Here’s the second part of what was once a single epic-length post on the early 80s medley craze. Find part 1 here. The original megapost, which I have updated a bit in these two installments, appeared on June 27, 2007.
What follows, in the interest of keeping this post from running longer than the era it’s discussing, is a timeline of medleys to hit the Billboard Hot 100 between June 1981 and the end of 1982. It’s hard to believe some of this actually happened.
June: The first Stars on 45 medley (which was officially titled, at the insistence of music publishers, “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/Nowhere Man/You’re Going to Lose That Girl/Stars on 45”) hits #1.
August: “Stars on 45 II,” featuring nine more Beatles songs, reaches #67.
October: “The Beach Boys Medley” hits #12. “More Stars on 45,” featuring a schizophrenic collection of 60s and 70 tunes, hits #55.
January: The second-most successful medley of all time in terms of chart performance, “Hooked on Classics,” reaches #10. It’s a collection of classical themes orchestrated by former Electric Light Orchestra member Louis Clark and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. . . . Also: “Seasons of Gold,” a medley of Four Seasons tunes by Gidea Park featuring Adrian Baker, reaches #82. Oddly, Baker would become a member of the Four Seasons for a couple of years in the mid 90s.
March: “Memories of Days Gone By,” a medley of doo-wop songs rerecorded by Fred Parris and the Five Satins, reaches #71.
April: “Pop Goes the Movies” by Meco, featuring familiar themes from eight movies including Gone With the Wind, The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, reaches #35. Meco was a natural for this kind of thing—he’d already released singles featuring various themes from Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Empire Strikes Back.
May: On the Hot 100 for the week of May 15, “The Beatles Movie Medley” peaks at #12; “Stars on 45 III,” which was made up entirely of Stevie Wonder tunes and was actually the fourth Stars on 45 single, peaks at #28, and “Hooked on Big Bands” by the Frank Barber Orchestra, is at #90. Thus, this month would seem to represent the peak of the medley’s pop-cultural reach. (Barber’s record, made up of themes made famous by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, would eventually peak at #61 in June.)
July: “Hooked on Swing” by Larry Elgart and His Manhattan Swing Orchestra, which features several of the Miller tunes Frank Barber had done on his record along with other familiar swing themes, reaches #31.
December: “The Elvis Medley” reaches #71 on the pop charts and #31 on the country charts. (I was doing country radio during the medley craze, and if I’m recalling correctly, medleys didn’t really catch on there. We played “Just Hooked on Country” by Albert Coleman’s Atlanta Pops. It may have made the lower reaches of the country chart, but it didn’t place on the Hot 100.)
And so, the medley craze was pretty much over by the end of 1982. Stars on 45 kept releasing singles, featuring ABBA, the Rolling Stones, and the Carpenters, but none of them made the Hot 100. Producer Jaap Eggermont spun off the Star Sisters, whose Andrews Sisters medley, a massive hit in several countries, bubbled under in the summer of 1983. A group called Band of Gold was late to the party in December 1984 with a medley made up mostly of Stylistics songs entitled “Love Songs Are Back Again.” It got to #64, but didn’t reignite America’s passion for medleys.
Although the medley craze died down, it never died out. Channeling Stars on 45, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ 1989 hit “Swing the Mood” became necessary wedding-reception fodder throughout the early 90s; the Grease Megamix recycled tunes from the movie soundtrack for the film’s 20th anniversary in 1998. Today, the medley spirit lives on. Do-it-yourself music mashups proliferate all over the Internet, and there’s a great debate raging among artists and intellectual property experts over the practice of reimagining existing works of art to make new ones, which is really just another form of medley-making.