Howard Hughes' reputation as one of the world's wealthiest men and an eccentric crackpot captured the popular imagination in the 1970s. A notorious recluse, Hughes was reported to have odd personal habits such as saving his urine in jars, wearing Kleenex boxes like shoes, and allowing his toenails to grow several inches long.
As a result of the book and the controversies that followed, Hughes became the topic of many songs in addition to occasionally being mentioned in song lyrics. Sometimes he was referenced indirectly. For example, the R&B group The Hues Corporation, who had a #1 hit with "Rock the Boat" in 1974, originally wanted to call itself The Children of Howard Hughes but abandoned the idea for legal reasons and used the homophonous name Hues instead.
Today on The Music Weird, we look back at the songs Hughes—and Clifford Irving—inspired in the 1970s.
Sonny Hall – "Howard Hughes Is Alive and Well" (1972)
Sonny Hall appears to have started the Howard Hughes song frenzy with this talking-blues-styled song about a musician who works for Hughes but has never seen him.
Bud & Bud, AKA the Hooper Twins – "Howard Hughes Is Alive and Well" (1972)
Hall's record was soon covered by Bud & Bud, who sound a bit like Homer & Jethro.
Leo Teel – "Like Trying to Find Howard Hughes" (1972)
This mournful song about a heartbroken man doesn't have a chorus, and the titular line is sung only once. Teel was a Texas artist and recording engineer who cut a single for Decca way back in 1951.
John Hartford – "Howard Hughes' Blues" (1972)
The great John Hartford offers a gently parodic but sympathetic view of Hughes.
Dave Barry – Will the Real Howard Hughes Please Stand Up? LP (1972)
Humorist Dave Barry released this LP that references Howard Hughes in the title as well as in the track "H.H." on side two.
Wayne Thomis – Howard Hughes Press Conference LP (1972)
A weird nonmusical entry: After Clifford Irving published his fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography, Hughes held a press conference to challenge the authenticity of the book, and this press conference was released on LP for some reason. You can listen to the whole thing on archive.org.
Jim Croce – "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues" (1974)
This song is a character study of an ambitious car wash employee who dreams of becoming rich and describes himself as an "undiscovered Howard Hughes."
10cc – "The Wall Street Shuffle" (1974)
A sardonic view of Wall Street moneymaking, "The Wall Street Shuffle" asks, "Howard Hughes, did your money make you better?"
AC/DC – "Ain't No Fun (Waiting 'Round to Be a Millionaire)" (1976)
Glenn Martin – "The Ballad of Howard Hughes' Will" (1976)
Hughes died in 1976, so his will became the topic of this country novelty song.
Buford Hirman & the Contesters – "Howard's Will (Part 1)" (1976)
The Cruse Family – "Ode to Howard Hughes" (1977)
I haven't heard this song, but the gospel group The Cruse Family included "Ode to Howard Hughes" on their 1977 LP Faith.
Ernie Dunlap – "Spruce Goose" (1977)
"Spruce Goose" refers to the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the largest flying boat ever built. Nicknamed the "Spruce Goose" because it was made out of wood (birch, incidentally—not spruce), it was designed and built by Howard Hughes' Hughes Aircraft Company in the 1940s.
The Tights – "Howard Hughes" (1978)
Boomtown Rats – "Me and Howard Hughes" (1978)
"Me and Howard Hughes" is a portrait of a reclusive friend who compares himself to Howard Hughes.