Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stars On 45

If you think about it, the medley as a musical art-form was hardly new when the 80's began. Bands had been doing mixes of their hits in concert, on TV variety shows and occasionally on albums for a few decades prior to that. But Dutch novelty act Stars On 45, created by Jaap Eggermont, brought it back with a vengeance - by combining songs by various artists together in a whole new way, throwing in a catchy new refrain for a hook and adding a disco beat to support it all with an undulating foundation. The result was pure pop magic which gave the group a number 1 US single in 1981 - "Stars on 45: Medley..." (it also reached number 1 in their home Netherlands and reached number 2 in the UK).

That first single was an interesting mix to be sure. It pulled in tunes by the Buggles, the Archies, Lipps Inc., Heatwave, Shocking Blue and a healthy dose of one of the biggest acts of all time, the Beatles. The original track was 4:05 of pure cotton candy. This gave way to an album called Stars On Long Play, released in March of 1981, which rearranged that first medley into a 15:48 complete side one track celebration of the Beatles. Side two took elements of the first single release and added a few more hits from the 50's and 60's into an eight minute track. The rest of that side was devoted to two 50's rock and roll medleys performed by Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers, another Dutch act. Like the original single, this first album rocketed up the charts - clearly the novelty of these novelty acts had caught fire. At the time, you could often hear the shorter version on the radio and the longer mixes in dance clubs.

It didn't take long for the producers to cash in on the popularity of that debut. In August of the same year, they released Stars On Long Play II album. Side one focused on various 60's and 70's songs (by the Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, America, the Mamas and the Papas, Barry McGuire, Neil Diamond and more), including a healthy dose of the Supremes. The other track jumped on the popularity of Star Wars and added in other instrumental cues (from Tommy, M*A*S*H*, "Baker Street", "Layla" and more). Side two provided an ABBA centric medley (one I'm sure any fan of Mamma Mia! would love) and the second track with various artists mixed together.

In March of 1982, the last major release hit record stores, the aptly titled Stars On Long Play III. Side one of this album was devoted fully to a medley of the Rolling Stones that covered their entire career up to their most recent hits in 1980. Side two provided a Stevie Wonder medley and a track called "Stars On Get Ready".

Clearly, Stars On 45 was on to something, or at least started something that others were quick to emulate. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra released a number of albums in their Hooked On Classics series. Larry Elgart and His Manhattan Swing Orchestra followed suit with a Hooked on Swing album. In 1981, the charts saw "The Beach Boys Medley" do very well. And in 1982, there was also single release of "the Beatles Movie Medley" by their label.

I was raised on AM radio and FM top 40 stations. During those years, I had weekly appointments with Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Casey Kasem's American Top 40 and the glitter-coated Solid Gold. As such, it would surprise no one that I ate up these medley releases eagerly. I owned many of them on vinyl (and discovered recently my brother still has them - so I'm so going to burn them onto CD on my next visit).

Yes, one could easily argue that they were hardly original - after all, the musicians were taking established songs and mashing them together, which would be very easy to produce. But that didn't matter to me. These albums brought me a simple kind of enjoyment where I didn't have to think about the music. That's what music is supposed to do sometimes.

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