Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band
December 16, 2015
Todd, now facing to the right for the first time since "Give Me Everything," plays "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" on the piano.
MECO - STAR WARS THEME/CANTINA BAND
A one-hit wonder retrospective
Todd: So, how about that new Star Wars movie, huh?
- Trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Todd (VO): Are you pumped? Because I am! And I know, I shouldn't be. Not after the prequels broke all of our hearts. We should've just all written off these movies as a relic of a long, long time ago, but I'm still excited! I mean, who isn't? We want this movie to be good and do well! I'm gonna go see it, and you're gonna go see it, and we're all gonna hand George Lucas our money yet again because the Force still flows through us, all of waiting to be awakened. [Clip from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope] Star Wars just feels like it'll always be around, like Shakespeare or the Bible; it's a truly timeless movie that feels just as fresh as the day it came out. [Death Star II explosion from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi]
Todd: Of course, if you wanna make the whole franchise look like painfully dated kitsch instead, you do have many options.
- Video for Meco - "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band", with a cut to Todd dancing in his seat and the song playing over scenes from A New Hope
Todd (VO): Yes, we're all aware of the vast garbage heap of merchandise and spin-offs and collectible Pepsi cans dumped on the world by George Lucas's pop-culture behemoth.
Todd: But while we know the many successful Star Wars [Images follow: posters for every film from The Phantom Menace to Return of the Jedi...] movies, [...The Clone Wars wallpaper...] TV shows, [...stack of Star Wars novels...] books, and [...covers of SW...] video games, today we'll be looking at the most successful of its rare forays into [fan art of a band consisting of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca] popular music. Bearing the unyielding title [single cover] "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band"...
Todd (VO): ...it is, yes, a disco version of the famous John Williams score. And it was a #1 hit. [Quick cut to Todd] Let me repeat that. A #1 hit [Back to video] in 1977, becoming one of the most immediately dated and silly things from a series that also spawned [promo pic for...] an Ewoks cartoon and [commercial for...] C-3PO's.
Todd: But who was the musical Jedi master who created it?
Todd (VO): Well, that man bore only one name: Meco. Makes him sound like a Star Wars character himself.
Todd: [in a Yoda-esque accent] You seek Meco.
- Picture of Meco
Todd (VO): Mr. Meco... is an elusive soul. There's no video of him.
Todd: None. He only ever made [screenshots of Meco on American Bandstand] literally one appearance on television, which I don't have, so yeah, I got nothing.
- Two televised performances of "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band", including one on TopPop
Todd (VO): The best I can get you is footage of the song being performed on various '70s dance shows, which... clearly did not have much of a costume budget. (WRONG.) [Back to video] So what was going on that year that turned a silly dance remix of a movie theme into a hit song? What inspired Meco to do it in the first place?
Todd: And why wasn't the Force strong enough for him to have a second hit? Well, let's find out. [Whistles, imitating a typical R2-D2 beep]
Before the hit
Note: For this episode, the segment titles will be presented in all caps and in the font used for the Star Wars logo.
Todd: The story of Meco, much like Star Wars itself...
- Clips of the Tatooine scenes from A New Hope, which are used to illustrate Meco's childhood
Todd (VO): ...begins on a distant, backwater alien world - [picture of...] North Central Pennsylvania. This is where young Domenico Monardo, Meco for short, was born and raised, (Disclaimer: Video above is not of Meco) all the time hoping for a more exciting life out of Johnsonburg, PA. But it turns out he had a special gift that would take him far away. It wasn't the Force, which at least meant his family didn't get murdered. No, that gift was music, which was strong in his family. [Picture of Meco with Darth Vader] His father had it, his sister had it.
Todd: Okay, I don't know if he had a sister. But his dad did play in a marching band, [pictures of album cover of Superman & Other Galactic Heroes...] and Meco wanted to join in and play drums. He got [...and Darth Vader superimposed with...] a trombone instead. Funny story here. As a middle schooler, [picture of silhouetted man with tuba] I myself also played low brass, just like Meco. And as such, I want to say this to everyone: do not do this to your child! [Pictures of boy pointing and laughing at a sadder boy...] You will only make life harder for him! [...and a boy playing trombone] The other kids will laugh at him when he tries to play it or carry it on the bus, and then they'll beat him up. It is no surprise to me at all that this poor kid wound up making the geekiest hit of all time.
- Clip of Tommy James and the Shondells - "Crystal Blue Persuasion"
- Tommy and Shondells: Maybe tomorrow
Todd (VO): Anyway, I read a quote from him where he said that he didn't really like pop music, which is funny because he wound up working on quite a few pop hits. He went to New York and became a session musician, arranger, and [clip of Gloria Gaynor - "Never Can Say Goodbye"] producer for quite a few big hit songs. But that wasn't the way he'd make his biggest mark on the world. You see, he was kind of a sci-fi nerd.
Todd: Surprise. And in 1977, he went to see a little sci-fi movie that came out that year. [Posters of Empire of the Ants...] No. [...The Incredible Melting Man...] Nope. [...and Kingdom of the Spiders] No, look, you already know what it is.
- Clip of commercial for Star Wars
Todd (VO): Anyway, he saw it, like, a dozen times, and like everyone, he loved the theme song too. But apparently, he found its lack of boogie disturbing, so he took it upon himself to restore groove to the Force.
Todd: And the result was...
The big hit
Todd: People forget that Star Wars was, for its time, actually a very grungy, ugly movie.
Todd (VO): People were used to sci-fi being shiny, sleek chrome and rockets, and here we got a movie full of sand and crappy worn-out electronics and garbage. Bu you forget all that because it feels like this awe-inspiring, epic story...
Todd: ...starting right with that opening theme.
- Beginning of Star Wars
Todd (VO): I think you can reasonably say that John Williams is the most famous and recognizable film composer of all time, [Clip of John Williams in concert] and the Star Wars theme would be his most famous and recognizable work. It blasts you in the face right away with the impression that you are watching the grandest opera of all time. The original Star Wars score is just one of the all-time greatest movie soundtracks in history.
Todd: And it was outsold...by Meco.
- Video for "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band"
Todd (VO): Since I wasn't there at the time, I don't know how much overlap there was with the stereotypical Star Wars dork, the mainstream movie audience, and the disco dancers who presumably bought this record. If I were just to guess, I would say this is actually an entirely geek-based phenomenon. But...
Todd: ...I also found this old clip of Soul Train.
- Clip from Soul Train
- Don Cornelius: Star Wars.
- "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" plays
Todd (VO): Hearing Don Cornelius say "Star Wars" feels weird, but these dancers seem to be grooving without any problem whatsoever. I mean, there's one guy doing the Robot, but other than that, they just seem to be dancing with no nerd shame whatsoever.
Todd: I mean, really, why would they?
Todd (VO): I mean, yeah, everyone knows it's from Star Wars, but if you just ignore that, yeah, sounds like it could be a regular disco song. Fits really well. Hey, maybe if we took the beat out of the Soul Train theme, we could turn it into, like, this epic movie score.
Todd: Actually, with the disco beat under it, this kinda sounds like [clip of opening from Charlie's Angels] the theme to a cop show or something.
Todd (VO): Yeah, it's not just nerd nostalgia that makes me like this song, it just works. I think it helps that it's not just a remix, it's like an actual orchestral rearrangement. If it were nowadays, they'd just add a beat under it and that'd be it. And also, it was fortunate that this came out at a time when pop music was pretty lush and orchestral. Synthesizers wouldn't really be a thing for a couple of years yet, so disco tended to favor big, full brass sections and strings. Meco didn't really have to change that much.
Todd: And to be completely honest, Meco wasn't the first guy to come up with this idea.
- Clip of Walter Murphy - "A Fifth of Beethoven"
Todd (VO): Just the year before, some guy turned Beethoven's fifth symphony into a disco song. [Clip of Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps - "Baby Face"] And there was also an old Al Jolson tune from the '20s.
Todd: So this was not really that out of the ordinary.
Todd (VO): But this is the first one that did a remix of something that was actually popular [display of Star Wars soundtrack record] right now. Although, you know, I never noticed, but the alien thugs in the cantina seemed really into Dixieland jazz. I don't know, it's not like something I'd ever choose to listen to, but as far as novelty records go, I've certainly heard worse. On a scale of Jar Jar to Han Shoots First, I'd rank it a good, solid Chewbacca. So yeah, just like Star Wars itself, Meco was successful beyond his expectations. But unlike George Lucas, he couldn't spend three years crafting a sequel. He had to capitalize on his surprise success right now.
Todd: Success leads to expectations, expectations lead to rushed production, and rushed production leads to...
The failed follow-up
Todd: Okay, for what it's worth, I don't know if I could even pick one song that would really count as the follow-up because he [collage of Meco's albums] pumped out a lot of vinyl in a really short amount of time. But let's start with the immediate follow-up. [Album cover of Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk] How do you follow up something like this? Well, with more movie themes, obviously. But what? [Posters of, with the appropriate themes underneath...] Jaws probably doesn't work as a disco song. The Godfather? There's already a Disco Godfather. Plus, those movies are years old now. Is there some kind of other sci-fi flick out right now? Preferably with a John Williams theme?
- Opening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Um...okay. It could work. I mean...
- Clips from movie
Todd (VO): Close Encounters, that's one of John Williams' really just greatest...
Todd: I don't actually know how the theme to that one goes.
- "Roman Nights" plays over single cover
No, actually, this kinda doesn't work. I'm not sure how to feel about this.
Todd (VO): It's too quirky to make good dance music, you know? Also, where's that little five-note riff that they talked to the aliens with?
Todd: I mean, that's the only music I really remember from Close Encounters.
- Portion of song with that five-note riff
Todd (VO): That's not even remotely synced up to the beat. Come on, Meco.
Todd: Okay, that was '77. What happened in '78? Are we lucky enough to have any more sci-fi, John Williams soundtracks?
- Opening of Superman: The Movie
Todd (VO): Hell yeah! Now there's a movie theme.
Todd: Let's funk this up!
- Album cover of Superman & Other Galactic Heroes. No track listing available
Honestly, I don't think this works either.
- Clip from movie
Todd (VO): I mean, the Star Wars remix, I thought that actually was more than just the same song with a disco beat pasted on clumsily. But this.
Todd: Yeah, that is all that is.
- Album cover of Meco Plays The Wizard of Oz, with "Over the Rainbow" playing over, followed by clip from the movie
Todd (VO): The other album he released that year was a disco version of the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. So if you really want to hear a version of "Over the Rainbow" that sounded like "The Hustle," there you go.
Todd: Look, I like a lot of disco, but let me be clear here. If you want to believe that disco...
- Footage of Disco Demolition Night
Todd (VO): ...did in fact suck and needed to be immolated as public spectacle, listening to disco five covers of things that didn't need to be covered will quickly convince you.
Todd: Honestly, this is true of most of novelty cover acts. [Covers of Ruin Jonny's Bar Mitzvah by...] It's true of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, [...Lounge Against the Machine by...] it's true of Richard Cheese, [...and Bluegrass Tribute to Linkin Park and ABBA Metal] it's true of those stupid novelty CDs you find in the music store that are like a calypso tribute to Motley Crue or whatever. It just gets lazy, and it wears out.
- Album cover of Moondancer
Todd (VO): To be fair, Meco's albums weren't all covers. He also had a number of original compositions on there.
Todd: For example, there's this one called "Topsy."
- Single cover of "Topsy"/"Lady Marion" with "Topsy" playing over, which has similar vocals to "The Hamster Dance"
This is the sound of hell.
Did he ever do anything else?
Todd: Oh, he kept this shtick up for a long time.
Todd (VO): 1980 also gave us our second Star Wars movie, so Meco finally released a second Star Wars song. You know, in case Darth Vader [clip of Darth Vader and storm troopers dancing] wanted to shake his groove thing.
Todd: At some point, Lucas also commissioned, no joke, a [album cover of Christmas in the Stars] Christmas album. Because, you know, mixing Star Wars and Christmas worked [screenshot of Star Wars Holiday Special] so well the first time. This album, which Meco produced, was notable for featuring the first recorded appearance of [picture of, with R2-D2...] Jon Bon Jovi. But mostly, it's known for the big single, [single cover of The Star Wars Intergalactic Droid Choir and Chorale - ...] "What Do You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb?)" [sic]
- Clip from the Holiday Special
- Unidentified Singer: What can you get a Wookiee for Christmas
- When he already owns a comb
- It's really a problem
Todd: I don't know, pants?
Todd (VO): Holo-porn? You know...
Todd: ...Wookiees are more than just hair, you racist.
- Concert footage of Diana Ross
Todd (VO): The thing is, he did have a pretty decent career when not doing this. You probably know this song.
- Diana: I'm...coming...out
Todd (VO): Yeah, he performed on it. He actually got a trombone solo on the radio in 1980, which is no small accomplishment. [Album cover of the self-titled album by...] He also produced Kenny G's first album, which, you know, not my favorite thing in the world, but my point is, he sold records. But as a lead artist...
Todd: ...yeah, it was mostly movie themes. [Single cover of...] Dance versions of themes to the miniseries Shōgun, [Album covers of Music from Star Trek and Music from The Black Hole] and the Star Trek motion picture, [...and Meco Goes to the Movies] he used a whole bunch of movies all in a row for that complete Stars on 45-style embarrassment to humanity. Eventually, his career ended in the only way it could.
- Clips from Return of the Jedi
Todd (VO): With a dance remix of the Ewoks' celebration from Jedi.
Todd: After that, AllMusic says Meco retired from music entirely, [clip from Empire] moved to Florida, and became a commodities broker. Although he did resurface alongside [album cover of soundtrack for...] Episode I to give us a techno version of "Duel of the Fates." He didn't do the same for the other prequels, which...yeah, probably a good move.
Did he deserve better?
Todd (VO): No. This guy's best work is definitely not as a lead artist. This is a guy who belonged behind the scenes while other people took the lead. Star Wars was fertile enough to keep going for eternity, but the disco Star Wars theme was not. It is distinctly of a very specific time and place. But for that short moment in time, it worked.
Todd: May the dance be with you.
- Clips of the video, Hyperspace Hoopla, Robot Chicken, Todd dancing in his seat, with a lightsaber in two instances, "Weird Al" Yankovic - "The Saga Begins", "Star Wars Gangsta Rap", and Star Wars Kinect
Closing tag song: Nick Winters (Bill Murray) - "Star Wars"
"Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" is owned by RCA Records
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!