1981 will be remembered as the year of the medley. No less than 26 medley songs made the chart, not to mention the ones that didn’t. There were ‘put togethers’ by the Hollies, The Sweet, Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys as well as Gidea Park with a Beach Boy medley. There were also genre medleys like rock, soul, classical, old time music hall, Caribbean and disco, but none of this was a new phenomenon. The first proper chart medley (i.e. more than just two songs) came in the very first chart courtesy of Max Bygraves with a track called Cowpunchers Cantata which consisted of the songs Cry Of The Wild Goose / Riders In The Sky / Mule Train And Jezebel. Russ Conway and Winifred Atwell, in the fifties, both charted stacks of medleys plonked out on their respective pianos, but one of the most successful was the Dutch band Star Sound.
In Holland and America the act was just credited to Stars on 45 with the title being the full list of songs that were featured, thus becoming, at 41 words, the longest title of any Billboard Top 100 hit. The reason for listing every title was because all the songs’ publishers insisting upon the inclusion of titles on the label. However, in the UK, Stars on 45 was the title and Star Sound was the act. It was the mastermind of Dutch producer Jaap Eggermont who had formally been the drummer with Golden Earring, but had left before their big hit Radar Love.
However, it wasn’t originally his idea. The whole thing came about in 1978 when a bootleg 12″ single featuring snippets of classic tracks appeared and was selling ‘under the counter’ to DJs to use at their disco’s. One of the tracks that was sampled was the intro to Shocking Blue’s 1970 hit Venus. Van Kooten, who owned the copyright to that song, was furious when he heard it because he was missing out on royalties. He approached the Dutch performing rights society to look into the source but they drew a blank.
So, he approached Jaap who he knew had some experience with medleys as he’d just produced a track called Golden Years of Rock & Roll by a Dutch studio group known as Long Tall Ernie & The Shakers and comprised tracks like Wooly Bully, At the Hop and Nut Rocker. He asked him to recreate the mysterious 12” as cover versions rather than using the originals and that way, if it was successful, he could recuperate some royalties.
Jaap set to work and found various Dutch musicians. He retained two of the original tracks that had been on the bootleg 12″ which were Venus and Sugar Sugar and then decided that to really make it work he would use songs by the world’s most successful band, the Beatles. He brought in Bas Muys who was the voice of John Lennon, Okkie Huysdens was Paul McCartney and George Harrison was soundalike Hans Vermeulen. The whole medley was made up of: 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 / You’re Going to Lose That Girl and a self written Stars on 45 piece as a closer. The whole thing is performed with a metronome clapping beat throughout which became known as the clap trap.
It was originally a 16-minute medley intended for release only as a 12″ single for club DJs but when radio stations started to play their own edited versions, the label, Radio Records, decided to take the first three and a half minutes of the Beatles medley, added the Venus intro and the first verse of Sugar Sugar and put it out as a four and three quarter-minute single thus starting the medley craze. Incidentally, each song in the medley was recorded separately and edited together later.
The rest of the 12″ was not wasted. The remaining tracks, which were: Good Day Sunshine / My Sweet Lord / Here Comes The Sun / While My Guitar Gently Weeps / Taxman / A Hard Day’s Night / Things We Said Today / If I Fell / You Can’t Do That / Please Please Me / From Me To You and I Want To Hold Your Hand became a separate single known as Medley 2 in the US only and peaked at number 67.
That wasn’t the end of it, in the UK, Stars on 45 Volume II was a medley of Abba songs and comprised: Voulez-Vous / S.O.S / Bang-A-Boomerang / Money Money Money / Knowing Me Knowing You / Fernando / The Winner Takes It All & Super Trouper and also reached number two in the UK.
No, that wasn’t the end of it either. To continue trying to cash in on the success, Stars on 45 Volume III arrived and was a medley of 17 different seventies intros including the Stylistics’ Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love), Star Wars, Kung Fu Fighting, Layla and All Right Now, but it only peaked at number 17. Surely the dead horse had been flogged enough? No. They released not one, but two albums of more medleys and extended versions. The second album saw the release of The Greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll Band medley which was a collection of Rolling Stones tracks but that failed to chart. Surely that was it now? No. They had one ditch attempt and called it Stars on Stevie, a collection of, yes, you’ve guessed it, Stevie Wonder tracks. That reached number 14.
As if Lennon and McCartney hadn’t earned enough money, the following year EMI released a single called The Beatles Movie Medley, which contained seven tracks from their movies and still managed to reach the top 10. By the end of 1982, the medley craze, thankfully, had died down and only a smattering appeared in the following few years until 1989 when Andy Pickles, under the name Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers, came along and did it all over again, with perhaps a greater degree of success as they scored three number ones – all in the same year.