And They Sing, Too: Celebs with Surprise Musical Pasts

Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp and Other Actors Who Tried Music First
Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones
Kevin Winter/Getty; Al Pereira/Getty

06/20/2014 03:00PM

Fans of Orange Is the New Black surely remember the scene at the end of the first season in which seemingly mute Norma (Annie Golden) breaks her silence by singing. Golden's sweet voice surprised viewers, and they might be just as shocked to learn that the actress has a history as a singer.



As the lead singer of the pop band The Shirts, Golden performed many times at Manhattan's legendary CBGB club. "Hang Up the Phone" has a much poppier sound than songs from The Shirts' early years, to the point that SPIN compared it to "a real-life version of Robin Sparkles's 'Let's Go to the Mall,'" but you can't say it's not catchy.

Of course, there's no shortage of actors who release albums as vanity projects, but instances such as Golden's case – celebrities better known for acting who happen to have an album or two released in their past – are fewer and farther between.



Russell Crowe



For example, before his stardom in Hollywood or even Australia, Crowe released a few songs in his native New Zealand under the stage name Russ Le Roq. This 1982 track, "I Just Want to Be Like Marlon Brando," shows us a younger, skinnier Crowe before he set his sights on acting roles – and before he became a lot more like Marlon Brando.

Johnny Depp



It was actually a rock band that took Depp to Hollywood. Depp played guitar for Florida band The Kids, but the group decided to chase bigger dreams in L.A., where Depp was eventually encouraged to try acting. Depp also played guitar for the band Rock City Angels and co-wrote "Mary," a song on their 1988 album Young Man's Blues.

In the video, you see Johnny Depp looking all young but unmistakably Johnny Depp-ish around the 1:24 mark.

Maya Rudolph



Anyone familiar with her Saturday Night Live characters knows that Rudolph can belt out notes on par with the singers she's imitating, but before Rudolph went full-on with comedy, she played keyboards in The Rentals. Don't forget that Maya Rudolph comes by music biologically: Her mom is the late "Lovin' You" singer Minnie Riperton. In fact, at the 3:25 mark in that song, Ripperton starts singing Maya's name repeatedly.

Fred Armisen



Not to be outdone, equally musical SNL alum Fred Armisen left his mark on the punk scene before moving on to comedy. He played drums for the band Trenchmouth, 1990-1996. Today, Armisen continues to fuse music and comedy as the bandleader on Late Night with Seth Meyers and on his series Portlandia, which is always game to let musicians show off their comedy chops.

Catherine Zeta-Jones



She's done enough musicals to prove her pipes, but before she hit it big as an actress, she gave a go at being a recording artist. Above, you're seeing the video for "In the Arms of Love," her 1995 ballad. Three years later, she caught everyone's attention with her turn in The Mask of Zorro, and ever since she's been an actress who can sing, and not the other way around.

Ricky Gervais



Given his reputation for making fun of most things, you might guess that Gervais's new wave band Seona Dancing might itself be a joke. Nope. The two-member band released a few tracks before splitting up in 1984, presumably embittering Gervais and setting him down the path toward caustic comedy. For what it's worth, "More to Lose" did become a hit in the Philippines.

Malin Akerman



Just watching the video, you'd be forgiven for thinking it might be a relic of the late '90s. But no, Akerman's band Petalstone actually released this Evanescence-esque track in 2004. Shortly thereafter, Akerman left the band, citing that she "actually can't sing," and scored the role on The Comeback that established her as a comedic actress. Not that a lack of singing ability has stopped other celebs from getting behind a microphone …

Alan Arkin



Even if you were to imagine Alan Arkin in a band, you probably wouldn't immediately dream up one that plays a fusion of American folk and Jamaican calypso. However, that's exactly what Arkin's band The Tarriers did. The overall sound tends toward A Mighty Wind territory, and yes, that's a very young Alan Arkin you see in the middle of the record art. Before Arkin left the group in 1958, The Tarriers scored their biggest hit with "The Banana Boat Song," a variation on the song for which Harry Belafonte ultimately became known.

Jennifer Love Hewitt



At this point, most people know that Hewitt was a singing, dancing tot on Kids Incorporated. And while she released some albums as an adult, it's less widely known that just one year after her Kids Incorporated run, in 1992, a barely teenaged Hewitt released the Japan-exclusive album Love Songs. It featured the exceptionally earnest inspirational ballad "Please Save Us the World," whose United Nations-endorsed music video you see above. Humanitarianism aside, her take on ABBA's "Dancing Queen" might be the more "I can't believe this happened" track.

Tracey Ullman



Today, Ullman is best known for her comedic impressions, but during the earliest stages of her career, she had a side gig as a singer – notably belting out Motown-style '60s pop while signed to a punk label. Listen to her 1982 track "Breakaway," itself a cover of a song originally released in 1964.

By the way, Ullman's cover of Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" eventually became the theme song for the HBO sketch comedy series Tracey Takes On….

Jason Schwartzman



Most people associate the band Phantom Planet with the opening credits to The O.C., but the band's big national break "California" coincided more or less with the loss of its most famous member: drummer Jason Schwartzman, who opted to pursue acting. While that's his primary gig today, in 2006 Schwartzman began his own solo music project, Coconut Records, whose song "Drummer" features the lyrics "I was a drummer in a band that you've heard of / I was a drummer in a band that just broke up / Isn't that the way it goes?"

Creed Bratton



It took until the very final episode for The Office to acknowledge what '60s folk rock fans already knew: the Creed on the show was a fictionalized (and deeply demented) version of the real Creed Bratton, who sang and played guitar for The Grass Roots, 1965-1969. The clip above comes from the band's 1967 appearance on The Hollywood Palace, with an intro from Jimmy Durante himself.

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