It’s by no means anything new or surprising, but lately I’ve thinking about the number for musicians that have given up the glitz and glam of rock n’ roll to become film composers. There have been many musicians who have dabbled in score composing, doing one or two films over the years. Neil Young provided the score to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man; Wu-Tang’s RZA’s credits include Ghost Dog and Kill Bill amongst others; even Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood took his turn at the job for There Will Be Blood. At the end of the day for these rockers, however, scoring films is just a side gig to fill the time between albums and tours. However, some musicians have found full fledged career in film scoring and some have even given up the rock star life for good.
1) Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo)
Elfman is easily the most famous and obvious choice for this list. Honestly, I was a Danny Elfman fan before I even knew who Oingo Boing was. For me it was love at first hear with The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was only later that some wonderful person whom I no longer remember pointed out to me that the singing voice of Jack Skellington was in fact the lead singer of Oingo Boing. Thus, I quickly began to buy every on of their albums I could get my grubby little hands on and now they are one of my top favorite bands.
Elfman’s sound is definitely unique and is generally one can recognize. Even before I became film fanatic, Elfman’s was one of the first sounds I was able to recognize before knowing he’d done the score. I remember sitting in the theater watching the opening sequence of Men In Black and thinking how familiar the music sounded. “I bet this is Danny Elfman,” I thought. And no sooner had I thought that, his name appeared on the screen.
Elfman got his first taste of scoring early on in his career. In fact, even before the release of their first full length LP, Only A Lad, The Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo (as they were known then) did the soundtrack for a bizarre little film called The Forbidden Zone, directed by Richard Elfman (Danny’s older brother).
However, it wasn’t until 1985, when Elfman was given the opportunity to show Hollywood what he was made of with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure that his real talent for the job began to shine. Fans should have known then that film scoring would eventually take president over Oingo Boingo. This also started a lifelong friendship with director Tim Burton, and Elfman has gone on to score every one of his films (except one, Ed Wood). His other noteworthy credits include his collaborations with Sam Raimi, Scrooged, Nightbreed, Dick Tracy, Darkman, The Frighteners, Good Will Hunting, Terminator Salvation and many, many more. He even wrote the theme song to The Simpsons.
Sadly, Elfman has stated he will never play as Oingo Boingo ever again. So those of us who love his music will just have to continue enjoying his scores.
2) Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo)
Mothersbaugh is of course best known as the front man to the New Wave monster known as Devo. However, as well as writing bizarre yet catchy rock tunes, he’s also had a steady career as a composer.
My first introduction to him in film was the lovely and memorable score from Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. But Mothersbaugh career starts much earlier with 1987’s Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise. Along with dozens of TV theme songs and video game scores, he’s also provided music for Happy Gilmore, Dead Man on Campus, The Ringer and most recently, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Lucky for us Devo fans, Mothersbaugh hasn’t give up the ghost yet as far as rockin’ out goes. Devo hasn’t has a new album since 1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps, but they’ve got a new album due out this April and will be braving the desert sun with a couple hundred other great bands at this years three day Coachella Music & Arts Festival. I know I’ll be there. Will you?
3) Clint Mansell (Pop Will Eat Itself)
Not many people know the band Pop Will Eat Itself, however they are one of my favorite bands. They are wonderful blend of hip-hop, new wave, rock and TV & movie samples. They are sort of Britain’s answer to the Beastie Boys. Like the Beasties, they started out with more of a punk sound with their 1988 album, Now For A Feast!. However they quickly evolved their sound into what I described above; the best example being their 1989 album This Is The Day… This Is The Hour… This Is This! (I highly, HIGHLY recommend checking this album out if you know what’s good for you). Sadly, the band’s lifespan was not to be a long one. After the release of their more industrial sounding Dos Dedo Mis Amigos (1994) produced by Trent Reznor and released on his Nothing label, the band broke up.
But that wasn’t the end of the band members’ careers. Many of them went on to new and even more obscure projects, while lead singer and guitarist, Clint Mansell segued into film. He got is start with the indie cult film, Pi, which I only ended up seeing just because I’d read that Mansell had composed the soundtrack. Little did I know that I was seeing the first work for the amazingly talented Darron Aronofsky.
For his Sophomore outing, Mansell followed up with easily his most haunting and memorable score to date for the super disturbing yet brilliant Requiem for a Dream, which was co-composed with the Kronos Quartet. A piece from this soundtrack was later used for the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers trailer.
Mansell has gone on to make quite a career for himself with credits that include Murder by Numbers, Suspect Zero, Smokin’ Aces, last year’s Moon as well as every Aronofsky film since, including the upcoming Black Swan.
Sadly, Pop Will Eat Itself is no more. They played a few shows in London a couple years ago and there were rumors of a new album (I even heard some demos they released and they were pretty good) but it never fully came together. Sigh….
4) Stewart Copeland (The Police)
The rocky history of The Police is very well known so I don’t think I really need to go into detail here. Suffice it to say, in 1983 the great band broke up and the trio went their separate ways. Sting set out on his adult contemporary solo career. Andy Summers continued on with a solo career as well. However, drummer Copeland dove drum sticks first into film.
His credits include, but are by no means limited to: Wall Street, Highlander II: The Quickening, See No Evil, Hear No Evil Surviving the Game (awesome film by the way!) and Rumble Fish. He’s also done themes for TV that include Dead Like Me, Babylon 5 and Star Wars: Droids!
5) Hanz Zimmer (The Buggles)
The Buggles, of course, are a one-hit wonder band known for their quirky 1978 hit “Video Killed The Radio Star.” While Zimmer didn’t actually write the song, he did play keyboards on it and can even be seen in the video. He worked on a few other rock albums before realizing that his talents lie elsewhere and would go one to become probably the most prolific film composer on this list.
Zimmer launched his composing career with the 1982 Polish film, Moonlighting, co-written with Stanley Myers. Zimmer and Myers would go on to compose several pieces together through 1990. Sadly, Myers died of Cancer in 1993.
Zimmer has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning one in 1994 for The Lion King. He also also been nominated for 9 Golden Globes, winning two for The Lion King and Gladiator.
Zimmer’s other notable scores include: Rain Man, Days of Thunder, A League of their Own, True Romance, Twister, Frost/Nixon, Sherlock Holmes as well as both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight co-written with James Newton Howard as well as about a zillion others.
Well there you have it, five men who started off in the rock industry and wound up in the movies. Some made the change gradually some jumped right in. Some made it their only profession while others kept one foot in rock.
I know these aren’t the only people who have made this transition, these are just the ones I wanted to focus on. If you have a favorite that you’d like me to know about, please spill your guts. I’d love to hear about some others.
Mike Noyes received his Masters Degree in Film from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. A few of his short films can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/user/mikebnoyes. He recently published his first novel which you can buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Days-Years-Mike-Noyes-ebook/dp/B07D48NT6B/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528774538&sr=8-1&keywords=seven+days+seven+years