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|Single by The Kinks|
|from the album Everybody's in Show-Biz|
|Released||November 24, 1972|
|Format||7" single 45 RPM|
|Recorded||May-Jun 1972 at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London|
|Label||RCA 2299 (U.K.)
RCA 74-0852 (U.S.)
|The Kinks singles chronology|
"Celluloid Heroes" is a song performed by The Kinks and written by their lead vocalist and principal songwriter, Ray Davies. It debuted on their 1972 album Everybody's in Show-Biz. The UK-based film website and podcast Celluloid Heroes Radio is named after the song.
The song names several famous actors of 20th century film, and also mentions Los Angeles's Hollywood Boulevard, alluding to its Hollywood Walk of Fame. The actors mentioned are Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino, Bela Lugosi, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, George Sanders, and Mickey Rooney although some versions of the song, including recorded concert versions, are performed with fewer verses and, thus, Marilyn Monroe, George Sanders, and Mickey Rooney are left out.
Davies uses the technique of personification (of the Walk's concrete stars) to create an intimate connection with the subject matter. The lyric has a warm, melancholy and nostalgic feel, and is driven by three underlying themes. First, "Celluloid Heroes" specifically cites the inhumane and exploitative manner in which the film industry can use its stars. Second, Davies suggests the escapist fantasy world of movies as an attractive respite. "I wish my life were a non-stop Hollywood movie show," he writes, "because celluloid heroes never feel any pain," and "never really die." Finally, Davies treats as metaphor the sometimes ethereal and elusive nature of Hollywood fame and success. "Everybody's a dreamer, everybody's a star" is followed by a cautionary note to the listener - those who find success must maintain their guard, because "success walks hand-in-hand with failure along the Hollywood Boulevard."
"Celluloid Heroes" and the Everybody's in Show-Biz album was followed by Davies' and the Kinks' pioneering but commercially unsuccessful and artistically uneven theatrical incarnation (1973–1976) (see main article The Kinks).
Release and reception
The track was released as the second single from the album. In the UK, the single features the full album version which runs to over six minutes, but the US single used a more radio-friendly edit which is almost two minutes shorter. Although their previous single had been a top 20 hit on the UK singles chart, "Celluloid Heroes" failed to chart. Although not a hit single, the track received consistent airplay on AOR radio stations in the US through the 1970s and into the 1980s. Airplay in recent years has been scarce with classic rock stations often favoring only the band's top 40 hits; yet it is the song of choice to play when these stations mark the passing of a Hollywood star. This, and Internet radio's "deep cuts" stations ensure its future play.
"Celluloid Heroes" is a firm favorite among Kinks aficionados, and is regarded, lyrically and melodically, as one of Davies' most mature and moving works. The ballad is one of the few where the talent of John Gosling (on piano) is put at the front as a key element of the song. Former Animals keyboardist Dave Rowberry plays the Hammond organ. Building up on the initial D-major key, the harmonies of the verses proceed in a gradual exploration of several minor chords, until they culminate in an unexpected D7 chord preparing for the key change to G-major in the chorus.
"Celluloid Heroes" demonstrates a sensitive, emotional side to Davies' writing not often seen by those only familiar with The Kinks' generally jauntier, carefree singles output. At the time of its release, the song was one of the longest for the band, peaking at six minutes, while most of Davies' songs had rarely surpassed four minutes. The song was a standard in their concert playlists until they disbanded in 1996; appearing on the band's live album One for the Road (1980), it features a lengthy instrumental intro, a rare occurrence in the Kinks commercial canon. The song continues to be featured in Ray Davies' solo shows, and was chosen to be re-recorded for the 2009 album The Kinks Choral Collection. The song was also the title track of a 1976 collection featuring material originally released while recording for the RCA label, The Kinks' Greatest: Celluloid Heroes.
British actor and singer Tim Curry frequently performed this song during his tours in the late 70s.
Finnish singer-songwriter Juice Leskinen translated and recorded this song in Finnish as Paperitähdet.
Renaissance-inspired folk rock band Blackmore's Night recorded the song for their album Autumn Sky.
Australian actor Reg Livermore performs the song in his Betty Blokk-Buster Follies show, the song also appears on the soundtrack.