When Stars on 45 Hit No. 1 With a Beatles-Themed Disco Medley
Contrary to popular belief, disco didn't fade from the mainstream when the '70s ended. Exhibit A: The mysterious Dutch group Stars on 45 hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on June 20, 1981 with the eminently danceable, disco-based cover-song melange, "Stars on 45 Medley."
In reality, the song's official name was a mouthful: "Medley: 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." (Despite its thorough nature, it neglected to include the interpolation of Sparks' "Beat the Clock" at the start and coda.)
This elongated title revealed how Beatles-centric the song actually was. Dutch musicians Bas Muys (John Lennon), Okkie Huysdens (Paul McCartney) and Hans Vermeulen (George Harrison) performed rather-credible homages to three-fourths of the Fab Four. Atop a steady, percolating disco beat, these musicians covered snippets of these famous songs, which were then seamlessly (and rather artfully) mixed together into a DJ-like mix.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the premise and approach of this hit originated on the dance floor. As the story goes on a Stars on 45 fan site, a man named Michel Ali visited the Montreal club where a DJ named Michel Gendreau was spinning, and "showed him a tape containing a mix of popular disco songs, Beatles hits and other old songs."
Turned off by the tape's poor quality, Gendreau and a mixer named Paul Richer redid Ali's mix with better-sounding records. Even then, however, "the idea to not only use popular hot disco hits — but also 60's classics — was sort of a gamble," the bio noted. "In 1979, it was 'not done' to play Beatles music in clubs." As a result, Gendreau wasn't sure about playing it — although his work did end up on a bootleg called Let's Do It in the 80's Great Hits.
Listen to the Stars on 45's 'Beatles Medley'
This vinyl made its way over to Europe and landed in the hands of a Dutch record company, which in turn called up Jaap Eggermont, a former member of Golden Earring who was dabbling in production. Eggermont then spearheaded a very similar 12-inch version of the bootleg to great success: A shortened take on this "Stars on 45 Medley" was subsequently a massive hit in the Netherlands and the U.K. before the song took the U.S. by storm.
In fact, a June 1981, issue of Billboard ran down the milestones Stars on 45 achieved with the medley: Not only was it the first song by a Dutch act to hit No. 1 since Shocking Blue's "Venus" in 1970, but it was also the "first song collage" to top the pop charts and the only tune by a non-U.S. or U.K. act to hit No. 1 in the '80s so far.
"The Beatles-dominated 'Medley' also marks the third time outside versions of Lennon- McCartney compositions have hit No. 1," the magazine added. "Peter & Gordon's 'A World Without Love' was the nation's top 45 in June 1964; Elton John's 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds' roared to No. 1 in January 1975."
In the song's aftermath, the Beatles medley was expanded to 16 minutes to fit on side one of the Stars on 45's 1981 debut full-length, which was known in the U.S. as Stars on Long Play. The group also issued a second Beatles medley that same year (although it only reached No. 67 in the charts).
Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder medleys followed in subsequent years, as did several additional full-length albums. And in 1982, a single called "The Beatles Movies Medley," a sound collage of Fab Four songs from their movies released in tandem with the compilation Reel Music, hit No. 12 on the singles chart.
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