Playlist: The Ups And Downs Of… The Music Business/Show Business… Songs About Being In A Band


Music + Business

This may be my most eclectic group of songs on a playlist ever…

Who amongst us wouldn’t want to be a Rock Star? Even at work sometimes I hear people who are good at their job – or who have done something particularly well – described as a “Rock Star.” It’s looks like wonderful job from up here in the cheap seats. A friend of mine, who I worked with, was in a hotel bar out on the road. That’s the life of we Traveling Salesmen… He was sitting next to a group of guys with long hair who were drinking in the bar. There was a line of young women standing outside the bar making quite a commotion. He struck up a conversation with one of the long haired gentlemen whose name was Joe. He asked what my friend did for a living and asked how he liked his job? Typical “on the road,” hotel bar chatter. My friend asked Joe what he did, was he in a band? Turns out it was Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. My friend asked if he liked his job? Joe said, “Well, it’s a job,” and then pointed to the young women outside the bar and added, “but it doesn’t suck.” I’ve always loved that story.

I think it’s easy for we the fans to look at the Rock Star with nothing but pure envy. In the movies it always looks like an easy path to stardom and riches. “Money for nothing,” as the song goes. We see the Rock Star with a beautiful model or actress on his arm, living in a house with a pool in a sunny climate. They have the best clothes – Rod Stewart especially – and the best cars. It looks so easy we’re always surprised when an artist struggles with fame, or radically changes their music to avoid the pressure of having to repeat their success… pressure? for a Rock Star? Fame may be cool but it’s fickle and hard to maintain. Many Rock Stars begin to lament ever becoming famous. They just wanted to be musicians… bring a little joyous noise into the world.

That’s how it all starts, I assume. A young kid gets turned on by music or discovers he has a talent – singing or with an instrument – and wants to do that for a living. The kid gets an instrument and practices and practices. Maybe he puts the Malcolm Gladwell “10,000 hours” into it. Maybe in that little room the kid starts writing songs…  Pretty soon the young kid meets some like minded individuals and they form a band. Maybe they’re already friends or maybe they meet at a subway station like Mick and Keith. After line-up changes, just maybe the chemistry clicks. Joe Strummer always said, “Never underestimate the chemistry of four guys in a room.” Pretty soon this gang of guys/gals start playing in front of people. Maybe they’ve struck lightning and like Eddie Vedder once said, “I was on stage in front of an empty room and I closed my eyes… when I reopened them the room was full.” It’s music, it’s art, it’s performing… what’s not to love?

Ah, but then commerce appears. A manager usually shows up in the story at this point. And then the record company. You put out your debut song or album. It’s hitting “paydirt,” the dream of a lifetime. But if you’re successful there’s the pressure to repeat that. Behind the glamour, it really is a job. “You wrote “Let’s Dance” David, what’s next? We need another hit.” Or people start asking, “Oh and by the way, which one’s Pink?” The young kid who was sitting in his room, writing songs has become a product. I think artists today have more control over their careers. They can release music straight to the people. They don’t have to hear an A&R (artists and repertoire) man from the record company say, “I don’t hear a single.” As if they’ve come full circle, many of the Rock Stars simply write about it – whether it’s fame, crappy record execs, being on the road (enjoyably or fried from the miles) or the writing process… so many bands/artists have written songs about what it’s like to be in a band – or the process they took to becoming stars – I had to compile them. I thought of this playlist idea from hearing the Who’s “Success Story” and the line, “Remember when this used to be fun.” How many artists go through that? There are also so many songs that I call “origin stories” where the artist sings about his past or is self referential. Those songs seem to fit on this as well.

So here is my playlists based on songs about the Music Business/Show Business. You can find it on the dreaded Spotify. I always suggest shuffling the list vs playing it in order. Although, both ways work… whatever brings you joy. As always, our goal here is to put a song you haven’t heard in a while back in your ear or better yet – turn you onto something you haven’t heard. If you have a song that fits the theme, by all means drop it in the comments section. I like to think of these playlists as “our” playlists. Turn this one up loud… oh and by the way, “Welcome to the Machine.”

  1. Pink Floyd, “Welcome To The Machine” – When art means commerce. This describes Floyd’s harrowing experience of going from a cult band to a world wide phenomenon after Dark Side of the Moon. .
  2. The Band, “Stagefright” – Robbie Robertson’s ode to the pressure to write the next “hit.”
  3. John Fogerty, “Vanz Kant Danz” – Written for the music exec who “stole” the rights to his songs. He was actually sued for this song and changed the title.
  4. Eddie Money, “Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star” – Eddie expressing the exuberance we all feel when we think about being the proverbial rock star.
  5. Paul McCartney, “The Song We Were Singing” – A great tune where Paul reflects on his first band, a little outfit known as the Beatles. He’s always said they could agree on music, it was the business stuff that made them fight. I don’t think this made Paul’s box set full of singles but it could have been a hit…
  6. Van Morrison, “They Sold Me Out” – Is there a rock star more bitter about the business aspect of things than Van?
  7. Boston, “Rock N Roll Band” – An origin story worthy of the Marvel Universe. I’d always been told that Boston’s first album was all Tom Scholz and Brad Delp. The record company recruited players to fill out the band so they could tour. This song makes for a better story.
  8. AC/DC, “Show Business” – I loved Bon Scott. This is from the EP ’74 Jailbreak released after their first LP with Brian Johnson, Back In Black, as a tribute to the fallen lead singer.
  9. Fleetwood Mac, “Show Biz Blues” – From the glorious, bluesy Peter Green-era of the Mac.
  10. Neil Young, “For The Turnstiles” – (*not on the Spotify list) A great, philosophical treatise on the perils and fleeting nature of fame.
  11. Aerosmith, “No Surprise” – Any song that mentions Clive Davis and Max’s Kansas City (the famous rock n roll bar in New York) had to be on this list.
  12. Elvis Costello, “Radio Radio” – From the era when radio was actually important before it became, as Bruce sang, “Radio Nowhere.” Classic Costello, “I want to bite the hand that feeds me…”
  13. Jackson Browne, “The Road” – A classic weary song from the road from a classic live album Running On Empty. But we do so love our live LPs here.
  14. The Byrds, “So You Want To Be A Rock N Roll Star” – Also done capably by Tom Petty. The classic “be careful what you ask for” song.
  15. Prince, “Baby, I’m A Star” – Prince’s happiest song? The joy of the artist who finally becomes a star. We still miss Prince here at B&V. At least we’ve his vault releases like Sign O The Times Deluxe Edition to keep us comforted. While most artists at some point lament their fame… let’s not forget, it doesn’t suck to be a Rock Star.
  16. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Me And My Friends” – A song where the Peppers name-check original guitarist Hillel Slovak had to make this list. Often band members start as friends… Alas not every band stays friends the way Rush did.
  17. The Rolling Stones, “The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man” – A very funny Stones tune that was a send up of a record exec who thought he was as hip as they were. I don’t know if this made my Stones’ Deep Cuts playlist but it should be there.
  18. AC/DC, “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock N Roll) – A harrowing tale of slugging it out, smokey club by smokey club as an up and coming band.
  19. Neil Young, “Buffalo Springfield Again”* – (*Not on Spotify list) – Neil fondly remembers his first big band.
  20. Motley Crue, “Down At The Whisky” – The Crue fondly remember their days on the Sunset Strip. This song tells the story better than The Dirt did.
  21. Steely Dan, “Show Biz Kids” – “While the poor people sleepin’, all the stars come out at night.”
  22. Bob Seger, “Turn The Page (Live)” – Originally from one of Seger’s early, now out of print LPs Back In ’72. A song about the grind of the road.
  23. Motley Crue, “Welcome To The Machine” – It’s interesting that they use the same title as Pink Floyd but Nikki Sixx did that a lot. Same machine, different band.
  24. Soul Asylum, “Misery” – “Frustrated, Incorporated.”
  25. Paul McCartney, “That Was Me” – A 2:39 resume in song.
  26. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Workin’ For MCA” – Skynyrd singing about their record label… reminding us that being a Rock Star is still a job… not a bad one, but still a job.
  27. George Harrison, “When We Was Fab” – George in a similar vein as Paul on #25 on this list.
  28. Van Morrison, “Big Time Operators” – Of all of Van’s “complaint” songs, this might be my favorite. But then, it’s kind of bluesy and I love rockers singing the blues.
  29. Paul Simon, “Late In The Evening” – Where Paul traces music history back to his infancy listening to the radio along with his mom all the way to playing guitar in a funky bar after getting high.
  30. The Clash, “Complete Control” – So pissed at the record company for releasing “Remote Control” were the Clash, they wrote this anti record company screed which became one of their most beloved songs.
  31. Billy Squier, “The Stroke” – From the gem Don’t Say No.
  32. Tom Petty, “Money Becomes King” – Dark record company juju from Tom. When commerce overwhelms art.
  33. Joe Walsh, “I Can Play That Rock N Roll” – He certainly can. Joe takes us through all the prevailing genre’s from back in the day to conclude that rock n roll is best. He’s not wrong.
  34. The Who, “Success Story” – “Remember when this used to be fun…” Says it all.
  35. Oasis, “Rock N Roll Star” – One of the Rock Chick’s favorite bands… seemed appropriate here.
  36. The Beatles, “Baby, You’re A Rich Man” – Not sure who this was for but it sounds like a record exec.
  37. Foreigner, “Juke Box Hero” – From kid outside the arena to the stage. Quite a musical journey.
  38. Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good” – The ultimate “this is how rock stars live” song.
  39. Rod Stewart, “When We Were The New Boys” – I like to think he was singing about the Faces here…
  40. Pete Townshend, “Sheraton Gibson” – Pete from his first solo LP, Who Came First, singing about the simple joy of playing his acoustic guitar (a Gibson) in a hotel on the road (the Sheraton).
  41. Van Halen, “I’m The One” – It’s always difficult to decipher the lyrics of David Lee Roth. On this track, from their debut, he’s singing to a woman, but then he says, “Look at all these little kids, takin’ care of the music biz, do their business take good care of me?” I’m always looking to include Van Halen songs on a playlist… so I did.
  42. No Doubt, “Snakes” – Brutal take down of their corporate masters.
  43. Randy Newman, “My Life Is Good” – A brutal, politically incorrect satire of the bloated life of the rock star. At the end of the song, Bruce Springsteen decides he doesn’t want to be the Boss anymore and turns it over to Randy.
  44. Billy Joel, “The Entertainer” – “Another serenader and another long haired band…”
  45. Tom Petty, “Into The Great Wide Open” – About a fictional artist’s climb to the top… “Their A&R man said, “I don’t hear a single.”
  46. George Harrison, “Cockamamie Business” – (*Not on the Spotify list) George was known as the quiet Beatle. Perhaps he should have been known as the grumpy Beatle.
  47. Heart, “Barracuda” – Had to be about a manager.
  48. Fitz & The Tantrum, “Money Grabber” – Had to be about a manager.
  49. Elton John, “Bitter Fingers” – About the difficulties of writing a song.
  50. John Mellencamp, “Pop Singer” – “Never wanted to be no pop singer, never wanted to sing pop songs…”
  51. Warren Zevon, “Even A Dog Can Shake Hands” – Had to be about a manager. Thanks to all of you out there voting for Zevon for the Rock Hall of Fame.
  52. Pink Floyd, “Have A Cigar” – The quote “And by the way, which one is Pink” was supposedly something a record company exec actually said to one of the band.
  53. Bad Company, “Shooting Star” – The careers of most rock stars, most bands really, is as fleeting as a shooting star…
  54. Genesis, “Duchess” – A great song about what happens to a band/artist when they stop making music from the heart and start chasing “hits” or what’s popular. U2 should listen to this song.
  55. The Who, “Guitar And Pen” – Another track about writing songs. To me the magic of writing songs is like alchemy.
  56. Bruce Springsteen, “Last Man Standing” – Bruce writing about being the last man left from his first ever band… as Dylan said, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.”
  57. The Who, “Daily Records” – Did anybody write more songs about being in a band than Townshend? This is a great song on one of the albums maybe only I like, about just wanting to go into the studio every day and record a new song.
  58. Bruce Springsteen, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” – On Born To Run, after the invitation to join him on his journey, “Thunder Road,” Bruce tells you the story of the band that’s going to take the ride with you on this song. “I’m gonna sit back right easy and laugh when Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half…” I still tear up when I hear the line, “When the change was made up town and the Big Man joined the band…” We miss you Clarence Clemons…
  59. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Travelin’ Band” – Sure, there are a lot of songs on this list about what a bummer it is to be on the road… but it’s not all bad. This is one of the most joyous tracks about being in…well… a traveling band.

That’s our list! Again, if you have a song that fits the theme, let us know in the comments section and I’ll add it to the Spotify list. As I said before, this may be my most eclectic playlist of all. If you’re out there somewhere on the road with guitars and drums and keyboards, headed to that next gig – or even if you’re just driving down the highway – I hope this playlists gets you a little further down the road. Whoever you are, keep rock n roll alive, support your local musicians.



7 thoughts on “Playlist: The Ups And Downs Of… The Music Business/Show Business… Songs About Being In A Band

  1. Not a song about being in a band but about being famous and a rockstar and making a lot of money: Fame and Weallth from Loudon Wainwright III
    “Fame and wealth that’s what I’m after
    Bucks and praise that’s what I crave
    How I get ’em hardly matters
    For these things I’ll be your slave
    I’ll kiss you arse, I’ll kiss your keister
    Kiss your kisser, Kiss you hand
    I’ll come across, I’ll put out plenty
    I gotta make it, understand? Great lyrics, not? Greatings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, exactly! I was laying awake in bed last night and realized I had to add “A Child’s Claim To Fame” by the Buffalo Springfield and “Fame” by Bowie. Can’t believe I overlooked those 2 perfect songs for this list! Great minds think alike!!


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