Musicians who deserve their own movies

It seems like the musical biopic has really been picking up steam in recent years. From Bob Dylan to the Notorious B.I.G. to the Runaways to N.W.A. to Queen, it seems like there's no iconic musician whose rise to fame just wasn't interesting enough to be dramatized by Hollywood. It kind of makes sense. It's a lot easier to write a screenplay when 90 percent of the narrative is already laid out for you, and perhaps more than any other variety of celebrity, the lives and relationships of rock stars have always been a source of fascination for regular, non-rock star people.

Consider, however, that some of the more interesting stories in the annals of music history have yet to receive the big-screen treatment. If any big-time Hollywood screenwriters happen to be reading this, we've done half your job for you by presenting this handy list of musicians who really need to get their own biopics. You're welcome — extravagant gift baskets will be accepted as thanks.

Kings from Queens: The Run-D.M.C. Story

Before they became perhaps the most important figures in rap music, Joseph Simmons, Daryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell were just a bunch of dudes from Queens who were enamored of New York's burgeoning hip-hop scene. Simmons and McDaniels had been acquainted since kindergarten, but were brought closer by their mutual love of rhymes and the fact that McDaniels had turntables. Resolving to form a group, they figured they'd call themselves The Dynamic Two — until Simmons' older brother Russell, who had agreed to manage them, put a fork in that idea. Speaking with the New York Times, McDaniels said, "He called and said, 'You're going to be Run-D.M.C.' It sounded like the worst name in the world. We said, 'You're ruining us.'"

This turned out to not be correct. Recruiting well-known Queens DJ Mizell, the trio blazed a trail with their first three records that changed rap forever. Their biopic could have a lot of fun focusing on all the seemingly career-killing choices that set them apart. They eschewed flamboyant, disco-y garb in favor of jeans and leather jackets, stripped down their music to practically nothing but drums and shouted vocals, and had the gall to employ elements of rock before literally anyone else in the genre. There was enough drugs, drinking, and conflict during their heyday to add some second-act drama, a late-career turn to religion for Simmons — the good stuff's all there. Just, for the love of Pete, don't let Aerosmith play themselves.

Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath

Musical pioneers always make for good biopic fodder, and you can't pioneer much harder than Black Sabbath did. Formed in 1968 as the Polka Tulk Blues Band (no, really) the boys changed their moniker to the slightly-less-ridiculous Earth, and were blues-ing it up around Birmingham when fate intervened. Guitarist Tony Iommi suffered an industrial accident that de-tipped the fingers of his fretting hand, a career-ending injury for any guitarist — but he compensated by tuning his axe down a half-step to provide some slack, resulting in a sound nobody had quite heard before. Then, singer Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler penned a dark, scary tune entitled "Black Sabbath" — and suddenly, heavy metal kicked (hard) in the womb.

The band would go on to lay down metal's founding documents while puzzling critics, enraging anyone with religious leanings, and doing roughly all of the drugs. There's almost too much material for a biopic here; Osbourne's exploits alone are legendary, from snorting ants to biting heads off things to generally being a complete madman. His leaving the band for a stellar solo career, along with the tragic death of his guitarist Randy Rhoads, could provide strong dramatic beats, and the tenure of vocalist Ronnie James Dio in Sabbath deserves examination as well (plus, you know you're dying to see who they'd cast in that role). Osbourne's triumphant return to the band at 1997's Ozzfest could cap the whole thing off. We don't need a dramatization of Ozzy's reality show years.

Poetry: The Story of Boogie Down Productions

Lawrence "Kris" Parker, better known as KRS-One, isn't exactly a household name — unless your household is really into rap. Among hip-hoppers, he's an absolute legend. Homeless at 16, he kicked around New York as a graffiti artist before hooking up with Scott Sterling — a caseworker at a men's shelter — to form Boogie Down Productions, a group that would almost immediately kick off one of the biggest beefs in rap history. The "Bridge Wars" between BDP and Queens collective the Juice Crew firmly established KRS as a rapper you really didn't want to mess with, but the group's rise was marred by Sterling's tragic murder not long after the release of debut album Criminal Minded.

Disregarding the fact that this actually sounds like a scrappy underdog story that someone made up, the Bridge Wars portion of the narrative alone would make for an utterly fascinating yarn. Parker was also known to casually invent new rhyme styles — such as his "hip-hop reggae" style, or the ultra-rhythmic machine-gun bursts of lyrics on Criminal Minded's opening track "Poetry" — that are still influential today, and he regrouped from Sterling's death to drop 1987's By All Means Necessary, a stone-cold classic. It'd be a tough part to cast. Parker's voice and appearance are rather singular, and at his most nimble, very few people can rap like him. But this is a story begging for dramatization, if only to remind the world of that time the hottest crew in New York got destroyed by a homeless guy.

Nothing Else Matters

The raucous, booze-soaked early years of famous bands always make for good biopic material, and not many bands were more booze-soaked and raucous than Metallica, who earned the nickname "Alcoholica" before most of the world even knew who the musicians were. They invented thrash metal as teenagers, dropping perhaps the most aggressive musical style anyone had yet seen right on the world's face, and somehow parlayed that into becoming the biggest band on Earth. Along the way, there were plenty of dramatic beats — because, as the documentary Some Kind of Monster showed us, the personalities in the band tend toward the petulant and dysfunctional.

This was a band full of flagrant drunks who kicked out guitarist (and future Megadeth frontman) Dave Mustaine for drinking too much. Their steady rise was threatened by a horrific bus accident that claimed the life of original bassist Cliff Burton, and replacement Jason Newsted was in constant conflict with the other members, to the point that his contribution to 1988's …And Justice For All was mixed so low as to be nearly inaudible. And just when it seemed like they'd gotten as mainstream as a thrash metal band could get, they hooked up with producer Bob Rock for 1991's Metallica (colloquially known as the Black Album) — which, with its slightly more accessible sound, sold roughly eleventy-billion copies and made them international superstars. And we can probably just close out the biopic there, because the band got a lot less dramatic once they sobered up.

Dance the Night Away: The Real Story of Van Halen

The story of Van Halen, the ultimate party-hearty rock band, offers a busload of possible avenues for dramatization. There are the early years, which saw guitarist Eddie Van Halen developing the highly unconventional playing techniques that would make him a guitar god; the meet-cute with vocalist David Lee Roth, a famously limited singer who absolutely owned the stage; the early demo financed by Gene Simmons of KISS. These are all great biopic beats, and we could even end our flick with the band achieving world dominance with their landmark album 1984. Or, if we wanted a four-hour movie, we could sidle on through to Roth's 1985 fallout with the band and the tenure of vocalist Sammy Hagar, during which things got weird — and the band somehow became even bigger.

Despite the Hagar years being the band's most commercially successful, they were marked by the kind of nastiness and infighting that, while unfortunate, makes for great drama. We could revisit Hagar's dramatic break from the band, the ill-fated and brief tenure of singer Gary Cherone, the subsequent on-again-off-again with Roth, and Eddie's onstage freakouts. Of course, after all that, there would be no triumphant finale — for the last 20 years or so, the band has just kind of soldiered on whenever they can tolerate each other long enough to do so. In contrast to their super-happy-fun-time image, it's been kind of depressing. 

Yeah, maybe just end with 1984.

Phil Collins Is Awesome

Let's get this straight right now: Phil Collins is a freaking legend. If you only know him for making you wonder what the hell a "Sussudio" is, then you're Collins-ing all wrong. He's one of the most respected drummers in rock; he manned the skins for Genesis, a wildly inventive prog-rock band with drum parts that would make lesser drummers put their heads right through their snares. Then, when lead singer Peter Gabriel left and took his uber-distinctive voice with him, Collins stepped up to sing lead — and not only killed it, but took Genesis from proggy weirdos to one of the biggest pop bands of the '80s.

Of course, we all know that he then went on to an arguably even more successful solo career. But did you know that he helped invent the gated snare drum sound (first employed on Gabriel's "Intruder") which practically defined the '80s? He did, and it's part of what makes perhaps the single most memorable bar of drumming ever (on "In the Air Tonight," of course) so memorable. He was the only artist to play at both Live Aid concerts, performing a solo set in London before hopping on a Concorde to go sing some more songs and also sit in on drums for Led freakin' Zeppelin in Philadelphia. He's a consummate professional, is badass in unexpected ways, and has more career highlights than you can shake a stick at — and still, he gets no respect. A biopic entitled Phil Collins is Awesome could remedy this in a hurry.

Prince: Sign O' The Times

Many biopics fascinate because they delve into the personal lives of their subjects, showing us sides of our favorite artists that we'd never seen before. But if Prince were to ever be immortalized on film, this would not really be the case. Prince didn't have much of a personal life, as it were. By all accounts, the man lived, breathed, and ate music, composing a song a day on average and only taking breaks to, well, do sex. With Prince, what you saw was what you got — but his career contained a wealth of moments ripe for dramatization.

In his early years, there was controversy over his dirty mind, brought about by albums like Controversy and Dirty Mind. This spiraled into full-blown hysteria when the government went to war with music, a conflict instigated by the Purple One's "pornographic" lyrics to "Darling Nikki," from his seminal 1984 release Purple Rain. Once all that hullabaloo died down, there was the battle with his record label, which saw Prince appearing in public with the word "SLAVE" scrawled on his face. He further decided to annoy his label by changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. A biopic could also touch on the hits he wrote for other artists and his many stellar collaborations, and would practically have to end with George Harrison's posthumous Rock Hall of Fame induction, at which Prince paid tribute with one of the most blindingly amazing guitar solos ever performed.

Let's Dance: The David Bowie Story

The great part about a David Bowie biopic? It'd be like six different biopics in one. We could start off with his early years playing around in local bands under his real name Davy Jones before he changed it to avoid confusion with the Monkee of the same name. After a first solo album went nowhere, he spent a while at a Buddhist monastery, and then formed his own mime troupe — and we haven't even gotten to the really interesting parts yet.

Throughout the 1970s, Bowie made a habit of completely overhauling his image every time fans started to think they had him pinned down. The spacy image of his first three albums gave way to full-on alienhood in the form of perhaps his most famous persona, Ziggy Stardust. That lasted all of a year before he glammed it up for his next couple releases. Then, a segue into his slick, businesslike Thin White Duke persona in the late '70s, a period during which he scored his first #1 U.S. hit ("Fame," co-written with John Lennon). Finally, in the early '80s, he decided "screw it," and became a full-fledged pop star, recruiting the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughn to play lead guitar on the monster smash hit album Let's Dance — which is a good place to wrap up the story, and as good a name for his biopic as any. It's a little less unwieldy than The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

Since Bohemian Rhapsody was so successful, a Bowie-focused movie has been announced, but the movie will likely not have any of Bowie's music or the family's blessing. Hrmm.

Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues

Any film detailing the life and times of Janis Joplin will have to start from her childhood because her life was famously short. However, there's plenty to mine for inspirational beats here. She grew up singing in a church choir, and was bullied throughout school for her weight and acne, which of course she overcame to eventually kick about seven different kinds of ass as one of the most powerful singers of her time. After a couple unsuccessful stints in college, she made a name for herself in the early '60s by sitting in with folk singers and blowing them all out of the water. A performance at the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival turned out not to be the big break she needed, and she almost gave up on music (this would be around the middle of the second act) before being recruited by San Francisco-based Big Brother and the Holding Company — right before that music scene totally exploded.

A return to Monterey for the 1967 Pop Festival finally got the attention of record execs, and her appearance on Big Brother's 1968 album Cheap Thrills made her a bona fide star. Of course, the requisite drugs, alcohol, and infighting all became factors, and Joplin would only produce two more (awesome) solo albums before her untimely death in 1970. It's a classic story of struggle, hard living, blowing up fast, and dying young — and Joplin's big personality and even bigger voice deserve the Hollywood treatment.

Alice Unchained

Layne Staley grew up wanting to be a musician, and was playing drums in bands as early as 12. It seemed like music was his destiny from the outset, but the first incarnation of his band Alice in Chains was a bit different from the outfit we know and love. After guitarist Jerry Cantrell caught Staley singing at a local show, the pair formed "Alice N' Chains" in the late '80s in an attempt to score some of that sweet hair-metal cash. As the music scene started to shift and become all grunge-y in the early '90s, the band corrected the spelling of their name and steered their music in a darker direction — helped along by the fact that Staley and Cantrell's harmonies sounded really, really creepy in a cool way.

Staley's biopic would have to focus on the band's unbelievably meteoric rise, as they came to dominate hard rock and Staley became known as one of the more original and influential vocalists of the genre. Of course, the third act would veer hard into Cautionary Tale territory. As early as 1993, Staley was exhibiting symptoms of the intense drug addiction that would eventually cost him his life in 2002. But he was a singer with inauspicious beginnings who rose to cement a towering legacy before losing it all to drugs, and if that isn't the classic rock 'n' roll story, what is?