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Why actors should keep the day job

WHY CAN' T actors desist from trying to be musicians? Hugh ‘House’ Laurie is the latest distinguished thespian to seize the microphone, signing a deal with Warner Music Entertainment to release a New Orleans blues record, with the "goal of producing an album with mainstream, international appeal".

Actors of Laurie's calibre already have a perfectly good gig (acting) and lots of exposure, fame, wealth, acclaim etc, but an unsettling number of them still insist on foisting their musicianship, their tunes, their diabolical lyrics, upon us, too.

Ever since lovable Laurie hit pay dirt (he's the highest-paid TV actor in the US) as the barbed, bitter, brilliant Dr Gregory House -- a medical maverick who triumphantly diagnoses everything from bubonic plague to male pseudohermaphroditism on House -- we've been drip-fed details that not only is the old Etonian an excellent actor, he can ride a motorbike, too . . . and, you know what . . . wait for it . . . he's also a gifted pianist.

He already regularly dabbles in a bit of blues piano and guitar playing on House, which is fine and dandy, as it is part of House's character. But, of course, before you can say "stick to the day job", Laurie is "using his talents", and Joe Henry, the much heralded two-time Grammy Award winner who has co-written songs for Madonna and Madeleine Peyroux, is on hand to produce the album.

There's a tiny, outside chance that this record won't suck, but the odds are heavily stacked against it. The list of song crimes from actors is too long, too harrowing.

During the 1970s, "actor-turned-singer syndrome" was endemic. Edward Woodward (The Equalizer) churned out 12 albums of romantic ballads, including the imaginatively titled 20 Romantic Favourites. Avoid.

Similarly, stay well clear of Richard Harris's MacArthur Park, where the gamey Harry Potter star interpreted Jimmy Webb's work.

Even Clint Eastwood has grabbed the mic (way back in 1963), singing (in his Rowdy Yates from Rawhide persona) about cattle drives, lonesome nights under the stars and beautiful ladies on Clint Eastwood Sings Cowboy Favourites, featuring the wretched Mexicali Rose. And, of course, who can forget (however hard you try) Clint singing I Talk to the Trees on 1969's Paint Your Wagon.

However, as surreally awful as Clint's moment of madness was, nothing matches William Shatner (Star Trek's Captain Kirk, no less) and his peculiar slant on pop songs and the works of William Shakespeare on 1968's The Transformed Man. Speaking the lyrics, rather than actually singing them, the Star Trek icon interspersed dramatic readings of Shakespeare with lyrics from songs such as Mr Tambourine Man and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

"I remember looking out into the crowd, thinking, 'This just feels right'," Kevin Costner maintained after he released, with his band Modern West, the appalling country rock album Untold Truths in 2008. Kevin, you're not some Stetson-wearing troubadour. If you want to sing songs to your lover, your understanding pals, or your agent, then do it in your own space, or at a push as a busker in, say, Amarillo. Or, better still, outer space.

But Costner had to repeat the crime in 2009 with the album Turn it On, growing one of those odd little beards that sit uncomfortably under the bottom lip in the process. He had the audacity to tour said album and beard around the US.

"My music is from the heart," maintained Russell Crowe -- and the earnest Gladiator star is another serial offender. Crowe, going under the name of Rus le Roq, recorded I Want to Be Like Marlon Brando in the 1980s, before forming, in 1992, the Australian rock band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.

He performed lead vocals. Of course he did; why don't they ever plump for percussion? The band released three albums, the tipping point being 2001's execrable Bastard Life or Clarity, which includes the song Judas Cart with the lyrics "They are coming today to take her away/ Cause a man in a wig said/ The sky is always blue/ Drive on drive on/ Drive on Judas Cart/ Taking my little girl away". Oh dear.

"I know the history of actors making music is a chequered one, but I promise no one will get hurt," Hugh Laurie has admitted, to his credit. And the former comedian is surely too smart to leave us "hurting".

But, then, there's no avoiding that "chequered" past, and we haven't even touched upon the oeuvre of Jimmy Nail and Dennis I Could Be So Good for You Waterman. Good luck, Hugh.