‘You can boogie like disco, love that disco song…’

1981 was a terrible year for most of us: high unemployment, high inflation, in fact high everything. Even bus fares went up along Greater Manchester and London, which led to GMC and GLC becoming Labour controlled in September. Musically, independent record labels like Postcard, Factory and Rough Trade made for a diverse music scene. Alongside what was Real Indie Music on Real Indie Labels, were the New Romantics and Dollar.

Tucked away somewhere amid the nascent New Order, David Van Day, The Human League and UB40 was a musical fad which spawned a monster. One which saw the fad tested to destruction, Louis Clark’s Orchestra having a Linn drum in the background, and a pretty good lampooning of the craze by someone who could just about play the triangle.

And of course, the apogee of this segued madness and buzziness happened to have fallen on one of the most dank years in modern British history (Royal Wedding excepted).

The medley craze was a light at the end of a tunnel in an otherwise dark and dank 1981. Though there had been singles with medley and segue arrangement before then, the medley made for a ‘danceable solution’ for wedding dos – or indeed Charles and Diana’s Wedding on the 29 July (at many a street party).

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Yours Hooked on 1981: Classic Medleys:

1. ‘Stars on 45’ – Starsound:

How else do we kick off our feature? Jaap Eggermont and Company, late of Golden Earring, spawned a monster with a UK Top Ten hit during the summer. The first Stars on 45 release was a medley of Beatles songs – all performed and arranged in the same way as The Beatles would have done themselves. For their efforts, it peaked at number two, and spawned spin off singles based on the music of ABBA and Stevie Wonder – and an album.

2. ‘Seasons of Gold’ – Gidea Park:

Adrian Baker, in 1981, was also gainfully employed as a producer for Liquid Gold (who had a UK #2 single with Dance Yourself Dizzy in March 1980) on Polo Records. Another project of his was Gidea Park, a studio project whose raison d’etre was medley. His first production was Beach Boy Gold in 1978, which sounded uncannily like the Beach Boys themselves (so much so that Adrian Baker was invited to join the Beach Boys themselves!).

His 1981 release, Seasons of Gold, was a delightful segue of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ much revered works. It reached number 28 in the singles chart. However, a reissue of Beach Boy Gold fared much better and reached #11.

3. ‘Back to the Sixties’ – Tight Fit:

Unknown to some musical purists, there was two different versions of Tight Fit: the first version were an Anglicised Starsound; the second, sang about narcoleptic big cats and imagined islands, inspired by Hervé Villechaise. The former version did two cheap and cheerful 1960s medleys, unimaginatively titled ‘Back to the Sixties’ and, (you don’t say!) ‘Back to the Sixties Part Two’. The first part reached #4 in the singles chart. The second, #33. Now, if they did a ‘Buy Part One and Get Part Two Free’ or vice versa type of deal (as Ronco and K-Tel did on their compilation albums at the time), the latter could have kept Tainted Love or It’s My Party off the Number One spot. But they didn’t, and to some extent, thankfully.

4. ‘Hooked on Classics’ – Louis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra:

The close of 1981 saw K-Tel move away from becoming a peddler of compilation albums and gadgets. They added another string to their bow: becoming a record label for their own acts. In this case, Louis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Prior to 1981, they produced a live album of Queen songs, performed in orchestral style. Louis Clark had also arranged strings for the Electric Light Orchestra, with a fine example of his handiwork on their 1977 double album ‘Out of the Blue’.

Hooked on Classics went a similar path to the innovator: single and follow up album. It worked, with the first Hooked on Classic medley charting at Number Two in the summer. By December, they had a worldwide smash with their first album. Hooked on Classics (the album) reached the top spot of the UK album chart and spawned a further three spin-off titles. Subsequent releases were entitled ‘Can’t Stop The Classics’, ‘Journey Through The Classics’ and ‘Baroque’. ‘Can’t Stop the Classics’ spawned a single with the same title, whereas ‘Hooked on a Can Can’ was another single from their first album.

Its trademark Linn drum beat and snippets upset a lot of purists, but – most importantly – it got a lot of people into discovering the original classical pieces themselves. Which of course is a good thing.

5. ‘Classical Muddley’ – Portsmouth Sinfonia

The success of K-Tel’s production inevitably led to satirisation and lampooning. A Brian Eno project saw to that with the Portsmouth Sinfonia orchestra. Active since 1970, wannabe musicians could only join the orchestra if they had no musical talent whatsoever. Therefore, the results, as you would expect, would be shambolic though strangely listenable. Their Classical Muddley is no exception, as the aggregation mercilessly ruins Also Sprach Zarathustra. It just about made the UK Top Forty singles chart attaining a peak position of #38.

6. ‘Kazooed on Klassics’ – The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra

Kazoos are annoying little instruments, but The Temple City Kazoo Orchestra cashed in on the Hooked on Classics trend. Their medley included the William Tell Overture and the Linn drum style drum beat. Sadly, their take on K-Tel’s franchise didn’t chart in the UK, but it featured on a Rhino Brothers double album entitled ‘The World’s Worst Records!’. Thankfully, you can also listen to it on YouTube.

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Journey Through to 1982 and Beyond…

The popular medley story or craze didn’t end in 1981. Another wave of medley madness would return in 1989 with the success of Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. Between then, the mash-up would gain popularity, with for example Clubhouse’s ‘Do It Again-Billie Jean’ (1983) segueing between a Steely Dan and a Michael Jackson song.

With improved technology and sampling techniques, it is possibly to do a medley or a mash-up of two or more songs on your own PC. Fast broadband enables wannabe Starsound imitators to upload their works (record industry and copyright trolls permitting) onto MySpace, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

Elsewhere, the 1980s medley craze could have ushered in another curiosity of popular music, the rise of Tribute Bands. Yes, Limehouse Lizzie, T-Rextasy and The Clone Roses – besides paying tribute to their favoured bands – could be unwittingly part of Jaap Eggermont’s musical DNA, through his Starsound project. One which spawned a selection of copycat medleys in 1981, and a viable business plan for Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers in 1989.

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Before I go…

I shall leave you with this clip. Here’s the last of our sextet of medleys from 1981. Enjoy or endure:

S.V., 01 October 2012.

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