Track 1 – Star Wars Title Theme
Track 2 – Funk
Okay, so I may need to explain something here. I’ve just had a very significant birthday (a number which really relates to this blog content) and thought I really should post something that is quite special to me, for this momentous occasion. Star Wars was one of the biggest and influential things to happen to me as a young kid. It inspired me, it strengthened my imagination, and it let me dream…and it also introduced me to the 7″ record.
Meco’s take on the Star Wars Theme was the first 45 I ever owned! I remember vividly when my papa wanted to reward me for scoring a rare soccer goal…I asked if we to go to that little record shop in Beverly Hills to see if they had the music to that science fiction movie which all us young boys were going space nuts over! At the time I didn’t realise (or care) that the version I had in my hands, wasn’t actually the original John Williams score, but in fact a “dance” take by an Italian named Domenico Monardo.
Meco was born on November 29th, 1939 in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, and had a passion for building model ships and science fiction movies. He got his first musical education from his father who played the Valve trombone in a small Italian band. Although at 9, Meco wanted to play the drums, his father convinced him that the trombone was the right instrument, which he stayed with (he did however opt for the Slide Trombone, troublesome as it was for the small-statured boy to extend the slide fully at first). He joined the high school band while still attending grammar school and at 17, won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York which provided him with some solid classical & jazz skills. There, together with his two friends Chuck Mangione and Ron Carter, he started the Eastman School of Music Jazz Band. He attended West Point, where he played in the Cadet Band, and learned about arranging from an Army sergeant.
Meco worked from 1965 to 1974 as a studio player and arranger, and also earned a nice living arranging commercials, however his breakthrough arrived in 1974 when he co-produced the Gloria Gaynor’s smash Never Can Say Goodbye, followed by the Carol Douglas’ Doctor’s Orders. Having aligned himself with Broadway arranger Harold Wheeler and producer Tony Bongiovi, Meco was now on his way to producing several early disco hits.
On May 25th, 1977, Meco, along with many hundred others, lined up at the New York City theatre for the the opening day screening of this new science fiction film starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. He was amazed by the film and loved the score (he went back to see it eleven times in all), but he couldn’t help but feel there was an opportunity for a commercial hit combining Williams’ dramatic score along with the other big phenomenon of the time, disco!
He conceived of a 15-minute disco treatment of several themes in the movie, including the music played by the Cantina Band in the bar on Tatooine, and also really wanted to include R2-D2 sound effects. He called Jimmy Ienner at Millennium Records and Neil Bogart at Casablanca Records and explained his idea. Based on the tremendous success of Star Wars, Bogart and Ienner agreed to Meco’s idea without hearing any of the music. Meco was thinking grand and hired 75 musicians to play on the track, which was just unheard of for a pop production, (all credited on the lp sleeve) and played trombone and keyboards himself. The complete composition was released as part of an album, Star Wars And Other Galactic Funk, and on a 12″ single. The original main title theme by The London Symphony Orchestra was released by 20th Century Records and entered the Hot 100 on July 9th, 1977, less than two months after the film opened. It raced up to #10 on the charts, however Meco’s electro-disco medley, which debuted on the chart on August 6th, 1977, raced past it to go to #1 the week of October 1st, 1977 where it stayed for two weeks and received endless airplay.
So on the flip of this 7″ we have the percussive track simply titled Funk. It actually holds up okay, Mandingo-esque, some nice horns and rhythms, and quite odd to find it here on this B side. Obviously this 7″ got released in every corner of the globe, but I have to say it’s the Italians that scored the best cover artwork, which is a simpler stylised version of that fab album cover art.
A few years later the Italian was eager to do it all again with the release of the SW sequel, however Meco Plays Music From The Empire Strikes Back was a different sounding album. Disco was out and the new sound was rock-oriented instead. First Harold Wheeler was replaced by Lance Quinn, who was a guitarist on the previous Meco releases, giving the arrangements a totally different sound. And this time it was going to be released on RSO Records instead of Millennium/Casablanca Records and importantly, it was endorsed by George Lucas which meant he could finally use the very real sound effects.
And then things started to get even weirder! With the success of the album, Lucas gave the green light for Christmas In The Stars (The Star Wars Christmas Album). Once again on RSO Records, this time Harold Wheeler was back with his arrangements. Lucas not only allowed the use of special effects of R2D2, but also the voice of Anthony Daniels as leading vocals for C-3PO. There was also a vocalist that appeared on a track by the name of John Bongiovi, who had not yet achieved fame as Jon Bon Jovi. The great album cover is by Ralph McQuarrie, the designer who made most of the artwork for the “Star Wars” trilogy.
And then in 83, we got the Ewok Celebration, which was to be Meco’s last movie-based album. The album features other film and television themes as well as sax and lyricon solos by, dare I say, Kenny G! The Ewok Celebration Theme includes a rap by C-3PO (performed by Duke Bootee).
So yes, in hindsight, Meco’ Star Wars Title Theme is simply disco with lasers and beep boops, not a genre I really go crazy over these days, but I have to remind you, the impact this movie and it’s soundtrack had on me, would shape the person I was growing into (I even joined the school band after see Star Wars just to learn the cornet, hoping I could play the main theme). And to play so many memorable soundtrack moments including the Cantina “movement” all within 3.28 seconds was just fantastic. As a kid with a Star Wars obsession, it was pefect! I would play it over and over again, reliving the exciting space adventures Lucas had implanted into me, which will last a life time.