Take two hundred and seventy-six — you know, this used to be fun
Just as many bands have done a Money Song, and others like to do Silly Love Songs, so too have many bands done songs about being a rock star.
Like any theme, different bands handle it different ways, but they often mention their origin and rise to stardom; (mis)handling fame and fortune; isolation; the daily grind of life on tour; and occasionally Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. The Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism can be seen very clearly at work among the below examples.
See also Anti-Christmas Song, Anti-Love Song, Break-Up Song, Obsession Song, and various others for other commonly used musical themes. Compare Heavy Meta. Contrast Creator Breakdown. Sister Trope to Write Who You Know. Sub-trope of Job Song.
Now count how many of these appear in Rock Band...
- 10cc's The Worst Band in the World is about an indifferent group who suddenly become famous...
- "Rockstar" by Everclear. And Nickelback. And Hole. And Jimmy Eat World. And R. Kelly. And...well, just about any song called "Rockstar". (There are 12 songs on that list, for the record)
- 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.
- Hole has a straighter example in "Playing Your Song," which is about losing artistic control of your work.
- "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.)
- "Limelight" actually works as something of a deconstruction. It shows the fame and attention received by the person in the song (something of an Author Tract by Neil Peart, who is very introverted in real life) can be difficult to deal with at times, explaining "I can't pretend the stranger is a long awaited friend".
- The Alan Parsons Project also has a song called "Limelight". Sung by Procol Harum's Gary Brooker, it's cautiously optimistic as opposed to Rush's song, but it's played at a more sombre tempo, perhaps foreshadowing that the long awaited fame might not be all it's cracked up to be.
- P!nk - "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
- Both positive and negative, but much more positive ("As the doors fly open even the promoter smiles") in "Long Live Rock."
- 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)
- Muse dedicated the majority of their debut studio album (titled, appropriately enough, Showbiz) to songs of this type. Examples include "Sunburn", "Muscle Museum", "Cave", "Hate this And I'll Love You", and "Showbiz".
- 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 presented as the story of the band's rise to fame, but is actually a fabrication: Boston's debut album was assembled by bandleader Tom Scholz, who recruited lead vocalist Brad Delp to sing on the recordings and then put together a band to tour it; they never went "playing all the bars, sleeping in our cars" as the song describes, and were famously the first American band whose debut performance in New York City was at Madison Square Garden.
- 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 - The "Rock N' Roll Girlfriend" segment from "Homecoming"
- AC/DC - "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N' Roll)". Probably the most rousing, upbeat song ever recorded about how much it sucks to be in a band.
- 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" from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - 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
- The group's first hit, "Sultans of Swing", is an inversion of this genre - it's a song about a band that is never going to hit it big, but they're okay with that.
- The classic "Money for Nothing" from Brothers in Arms 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.
- "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 Harsher in Hindsight 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 provides a tongue-in-cheek viewpoint.
I have a mansion, forget the price
Ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice
I live in hotels, tear out the walls
I have accountants pay for it all
- "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 studio version, about wanting to be famous, is iffy, but the live version from Across a 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" from Hail to the Thief 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 Übermensch). 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 (1975), 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.
- 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.
- The Monkees themselves took a shot at manufactured rock stardom in Head entitled "Ditty Diego." It makes "So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star" look like a kid's valentine.
- "Rock 'n' Roll Star" by Oasis
- "Rich and Famous" by Gamma Ray is a Rock Star 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 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.
- "It's Electric" by Diamond Head, which was covered pretty faithfully 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.
- Defied in Lemon Demon's "Being a Rock Star", a song about not wanting to make a Rock Star Song.
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 is all about how awesome it is to be a rockstar who doesn't have set working hours. The iconic opening verse talking about the 8:15 into the city was inspired by a recording technician Randy Bachman who took an 8:15 a.m. commuter train to get to the studio. (It's not clear if the studio in question was in New York, Chicago, or Toronto.)
- 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 rollGet fucked up after the showIn the morning lock and loadAnd then leave—"
- 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,"You're gonna have lots of fun, you know, and plenty of women too,"You'll be millionaires by next week, everything's for real!"It's the chance of a lifetime!""...big deal!"
- 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 rock star 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" from Ace of Spades by Motörhead. Takes a look at some of the joys, and perils, of life on the road.
- MGMT's "Time to Pretend" from Oracular Spectacular 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 Öyster Cult.
- Also Stairway to The Stars and Goin' Through The Motions about self-pitying rock star suffering the usual job-related angst.
- "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.
- "Superstar II" however, plays more it optimistic about someone on the rise, who did their best to "make it to 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.
- TenCC's "The Worst Band in the World" is a humorous spin on the trope.
- "The Entertainer" and "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 fateWe were quoted out of context; it was great!
- 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.
- "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.
- The entire album Saints of Los Angeles by Mötley Crüe 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".
- "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, "Easy Money" and "Celebrity" by Brad Paisley, "I'm Gonna Be Somebody" by Travis Tritt...
- Cheech & Chong's comedy sketch "Earache My Eye" started with a satirical song about a stereotypically camp singer who didn't care about anything else because he was "a big rock star and makin' lots of money."
- Marilyn Manson's second Concept Album Mechanical Animals is based off his experience becoming a rock star, feeling emotions for the first time in a decade, and not being as dependent on cocaine. It's about a rock star, and his life, making the entire album this.
- Taylor Swift's "The Lucky One" is a semi-biographical account of an unnamed musician who grows disillusioned with fame. (Said musician is widely considered to be Joni Mitchell.)
- Elton John has a lot of these, most of them appearing on his two autobiographical concept albums (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy in 1975, and its sequel The Captain & the Kid in 2006). The 1974 B-side "Sick City" is a further example unrelated to these projects.
- "Homeward Bound" by Simon & Garfunkel is about homesickness and the daily grind of life on the road.
- "New Kid In Town" and "Life In The Fast Lane", the second and third tracks of Hotel California by Eagles, are both about the meteoric rise and fall of showbiz stars.
- "Hotel Calfornia" is a metaphorical rock song, describing how fame and fortune will lure you in and quickly take over your life.
- "Fences" by Paramore is a deconstructed version of this type of song.
- KISS: "Do You Love Me?" cynically lists all the trappings of the life of a rock star's life, all of which his current paramour "really like", but — oddly for the group — seems sincere about the titular question.
- The Rolling Stones "It's Only Rock 'n'Roll'" ("but I like it.") from It's Only Rock and Roll.
- The Partridge Family, of all "groups," had a modest hit with "One Night Stand," a very innocent take on rock life on the road.
- "Old Rock'n'Roller" by Charlie Daniels is about a One-Hit Wonder from The '60s who after "livin' 30 years on bourbon and pride" still refuses to accept that he's never going to make it big.
- "How Does It Feel?" is all about what the rise and fall of rock stardom feels like, from the first performances, to the "imperial phase" to becoming forgotten has-beens. It was the main theme to Slade In Flame, a film which cast the band as a fictional rock group called Flame, and has been described as one of the most cynical films about rock music ever made.
- By contrast, "Far Far Away", the other single from the film, is a much happier song about how being a rock star means that you get to see all the most famous parts of the world.
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's "Into the Great Wide Open" is about an aspiring rock musician who never had much of a shot but saw a teasing glimpse of success.
- Local H's "All the Kids Are Right" deals with one of the pitfalls of being a rock star - fickle fans hating on a band just because their last gig went down like a lead zeppelin.
- The Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Lodi" is a song about a traveling singer who got a gig playing in Lodi note and found himself stuck there because he couldn't afford bus or train fare to leave. He resorts to playing local bars and the like, hoping to get "a dollar for every song I've sung" so he can go home.
- "I Took a Pill in Ibiza" by Mike Posner. The song opens with an attempt to show a different artist that the singer is "cool" (taking the titular pill), and goes on a downward spiral from there, mentioning things like spending money on meaningless things and being unable to maintain a relationship. The music video also sells the idea: it alternates between footage of people dancing, and the singer helping a friend vomit, having bathroom sex, and other rock bottom activities.
- "A Showman's Life," by Jesse Winchester and later covered by Gary Allan and George Strait, is a wistful look at how stardom is more than just the fun stuff everybody talks about.
- Eric Bogle's "Eric and the Informers" is a song about how Eric completely failed to become a rock star, many years before becoming a folk star.
- "A Long Time Ago" by the Remingtons is about a musician who chased his dreams to pursue a music career instead of staying home with the one he loves, and expressing the regret over "what [he] lost a long time ago".
- "Palm Dreams" by Hayley Kiyoko is one of these, about rising as a star, knowing the lifestyle is potentially toxic, and going for it anyway.
"California, just a bad dream,
I will hang around until you break me.
Sta-stars, I'll make it to the top,
I'm shining like their cars and rings,
The palms see everything."
- The Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" is about the stress and exhilaration of touring.
- Run–D.M.C.'s "It's Tricky" and "Can You Rock It Like This" present the rap star version.
- "Next Year's Boy" by Mitch Benn is about the fickleness of fame, sung from the POV of a music journalist who announces a young singer is going to be next year's boy, and then assuring him that he's now this year's boy ... before, inevitably, dismissing him as last year's boy.
- Nelson's Rockstar is this trope to a T.
- Tim Minchin (who importantly is a pianist) has the song "Rock and Roll Nerd", a semi-parodic take on the concept, being about how the narrator (very clearly just Tim himself) always dreamt of becoming a rockstar, but can't because he's so utterly normal and healthy that it's clear in a position where you've either got it or you don't, he simply never will.
- Hobo Johnson: "Ode to Justin Bieber" is about Hobo's conflicted feelings about the success he's received as a musician. He feels a desire for fame and universal adulation that he is troubled by, expresses concern that fame will mess up his life and relationships, but also sees the material and well-being of his family and friends as heavily dependent on his continued rise. Throughout the song he compares himself unfavorably to Justin Bieber both in the amount of fame he has and his ability to handle it well.
- Ani DiFranco has a few of these, most famously "Napoleon", about a rock star who knew the singer when he wasn't rich and famous, and who's now rich and famous, and has nothing better to do than complain to her about how difficult it is to be those things:
And I guess that you dialed my number
'Cuz you thought for sure that I'd agree
I said baby, you know I still love you
But how dare you complain to me
Everyone is a fucking napoleon
Yeah everyone is a fucking napoleon
- Eminem has written numerous songs about the misery (and perks) of fame. The Marshall Mathers LP is a Concept Album specifically about being a Teen Idol, with numerous references to the Teen Pop scene of the era and his child-aged audience, and The Eminem Show is a Rap Rock Concept Album about being a rock star, with Arena Rock samples, wealth-boasting and Groupie Misogyny Songs. He's done some on other albums, like the extremely sarcastic "So Far..." on The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (which samples Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good" above). Subverted by "We Made You", which has a hook about being a rock star, but is actually about Em reflecting on his attempts to revive his career by analogising it to a Loony Fan obsessed with doomed media starlets. (Probably.)
- "Faithfully" by Journey, a Homesickness Hymn about the difficulty of being a family man on tour.