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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band

So, I was trying to come up with a way  to incorporate a Halloween theme into the SUNDAY JUKEBOX entries in this blog for the rest of the month, and admittedly, it's been really difficult.

I mean, sure, finding spooky songs isn't the real issue.  There are hundreds to choose from.  The problem is that I had already decided that I would make every Sunday Jukebox entry for 2014 a #1 single...and ironically enough, not too many Halloween singles topped the charts during the month of October.  Not "Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo, not "Ghostbusters" by Ray Parker Jr., not even Michael Jackson's "Thriller"! 

So, I decided to try and look at this from a different perspective.  After all, Halloween isn't necessarily just about spooky and scary stories (though admittedly, it is one of the more fun things about Halloween).

For instance, I know that when I was still in my youth, one of the most important things about Halloween was finding the right Halloween costume.  And costumes didn't have to be scary.  They could be cute, fun, exciting, and creative as well.  And let's put it like this.  I come from a family of creative people.  Almost all of my costumes were homemade, which meant that I could basically ask to be whatever I wanted to be.  It was great!  And, I don't like to brag, but some of my homemade costumes turned out being much better made than the store bought costumes that people purchase from department stores. 

Of course, I can imagine that had I decided that I wanted a store bought costume, I would gravitate towards whatever costumes were most popular back in the day.  If I was a kid in 2014, I'd probably want to be a Ninja Turtle.  Though, it's kind of funny that twenty-five years ago, I actually did go as a Ninja Turtle because they were popular!  Though, my turtle shell costume was handmade!

And, well, had I been alive in the late 1970s, I can hazard a guess what one of the more popular costume choices were.

I don't know if my two sisters ever dressed up as any "Star Wars" characters during Halloween, but I can only imagine that many people their age at the time certainly did.  Since the movie series debuted in 1977, I would imagine that there were thousands of Han Solos, Luke Skywalkers, Darth Vaders, and Princess Leias wandering through neighbourhoods saying trick-or-treat in hopes of getting all the delicious candy they could eat!  I would even make a guess that Star Wars costumes are still just as popular now as they were thirty-seven years ago.  It is a rather epic series of movies.

Well, at least Episodes IV through VI were, anyway.

You want to know what else was huge during the 1970s?  Instrumental tunes.  Songs without lyrics seemed to be all the rage during the decade of the energy crisis, pet rock, and discotheque.  

After all, without the 1970s, we wouldn't have "The Hustle".

We wouldn't have "Tubular Bells".

We wouldn't even have "A Fifth of Beethoven"!

So, let's see.  I've talked about "Star Wars" and I've talked about 1970s instrumental songs.  So, what would these two things have to do with today's featured #1 single?

Lots actually.  Have a listen.

SONG:  Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band
ALBUM:  Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk

Yep.  Thirty-seven years ago this week, Star Wars crossed with disco to create this chart-topper.  And if you thought that the single being #1 for two weeks was impressive, consider this.  In the UK, it was the #1 single for nine weeks total! 

So, how did the marriage of disco and the prophecy of boldly going where no man has ever gone before come to be?  Well, we can thank Meco for this.

Meco (real name Domenico Monardo) was the brainchild behind this hit.  The Pennsylvania based record producer and musician always had a keen interest in space and science fiction, and spent many of his boyhood days building model spaceships.  At the same time that this was going on, he had inherited a love of music from his father, and began playing the slide trombone at the age of nine, and he must have been very talented.  After all, he was not only playing in a high school band while he was still in elementary school, but at the age of 17, he was awarded a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  While a student there, he formed the Eastman School of Music Jazz Band with a couple of his friends, and later, when he enrolled at West Point, he played in the Cadet Band.

After serving in West Point, Meco moved to New York City and joined Kai Winding in his four-trombone band and for the next nine years of his life, he went on as a studio musician, and while he certainly didn't have any interest in pop music when he first began his career as a studio musician, but upon hearing Petula Clark's "Downtown", he began to change his mind.  And throughout the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, he worked on several different projects.  Some of which included the following...

- playing the horn section on Tommy James' "Crystal Blue Persuasion".
- working on the musical arrangements of several Coca-Cola commercials featuring Neil Diamond.
- appearing on Diana Ross' 1980 album "Diana"

But perhaps his biggest claim to fame was the "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" single that he released in 1977 - his one and only #1 hit on the charts.

I suppose it was no shock to hear that a science-fiction nut like Meco was a huge fan of the movie "Star Wars".  After watching the film on its May 25, 1977 release date, Meco was mesmerized by the whole movie.  So much so that he reportedly saw the movie at least a dozen times by the end of the month! 

(Which I imagine must have been a rather costly affair, as there were no Blu-ray players, DVD players, or cable television back in 1977.  Even VCR's were worth several thousand dollars back in those days!)

Anyway, after watching "Star Wars" so many times, Meco really had his heart set out on making his own version of the epic "Star Wars" theme, as originally composed by John Williams.  But he wanted to make it a disco flavoured effort, as 1977 was the year in which the disco craze exploded.  I suppose that "Saturday Night Fever" might have had a little bit to do with that fact.  He eventually contacted Neil Bogart at Casablanca Records to pitch his idea, however Bogart wouldn't commit to the idea unless both the movie and the original score became popular.

So, naturally, with "Star Wars" being one of the most popular films of the 1970s, Bogart quickly agreed to help Meco record it.

It only took twenty-one days for the musicians to come together and record the track and other songs that appeared on the LP "Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk".  And just three months after this single was first released, the song hit the top of the charts.

Believe it or not, the song was even nominated for the "Best Instrumental Pop Performer" Grammy Award in 1977.  Amusingly enough, it lost to John Williams for his original theme!  Ah, such is life.

At any rate, the song became a hit in disco clubs all over America and Europe, further proving the fact that the 1970s were a time of kitsch, fad, and pop culture.

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