- BRUCE WILLIS Respect Yourself (Motown)
- Week Ending 14th March 1987
- 1 Week At #1
“Every time Eddie Murphy, Don Johnson or Bruce Willis make an album, I’ll make another movie”, once quipped the late Joe Strummer. TV and Film actors branching out into the world of recorded music is nothing new, but in the mid-80s the most high-profile of them were all proving popular (especially in America).
Despite the success of Miami Vice in the UK, the efforts of Don Johnson hadn’t managed any real chart returns (the Heartbeat single nudged the lower reaches of the Top 50, but the album got nowhere). Likewise, although reaching #2 in the US and actually being a bit of a corker, Murphy’s Party All The Time couldn’t translate its achievements to this side of the Atlantic.
Step forward Bruce Willis, a.k.a David Addison of the Blue Moon Detective Agency, the breakout star of the small screen in 1986 courtesy of Moonlighting.
Do bears bear? Do bees be?
Do singers act? Can actors sing?
Moonlighting premiered in Britain on my birthday in 1986; I can still remember settling down to watch it that evening, with the excited recommendations of Jonathan King (oops) still fresh in my mind, from his Entertainment USA programme.
Over the course of that summer, the show became the must-see event of my week. I’d record every episode on the VCR to watch back at least once or twice, as I tended to laugh so much (sometimes almost hysterically) at the gags and quick-fire wordplay, that I’d often miss some of it the first time around. I absolutely loved Moonlighting, if I hadn’t already made that obvious.
Music formed a key part of the show on several occasions during its debut season; one episode (Big Man On Mulberry Street) was an unconventional attempt to build a whole production around what was merely an album track from Billy Joel’s then-new LP which wasn’t exactly setting the charts alight. Another plot (The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice) imagined the detective duo of David Addison and Maddie Hayes (played so perfectly in the series by Cybill Shepherd) as jazz musicians from the 1940s, caught up in a murderous love triangle; this gave Shepherd the chance to perform a couple of big-band numbers, which later turned up on a Moonlighting soundtrack album in September 1987.
Most memorable, without doubt, were the brief moments when David Addison would launch impromptu into some classic soul tune or other as he headed home from a bar, or walked the streets on his latest case. Coincidentally, or otherwise, cue a deal with Motown Records and The Return Of Bruno project.
This was, not to exaggerate at all, the most exciting development I could have anticipated. My favourite character on TV, from my favourite show on TV, goes and makes an album! Take my money, why dontcha!
“I’m looking for a CD by a man on TV
A man on TV?
A man on TV.
What kind of CD could it possibly be by a man on TV?
Let me see; what kind of CD could possibly be made by a man on TV who’s been seen on our screens.
Did I happen to mention. Did I say that I know. The CD that I’m seeking from the man on TV, I’m not sure of the songs or how they might go. Except it’s Moonlighting, that’s the name of the show.”
(Sorry. There I go again).
The lead single was a cover of The Staple Singer’s magnificent Respect Yourself; already covered not that long before by The Kane Gang (a Top 30 hit in late 1984), but perhaps it never made much impression on the US charts. Willis’ version actually trumps it in capturing a pleasingly authentic, dirty soul vibe (thanks in no small part to an uncredited June Pointer lending her vocal prowess to proceedings), and the video nicely played on aspects of the David Addison persona without overdoing it.
Job done. Record eagerly purchased. Respect Yourself knocks a-ha off the #1 spot on my chart. Boink boink boink boink boink……..
Even the album proved surprisingly fun, if not quite living up to the promise of Respect Yourself; Willis/Addison’s onscreen penchant for Doo-Wop and retro Soul manifesting itself in only a handful of Bruno..‘s 10 tracks. There would be a surprise UK summer smash in the form of Under The Boardwalk, held off #1 by Star Trekkin’ would you believe, with Willis ably supported by The Temptations on a genuinely lovely cover of the Drifters classic.
The Return Of Bruno itself was a concept piece (hey, wait!); an album-taken-from-the-show about the triumphant comeback of a fictitious popstar from the 60s and 70s. While the record had its moments, the film did not. Sad fact: it really wasn’t very good, or very funny. All the celebrity cameos (in on the “joke”) couldn’t hold a candle to 30 seconds of Willis in David Addison mode, full of wit and charm. Even at the height of my fandom, it struck a bum note.
With the two best tracks lifted from the album, Willis failed to trouble the Top 40 with either the third or fourth choices (a lame Secret Agent Man and the goofy good-time froth of Comin’ Right Up), and the album drifted out of the public eye before 1987 was over.
He tried to repeat the formula two years later, with another album If It Don’t Kill Ya, It Can Only Make You Stronger (prime cover of choice: Save The Last Dance For Me) but by then Moonlighting was winding down for good and he’d branched out into action films via Die Hard, beginning the transformation into a shaven-headed movie celebrity for the 1990s and beyond.
But for that brief time in early 1987, it all came together perfectly for me.
I enjoyed your riff on “We’re looking for a man with a mole on his nose …”!
It’s odd to think that a song by the star of a TV show was kept out of the top spot on the UK singles chart by a song about a TV show. And now I guess I know why the Temptations showed up at the beginning of an episode of “Moonlighting” in the fall of ’86: they were already in town to sing on Willis’s cover of “Under the Boardwalk.”
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Thanks Robert! I spent far too much time working on that riff….
Have just started rewatching Moonlighting again…it never gets old. The credits roll, Al Jarreau’s theme kicks in and there I am, back in 1986/87…
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I showed a few episodes to my preteen nieces in 2018 and ’19 to see what they’d think of the show (and to see if I would find “Moonlighting” to be misogynistic in the #MeToo era). They seemed to like those episodes (“My Fair David,” “Every Daughter’s Father Is a Virgin,” “Twas the Episode Before Christmas,” “The Straight Poop,” etc.), especially the character of David, so it’s a shame they can’t stream “Moonlighting” anywhere.
Have you heard of “‘Moonlighting’: An Oral History”? It came out earlier this year. I think you’ll enjoy it, although I wish Bruce Willis had participated:
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Thanks Robert! I may have to check this out once I finish the series on DVD.
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