list is because it has been rumored for years that Dr. Dre is already working on bringing this much-overdue biopic to the big screen. Unfortunately, his estate hasn’t been the easiest to work with. At all. In fact, numerous production houses have approached them about Marvin Gaye’s story and the estate refused to sign off. They did with Dre but bupkus so far.
Why this important and gripping story hasn’t been told is criminal. So many misunderstood and unknown facts about soul music’s cornerstone (any Mount Rushmore about soul music and R&B will have him in it, or be profoundly ignored). Like, he was part of a boy band — in the 1950s, or wanted to be a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.
The man was gone too soon (notoriously renowned for his father murdering him) but his legacy will always remain. We need his story, spirit, and voice on screen now.
Potential Title: What’s Goin’ On
14. Pete Townshend
Speaking of facts unknown or untold, the whimsical, guitar-destroying ingenue of The Who has a story that would baffle most people. And, many of those people will say this guy doesn’t deserve a movie at all, considering his alleged “short-eyes”.
Although he was cleared of child porn charges, he has been blacklisted by many. His story of personal child abuse largely twisted his mind at a young age, but his warped sense of esteem has made his life the stuff of cinema.
Moreover, his songwriting is prolific because his writing skill is without question having been acclaimed in the literary world for newspaper and magazine articles, book reviews, scripts, books, and even essays. This story may involve his music and pen, but definitely his sordid past.
Potential Title: Who Are You?
13. Berry Gordy
The closest any entertainment circle has gotten on bringing this fascinating man and story to the screen is rapper Big Boi who portrayed the Motown founder…in a TVOne biopic called ‘The Bobby DeBarge Story‘. The hell?! Bobby DeBarge gets something but Berry Gordy, who essentially created a new music genre and is responsible for many musical mononymous legends doesn’t (i.e., Stevie, Smokey, Diana, Marvin, and even Michael).
Talk about criminal. Why is this taking so long? The process of creating a voice that shaped a community and generation isn’t worthy of a two-hour tale?! The documentary on solely his musical journey is fascinating. How much more would his life leading up to it be? Trust me, it is.
Potential Title: And the Hits Keep On Comin’
12. Duke Ellington
I’m allowing some time for the hipsters, younger folk, and jazz haters to roll their eyes way back in their head. Just because you aren’t familiar with the epochal importance of a person, doesn’t mean that person isn’t that important.
Duke Ellington was one of the first-ever musicians to cross racial borders and his preeminence in music opened the doors for so many greats, not just of the fabled Cotton Club in 1920s Harlem but anywhere in the country. The Swing Era, one of music’s most extolled, was practically created through Duke’s fingers on the 88s.
He died in 1974 and very little is found of his story even being considered for film. The man helped create modern jazz and inspired the Harlem Renaissance. C’mon! Looking back on what this musical innovator brought to his craft, Ellington’s story should be played on screen.
Potential Title: Reflections in D
11. Stevie Wonder
Blind since shortly after birth. Stevland Hardaway Judkins was always a champion. AT age 11, while most of us are learning to master our fifth-grade homework, Stevie was signing his first music contract. And yet, he still had to fight to get what he was destined to receive.
Civil rights. Overcoming ailments (including a limited sense of smell and taste). Rendering comatose from a car accident. And, not for nothing, he essentially created ‘sampling’ and was almost single-handedly behind MLK’s birthday becoming a federal holiday.
If anyone in music deserves for the world to see the details behind his storied life, it’s Stevie.
Potential Title: Wonder
10. Debbie Harry
Pink. Gaga. Madonna. Britney Spears. Joan Jett. Cyndi Lauper. Katy Perry. None of them would have a template to etch out their prominent careers if it had not been for the pioneering work of music, fashion, and stage persona of Blondie’s personification, Debbie Harry.
Arguably, the first female musician iconoclast, Debbie Harry challenged everything that most women before did. She transcended musical genre leapfroging from punk to rap (one of the first female rappers ever), pop to reggae (“The Tide is High” anyone). Naturally a redhead, the woman would be called ‘Blondie’ (by truck drivers, yes really) and created a fool-proof blueprint for all women entering the field…and some men too (REM’s Michael Stipe calls her one of his biggest influences).
Few people in music has the reach that Harry has. More people with less influence has movies. Harry needs one.
Potential Title: Call Me Blondie
Rap. They made it all what it is today. Case closed. Write the damn script.
Two kindergarten friends, Joseph Simmons (Rev. Run and Russell’s younger brother) and Daryl McDaniels (D-Mc) grew up together writing rhymes and loving beats from Daryl’s set of turntables. Eventually, these two met local DJ from Queens, DJ Mizell (later known as the archetypal Jam Master Jay, and the rest made history.
Rap acts have everything because of them — gold records, lyrical focus, watched videos, and even sponsorships. Alcohol. Drugs. Depression. Physical Pain. Breakups. Murder. Their story has it all, and most of us wouldn’t have much in music without it. This should be told.
Potential Title: The Kings from Queens
8. Donny Hathaway
He was the voice of a people. Before Teddy, Luther, Stevie, and Marvin, there was Donny. Taken from music way too young at 33 from suicide and grueling battles of paranoid schizophrenia, his Gospel-inspired voice was brushed velvet and became the clarion call of young black people (and many white folks) across this country.
Many have heard “A Song for You,” but listen to the passion and the pain in his voice. Donny Hathaway was one of the first ever to become transparent through his lyrics and song. Listen to his live version of the community staple “The Ghetto.” You’ll discover what millions already know. And in only three decades, he put his life on display.
His inspirational songwriting and charismatic compositions laid the foundation for American Soul and R&B. For many, he is the reason we have that genre of music. And his story is emblematic of what many deal with in silence. That’s a story ready to make for Hollywood. If only someone would grab a pen.
Potential Title: A Song for You
7. George Michael
All you dudes who like to go unshaven, here’s the reason you’re permitted to have that five-o-clock-shadow. George Michael was the quintessential maven of style — on stage, on video, and in music. The guy was so much more than his beginnings of earworm “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” with ‘Wham!’
Look his discography on any streaming platform. He made going across genres look easy because his voice was that dynamic. Pop (‘Faith’), jazz (‘Kissing a Fool’), and all those ballads. Listen to ‘One More Try’ for a surprise. And then, that song. (Yes, ‘I Want Your Sex’).
The LGBT community alone would make this movie crazy profitable. His story would inspire those who have fought AIDS or even personal sexuality in a time when folk boarded up the closet. He died of natural causes in 2016. His story should be written to inspire many who don’t know to read it.
Potential Title: Careless Whisper
6. Paul McCartney
Need I really say more? If you are musician, discography historian, or even a fan of four puny looking chaps from Liverpool, England, this is a movie that must be made. Seriously, the guy helped introduce the world to this Rock and Roll thing. The Beatles changed the face of music and no one knew it was coming. Except Ringo, George, John, and this visionary named Paul.
Interestingly, his life is so far beyond The Fab Four (although John Lennon’s death was almost catastrophic for him). There is Linda, Wings, Heather, Art, Animal Rights, Number One (most in American History at 29), and Michael Jackson. There is so much to say. Given this Beatle is almost 80, he’s lived long enough. We need his story in film.
Potential Title: Hello, Goodbye
5. Janis Joplin
Everything Jim Morrison inspired and Jimi Hendrix embodied…was Janis Joplin. Her tragic and toiled life is the stuff Hollywood producers drool to make. So, what’s taking so long? Her seemingly enraged style helped her meteoric rise to fame and largely, her plummet to a tragic demise at the age of 27 because of a heroin overdose.
Before people were given hyperbolic and royalty titles, she was the ‘Queen’. Many were beacons, Joplin was the lighthouse of the psychedelic rock movement during the hippie movement 1960s. How hard would it be to portray a tumultuous four-year career in music and only 27 years from a lower-income south Texas town?
Her deep-seeded pain from school bullies to social anxiety to riddling insecurity led to her raspy lyrics that translated into the heyday of blues and rock. When traditional norms were ignored, she was driving the movement. The brighter the flame, the hotter the heat they say. Hers was core of the sun magma and please, a fictional canvas of her life in Bette Midler’s The Rose doesn’t count.
Potential Title: Get It While You Can
4. Led Zeppelin
Modern rock, blues, and even heavy metal glean from many sources, and believe it or not, most of them are connected to this band — John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant.
The widely rumored stories “from the road” are the stuff of legend. Sold-out stadiums, backstage hedonism, tragedy in the band, and even the fabled background of Page living in Aleister Crowley’s mansion and channeling his sinister “magick” spirit to play some of the band’s most famous band riffs. Supernatural to the unbelievable: All befitting of Led Zeppelin.
We are never getting a reunion, so this will have to do. And trust rock fans from around the world will watch this movie time and time again. And, not for nothing, they all loved J.R.R. Tolkien. Hell, they reference Mordor and Gollum in the title/song below and even “The Battle of Evermore” is full of Middle Earth references. Yes, they were nerds!
Potential Title: Ramble On
3. David Bowie
Many musicians have taken the altar-ego approach to venture into different genres of music. Garth had Chris Gaines. Bono metamorphosed into The Fly. Morrissey went the way of Norman Bates to become Ann Coates. Eminem is Slim Shady. Prince and his symbol. But, it all began with this visionary when David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust.
In the 1970s, very few people on the planet had a bigger following. Largely because he was among the most influential entertainers on film as well. The Man Who Feel to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Basquiat, The Last Temptation of Christ, but the most notable was Labyrinth — a personification of that alter-ego. Then, for a more business approach, Bowie adopted the persona Thin White Duke. All of this was in an effort to be his own person, and not who others wanted him to be — a pop superstar.
Then, he met the other-worldly funk master Nile Rodgers. That’s when Bowie threw in the towel and earned his unmistakable cool factor. Together, they discovered this unknown blues guitarist from Dallas, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and made “Let’s Dance.” (Yes, that was SRV!) From there, we were introduced to “China Girl,” “Modern Love,” “Blue Jean,” and this little-known duo song with some background singer with an overbite named Freddie Mercury.
Bowie was an icon among the field. Talk about a cinematic universe. All the planets will need to be aligned for this to happen, but what a marvelous film it could be.
Potential Title: Stardust
2. Kurt Cobain
This is a no-brainer for fans, so where is the mental acuity of Hollywood to make his life a movie? He used his bitter pain to create a musical genre unconsidered until the tyrannical ’90s. Grunge came on like a flannel, dark storm and this guy was its Nature.
Alternative Rock, as it more broadly became known, typified a generation of angst and unrest. What was strange is that he knew fame would come with the package, but he resented it daily. He hated the media’s interest in his life, which led to the enigma becoming even more of a recluse who drowned his secrets and afflictions with drugs.
Cobain routinely toyed with his death, but one day with a shotgun to his head, he became the reason the notorious “27 Club” is known among the laymen. His life was tragic and Hollywood has only glanced upon his surface with Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, among a few documentaries.
The voice of a generation would probably create a movie to match.
Potential Title: Come Into Bloom
I would bet your salary that when you read this title, this man’s name was among the first to come to mind with everyone. Think about his music catalog, his aura among entertainment, and the literal thousands of musicians he has inspired. His life — not his unfortunate death — demands a biopic. Out loud.
He created Purple Rain, one of most popular musical films ever, along with its accompanying multi-platinum soundtrack. He was generous with his God-gifted talent (he wrote “Purple Rain” for Stevie Nicks, “Manic Monday” for The Bangles and “Nothing Compares 2 U” for Sinead O’Connor — for free). Just about everything he did was groundbreaking. The federal government hated his music, as did one of his music labels. He was a man of his own cosmos. All that, plus what little of a private life he had, would generate a monumental biopic.
And, just in case Hollywood needed extra incentive, dude had a–let’s say–wanton mind for all things sex. (Go listen to “Darling Nikki.”)
His name says it — even when the Symbol couldn’t — the guy is music royalty. We would think there is literally no one who can duplicate his presence, voice, and versatility on stage, but Freddie Mercury lived once again on film, Prince could too. At least, he should!