This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of the saddest rock ballads of all time. Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” tells the tragic story of a boy who quickly rose to fame, even more quickly fizzled out, and died of an overdose shortly thereafter.
The song appeared on the 1975 album Straight Shooter, which also featured the Top Ten hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Though the tale certainly has much truth in it, the character of Johnny is purely fictional.
Other songs have featured fictional singers or bands, some of which, like Johnny, met with tragedy and/or success. Here are ten popular songs that contain fictional musicians, most of whom were created by well-known artists.
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (featuring Billy Shears), created by The Beatles
The concept of this make believe band led to what has become arguably the greatest album in rock history as well as a major film and a valuable cover art. The title track introduces the group, starting with singer Billy Shears, who leads into “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, created by David Bowie
The British icon had several transformations throughout his half-century as an entertainer, but his most enduring character is Ziggy. The album is one of his finest from the peak of his 70s career, and the title track is still featured weekly on FM rock stations.
The Sultans of Swing, created by Dire Straits
Mark Knopfler and his band had a smash hit with this song from their self-titled debut, narrating the tale of a band who just plays on Friday nights. We only get two of their names, Guitar George and Harry, but the scene is described so well that we can almost hear them “blowing Dixie double four time.”
Bennie and the Jets, created by Elton John
This fictional female band, adorned with electric boots and mohair suits, is so good that the veteran piano rocker finds himself stuttering at the sight of them.
Curtis Lowe, created by Lynyrd Skynyrd
This tune from Second Helping is a beautiful song about an old black man who plays a dobro for change or a sip of wine. Although he dies virtually unknown, like Johnny in “Shooting Star,” his demise is followed by the narrator’s praise of his musical legacy.
The Jokers, created by Rick Derringer “
Though a real band would eventually call themselves The Jokers, rocker Rick Derringer was referring to a fictional group when he described them as “laying it down” on his biggest hit, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.”
DJ Mini Mart, created by the Minus Five
Jeff Tweedy co-wrote “Retrieval of You,” a song from the appropriately titled Down with Wilco album. The tune is told from the point of view of “a fumbled record star” who got his nickname from working at a convenience store.
Willy and the Poor Boys, created by Creedence Clearwater Revival
John Fogarty in “Down on the Corner” sings about this group that features Rooster on washboard, Blinkie on bass, Poorboy on kazoo, and dancing Willy as the singer.
Johnny B. Goode, created by Chuck Berry
This character from the early days of rock is definitely the most famous guitar player of song, who is encouraged by the great Berry himself to “Go, go Johnny go, Go.”
Jason B. Sad, created by T. Rex
Marc Bolan made this character autobiographical, in that the boy becomes a glam rock star. The fictional hero has a successful end but, tragically, himself died in a car wreck shortly after the release of this song.