For those of you who weren’t around in 1977, you should probably know that there was this fairly popular independent film called Star Wars. Its success led not only to a pair of well-received sequels, but an oddly well-received disco adaptation of its main theme. Check out imdb.com and your local library for more details.
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#11: Meco, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” – #1 U.S.
Dw. Dunphy – A pointless song, really, but in the mid-70s everything was fodder for disco versions (“Have A Cigar”!) and Star Wars was a huge cultural phenomenon. Still, I can’t imagine anyone listening to this track now for any form of pleasure. The novelty has really worn off.
Chris Holmes – Yeah, me too!
(scurries to reset the play count on his iTunes .mp3 copy…)
Dunphy – Are you listening to disco novelty songs in there, young man? Answer me! Why are you locking your door all the time?!
David Lifton – Paraphrase of a conversation I had with my sister in 1977:
Her: “You like disco.”
Me: “No, I don’t. It sucks!”
Her: “But what about Meco? You love that song!”
Me: “That’s not disco. It’s Star Wars!”
Her: “It’s not the original theme. It’s a disco version of it.”
Me: (grumble, grumble, grumble)
Still, if only we knew then that this would not be the most crassly commercial thing that George Lucas would do to Star Wars, we could have prevented a lot of suffering.
On the other hand, I think this may have been the last time my sister won an argument with me about music.
Jon Cummings – As an 11-year-old I was so obsessed with American Top 40 that I actually CARED whether Meco or John Williams’ traditional soundtrack hit would climb higher up the chart. I think we should go ahead and blame Meco for “Stars on 45,” “Hooked on Classics,” “The Beach Boys Medley,” “The Grease Megamix” and that entire genre of boom-CRASH, 4/4-time disco recontextualization. Of course, then as now, all that really matters about this track is the lasers — and maybe the saxophones in the “Cantina Band” section. Poor Williams just couldn’t compete, because the poor sap didn’t know how to have any fun.
Jack Feerick – Not the prevailing opinion, I’m sure, but I find a lot to like here. You get the sense that Meco was not just a bandwagon-hopper — I read somewhere that he saw Star Wars, like, six times during its opening weekend alone, and he wanted to do the record because he just fucking loved the music.
And who wouldn’t? John Williams has written many other great soundtracks, but never, I think, one with so many indelible motifs. Those melodies are so strong that they can put up with a lot of tomfoolery. And you never get the sense that these guys are doing violence to the themes — they’re having fun, putting them in the accessible vernacular of disco, but musically they’re serious as cancer. When the screaming electric guitars come in, wailing away on the Ben Kenobi theme, the hair stands up a little on the back of my arms.
And those chorused guitars are just one of the smart little arranging touches that make this so much fun. There’s two ways you can go with a novelty song; you can give it minimum musical effort, knowing that nobody’s going to buy it for the musicianship anyway; or you can give it your all in spite of that. These dudes are cooking; listen to that bass player and tell me he wasn’t having a great time and playing his ass off.
Meco’s Wikipedia page is great, BTW. Apparently Meco, a.k.a Domenico Monardo, was a friend and classmate of Chuck Mangione — who we’ll be hearing from later in this series…
#12: Rose Royce, “Car Wash” – #1 U.S., #9 U.K.
Dunphy – The song makes entirely no sense because, without the support of the movie it was the theme to, why would you make a song about a car wash? Yet, in spite of all that, it is a funky tune and as theme songs go, it served it’s purpose.
Feerick – Why not write a song about working at a car wash? Anything is fair game for a song, man. In fact, I’m wishing now that I’d thought to include this one on this year’s Labor Day mixtape. Well, there’s always next year.
Anyway, you didn’t complain when Springsteen was working at the car wash, where all it ever does is rain.
Lifton – That handclap opening sticks in my head from going to too many Orioles games where they’d play it when someone got on base.
Feerick – Yeah, I never realized there was anything to this song past the first fifteen seconds.
I kid, I kid. I absolutely love this one, especially the long build-up of the intro, the instruments entering one by one, the groove building from practically nothing, adding more cross-accents and licks as it goes along — it’s just pure jam. Who needs lyrics? Just give it a hook we can all sing along with.
Cummings – This is one of many disco tracks that is redeemed by its bridge. The rest of the song is indistinguishable, in the grand scheme of things, from many others (“Disco Nights,” “Thank God It’s Friday,” etc.). But then the skies open, the beat changes, the strings swirl, and it’s all, “Heeeeeyyyy! Get your car wash today!” It’s far from the best bridge in history (that, of course, would be “More, More, More” — is there any dispute about that?), but ’twill serve.
#13: KC and the Sunshine Band, “I’m Your Boogie Man” – #1 U.S., #41 U.K.
Dunphy – I know Jon has already thrown in for this song being his favorite K.C. track, and it is by far not the guy’s weakest song, but it isn’t really his strongest either. It does prove that repetition never goes out of favor with the mass music consumer.
Feerick – Mm. Not too long ago, Dunphy, we were talking about the decline of the Sunshine Band. And here’s where I begin to agree with you, that we had reached a point of diminishing returns. But there’s no need to invoke quantum mechanics with the Schrodinger’s cat reference, when good old Newtonian physics will do. To wit: An object in motion will tend to remain in motion. In other words, KC and the Sunshine Band were still having hits because, really, hey, why not?
Lifton – Some great funky guitar and a solid, if unoriginal, horn chart (there’s an interval lifted from “Jungle Boogie” but it doesn’t really go anywhere), but I still can’t get past Casey’s bland vocals. True, disco doesn’t rely on vocals or lyrics to keep the party going but it still leaves the track lacking.
Dunphy – My bad. You said it was “Boogie Shoes,” not “I’m Your Boogie Man.” How could I have ever confused the versatility of Harry Casey’s compositional prowess?
Cummings – Yes, this is my fave K.C. track (not counting “Rock Your Baby,” which is K.C. with better vocals). There’s no particular reason it’s my fave, apart from the pre-chorus horns and the use of the phrase “Boogie Man.” But having committed myself live on the radio back in the day (see our column from a couple weeks ago), I can’t turn my back on the song now.
BTW, Dw., I never said “Boogie Shoes” was my fave — though I do remember saying something about its appearance in Saturday Night Fever at some point. “Boogie Shoes” is OK … I like the horn intro, but the lyrics are even more asinine than the usual asininity.
Dunphy – I remembered “Boogie.” All the rest of it was just more ruminations about “booty” or some damned thing.
#14: Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” – #1 U.S., #1 U.K.
Feerick – Fun fact: in this context, “show” means “pants”!
Dunphy – I like this song a lot and I’ve always liked McCoo’s singing voice. Seeing as how the end of the 5th Dimension found them escaping stoned soul picnics and heading into more standard soul/pop territories, this track is a natural extension.
Lifton – They’re as smooth as ever and I love all the accents (the flute and the electric guitar fills) but there’s not much in the song. I went to Wikipedia to see if this was an Ashford-Simpson composition because it sounds like it could be one of their hits (it’s not) and found out that it was the last time James Jamerson appeared on a #1 song.
Cummings – Sure, it’s a lame love ballad, but Marilyn’s vocals on this track are goosebump-inducing — and I can still envision Marilyn and Billy on a thousand TV variety shows back in the day. She was tall and regal, he was shrimpy and a complete goober. They were a Soul Train Sonny & Cher, but with more class (if less pizzazz) — and “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” was the “I Got You Babe” of the ’70s, and far better than anything Sonny and/or Cher got to sing during the decade.
#15: Atlanta Rhythm Section, “So Into You” – #7 U.S.
Dunphy – If there is any prevalent unifying theme with this week’s list, it is that the songs are almost all too innocuous to be awful or awesome. They’re pop wallpaper, really. This one is a fleur de lys.
Lifton – I’m sorry. Were we discussing a song? I nodded off for a bit amid a wash of bluesy minor chords and Fender Rhodes piano masquerading as sexual tension. And why fade out the guitar solo just as it’s getting interesting? Idiots.
Feerick – I’m just upset that I already used my “Cocktease Blues Band” joke.
Cummings – I was kinda into this song when it was on the radio, though not so much now. It was a change of pace amidst the disco and the Stevie Wonder and the Streisand that were all over the place that spring … not that I was opposed to any of that. “So Into You” has a nice groove — before even listening to it again, I can hear that keyboard part bubbling under the vocals. It doesn’t ever really go anywhere after establishing that groove, unfortunately — it could have used one of those “Car Wash”/”More, More, More” bridges — and without such a bridge, you could stop listening halfway through its running time without really missing anything. All in all, I’d put “Imaginary Lover” into the time capsule before this one.
Dunphy – Time capsule, test tube, tube sock. You young’uns with your euphemisms.