Is there a song that gives you a feeling of instant well-being, even though you’re not entirely sure why? That’s exactly what “Moviestar” by Harpo does for me.
And even today, 40-odd years after its release, I still can’t quite put my finger on why.
I don’t think even Harpo himself…or Jan Torsten Svennson, to give him his proper name…would argue “Moviestar” was the best song ever written or had one stand-out element, such as a iconic guitar solo or an impressive drum track, which on its own would ensure the song’s place in music history.
But it’s a great song for all that. Every time I hear it on the radio, I can’t help but feel good about the world, irrespective what I’ve been through that day.
Of course, the melody is very jaunty and bouncy. Humming along in the car is always a good option. And it did squeeze itself into the UK Top 30 at a time when I listened to the radio on a nearly full-time basis during my waking hours.
I’m sure all the airplay “Moviestar” got on BBC radio in the mid-1970s, and the happy memories of the time when only music seemed to matter to me, is a major factor behind my instantly joyful reaction every time I hear “Moviestar” on the radio.
But don’t be taken in by the bouncy melody. The lyrics of “Moviestar” come from a slightly different place...
Essentially “Moviestar” is a song about someone who played a bit part in a TV commercial and whose ego has been overly-inflated as a result of that exposure. Now they imagine they’re “the next big thing” in the entertainment industry…
You feel like Steve McQueen
When you’re driving in your car
And you think you look like James Bond
When you’re smoking your cigar
It’s so bizarre
You think you are
The new kind of James Dean
But the only thing I’ve ever seen of you
Was a commercial spot on the screen
I think we all know people like that, don’t we? I’m all for people feeling good about themselves, but when positive thinking turn into self-delusion, that can get a bit much.
I’m probably not the first person to make this observation, but all the really successful people I know are forever beating themselves up about not being good enough and never stop thinking they need to improve to be truly successful.
Whereas every single poor performer I’ve come across has been certain in their own mind that they were a world expert in whatever they’re doing, and fully deserving of the sort of adulation normally reserved for the likes of Maria Carey or Frank Sinatra.
Maybe Harpo had some similar experiences and wrote “Moviestar” as a rebuff to someone he knew who wouldn’t keep quiet about how brilliant he thought he was. I’d understand if he did…
Frozen hero, your words are zero
And your dreams have vanished into dark
And long ago
But you don’t want to know
As you can see, the words are quite cutting for such a jaunty tune…whoever this song was about must have really irritated Harpo…
But “Moviestar” isn’t just about a set of cutting lyrics delivered across a very hummable melody. It’s also got a little musical curiosity built into it…
When Harpo started out in the music business in his native Sweden, he was signed to Polar Music…at the time a small record label which would go on to conquer the world thanks to one of the acts it signed about the same time…ABBA.
In fact, Harpo was originally planned to work with Benny and Bjorn, later of ABBA fame, and at the time in-house writers and producers for Polar Music. That project didn’t work out so Harpo left Polar Music and went to EMI.
It was while Harpo was at EMI that he released “Moviestar”, but still the ABBA connection continued…Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who casual observers might remember as ABBA’s dark-haired female vocalist, sang backing vocals on the chorus for “Moviestar”.
If you listen carefully, you can just about pick her out in this section…
Movie star, oh movie star oh woh oh
You think you are a movie
Movie star, oh movie star oh woh oh
You think you are a movie star
To this day, I can’t explain intellectually why I like this record so much. All I know is every time I hear “Moviestar” on the radio, a big smile spreads across my face and I sing along as best I can to one of the songs that never seemed to be off the radio in 1976.
A big hit in Norway, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Germany…where it reached Number One in the charts… “Moviestar” only made it to Number 24 in the UK and didn’t trouble the Billboard charts at all.
If you listened to the radio a lot back in the mid-1970s, you’ll recognise this tune in an instant. But if you didn’t, fear not…this is one of the nicest songs to come out of the mid-1970s, even if I can’t tell you exactly why I feel that way about it.
Here’s “Moviestar” by Harpo…
The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/4t9EUCjCPbdfqtOH25k8AU
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