Hooked on Medleys (Part 2)

Here’s the second part of what was once a single epic-length post on the early 80s medley craze. Find part 1 here. The original megapost, which I have updated a bit in these two installments, appeared on June 27, 2007.

What follows, in the interest of keeping this post from running longer than the era it’s discussing, is a timeline of medleys to hit the Billboard Hot 100 between June 1981 and the end of 1982. It’s hard to believe some of this actually happened.

June: The first Stars on 45 medley (which was officially titled, at the insistence of music publishers, “Intro Venus/Sugar Sugar/No Reply/I’ll Be Back/Drive My Car/Do You Want to Know a Secret/We Can Work It Out/I Should Have Known Better/Nowhere Man/You’re Going to Lose That Girl/Stars on 45”) hits #1.

August: “Stars on 45 II,” featuring nine more Beatles songs, reaches #67.

October: “The Beach Boys Medley” hits #12. “More Stars on 45,” featuring a schizophrenic collection of 60s and 70 tunes, hits #55.

The second-most successful medley of all time in terms of chart performance, “Hooked on Classics,” reaches #10. It’s a collection of classical themes orchestrated by former Electric Light Orchestra member Louis Clark and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. . . .  Also: “Seasons of Gold,” a medley of Four Seasons tunes by Gidea Park featuring Adrian Baker, reaches #82. Oddly, Baker would become a member of the Four Seasons for a couple of years in the mid 90s.

March: “Memories of Days Gone By,” a medley of doo-wop songs rerecorded by Fred Parris and the Five Satins, reaches #71.

April: “Pop Goes the Movies” by Meco, featuring familiar themes from eight movies including Gone With the Wind, The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, reaches #35. Meco was a natural for this kind of thing—he’d already released singles featuring various themes from Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Empire Strikes Back.

May: On the Hot 100 for the week of May 15, “The Beatles Movie Medley” peaks at #12; “Stars on 45 III,” which was made up entirely of Stevie Wonder tunes and was actually the fourth Stars on 45 single, peaks at #28, and “Hooked on Big Bands” by the Frank Barber Orchestra, is at #90. Thus, this month would seem to represent the peak of the medley’s pop-cultural reach. (Barber’s record, made up of themes made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, would eventually peak at #61 in June.)

July: “Hooked on Swing” by Larry Elgart and His Manhattan Swing Orchestra, which features several of the Miller tunes Frank Barber had done on his record along with other familiar swing themes, reaches #31.

December: “The Elvis Medley” reaches #71 on the pop charts and #31 on the country charts. (I was doing country radio during the medley craze, and if I’m recalling correctly, medleys didn’t really catch on there. We played “Just Hooked on Country” by Albert Coleman’s Atlanta Pops. It may have made the lower reaches of the country chart, but it didn’t place on the Hot 100.)

And so, the medley craze was pretty much over by the end of 1982. Stars on 45 kept releasing singles, featuring ABBA, the Rolling Stones, and the Carpenters, but none of them made the Hot 100. Producer Jaap Eggermont spun off the Star Sisters, whose Andrews Sisters medley, a massive hit in several countries, bubbled under in the summer of 1983. A group called Band of Gold was late to the party in December 1984 with a medley made up mostly of Stylistics songs entitled “Love Songs Are Back Again.” It got to #64, but didn’t reignite America’s passion for medleys.

Although the medley craze died down, it never died out. Channeling Stars on 45, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ 1989 hit “Swing the Mood” became necessary wedding-reception fodder throughout the early 90s; the Grease Megamix recycled tunes from the movie soundtrack for the film’s 20th anniversary in 1998. Today, the medley spirit lives on. Do-it-yourself music mashups proliferate all over the Internet, and there’s a great debate raging among artists and intellectual property experts over the practice of reimagining existing works of art to make new ones, which is really just another form of medley-making.

(The radio show Crap from the Past from KFAI in Minneapolis often features these and other medleys. Their “Listing of all Godawful medleys” was extremely helpful in preparing this post.)

Hooked on Medleys (Part 1)

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.