The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

15 August 2005

Burning in your mind

You probably don't know Okkie Huysdens or Bas Muys or Hans Vermeulen, but the three of them and some equally-anonymous associates were responsible for one of my greatest guilty pleasures of the early 1980s: these guys were doing impressions of, respectively, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison in the sixteen-minute Beatles medley released under the name "Stars on 45," which in the US charted as two separate singles, one of which made Number One in Billboard.

It was a downright audacious act, and it was a response to an act of dubious legality: someone in the Netherlands was circulating a dance mix of various pop hits that had been altered just enough to match their tempos together. It was staggeringly popular, and one of the aggrieved copyright owners came up with the idea of fighting the bootleg with a legitimately-recorded medley. The task fell to producer Jaap Eggermont, who initially recorded half an hour's worth of snippets and glued them together. Ingeniously, the "Stars on 45" albums issued in the US were titled Stars on Long Play; weirdly, the individual medleys differed substantially from the European releases, presumably for copyright-clearance reasons.

Eggermont's Stars were immensely versatile: over the space of three LPs they issued a number of mixed-bag medleys, plus longer ones dedicated to ABBA, the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder. (Logically, the Stevie set begins with the pounding beat of "Uptight" — albeit slower than Stevie took it, because it segues right into "My Cherie Amour.") And I have to say, whoever it was who did the Neil Diamond voice on "Cracklin' Rosie" has it dead solid perfect.

There was, of course, a Greatest Hits CD. And if you still insist that disco sucks, well, the concept was worked well by the Circle Jerks with a thrash medley of "adult-contemporary" tunes under the title "Golden Shower of Hits (Jerks on 45)", issued first on the L.A. label (if my 45 is to be believed) and then picked up for national distribution by Rhino.

Posted at 9:35 PM to Tongue and Groove

I'm not proud to admit this, but the breadth and depth of my musical taste can be traced to excatly two works released at approximately the same time: the "Stars on 45" medley and the soundtrack to the PBS science documentary "Cosmos".

Prior to this, I was a clueless young high schooler who thought that the American Top 40 represented the pinnacle of music achievement. Anything released prior to 1975 was "old stuff" to me, suitable only for the pot-heads just 3 or 4 years my senior (or even worse, suitable only for my parents).

Enter the "Stars On" phenomenon. I had a vague idea of who the Beatles were (hey, I'd seen "Yellow Submarine" on TV), but I never guessed the music was so darned... well, catchy! One thing led to another, and soon I found myself listening to (and liking) the original source material. One thing led to another, and my listening tastes rapidly expanded to many artists I would otherwise have completely missed.

The journey from "Beatles fan" to "Pink Floyd fan" is a chain worthy of a James Burke documentary. Suffice to say that the "Stars on" series, however cheesy it might have been, turned my musical tastes on its ear, and my pocketbook hasn't been the same since.

As for the "Cosmos" album, it introduced me to two other genres - classical and new-age (then known as "synthesizer music"). Say what you might about the overexposure of Pachelbel's "Canon in D" - had I never heard it, I never would have discovered Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings", and that would have been a true tragedy.

Note: The "Stars on Abba" medley did absolutely nothing for me - I still hate them.

Posted by: Joe Goodwin at 5:49 AM on 16 August 2005