In the summer of 1981, one of the oddest fads of the rock era took flight when the Stars on 45 hit #1. Thirty years ago this month, the medley craze reached its peak when two entirely different medleys made it into the Top 40 at about the same time. That’s excuse enough to repeat one of the more highly trafficked posts in the history of this blog, which first appeared on June 27, 2007. Because the original post was so long, I’m splitting it into two parts and making some small edits. I am also adding some links that were not included when the post first ran.
The original Stars on 45 medley of “Venus,” “Sugar Sugar,” and a bunch of Beatles songs opened the floodgates for a medley craze that would produce some mighty odd records over the next year-and-a-half.
There had been hit medleys long before producer Jaap Eggermont had the idea that made him rich, however. In the summer of 1969, Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys hit with “Good Old Rock and Roll,” a medley of six early rock ‘n’ roll hits, and took it to #21. (Their producer: Jimi Hendrix.) The disco era produced “The Best Disco in Town,” an insanely catchy and well-sequenced medley of 1975 dance floor hits. It was released under the name of the Ritchie Family, a group of Philadelphia studio singers and musicians put together by Jacques Morali, and it squeaked into the Top 20 in November 1976. (Morali’s next studio creation: the Village People.) Shalamar’s “Uptown Festival,” a medley of Motown songs, made it to #25 in June 1977. But it took the Stars on 45 to kick the craze into overdrive.
The Stars on 45 medleys, which imitated the original recordings, were only the beginning. It wasn’t long before somebody figured out you could make a medley from actual snippets of original recordings stitched together Frankenstein-like. (Technically, that’s the way the Stars on 45 records were made; the performers did not sing the songs in medley form.) “The Beach Boys Medley” of “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Shut Down,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Barbara Ann,” “Surfin’ USA,” and “Fun Fun Fun” was the first of these to hit, reaching #12 in October 1981. It was only the Beach Boys’ second trip back into the Top 20 since the 60s.
“The Beatles’ Movie Medley” was not far behind, promoting the Reel Music compilation but not appearing on it. It was a smash, reaching #12 in the States during May 1982, but it remains the only Beatles single never to be released in a CD configuration. In fact, Parlophone refused to release it in Britain at all in 1982, calling it “tacky.” Demand for the song as an import from the States eventually forced the label’s hand. Elvis Presley wasn’t left out, either—“The Elvis Medley,” similarly assembled from actual Elvis tunes, reached #71 in December 1982. It also got some play on country radio.
Coming in the next installment, a timeline featuring all the medleys that made the charts during 1981 and 1982.