The Star Wars saga continues at The Second Disc with a trove of often-ridiculous but always intriguing musical curios devoted to the films. It’s as much a story of disco and a rock legend from New Jersey as it is about Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. And it’s yours to read after the jump.
We all know of the disco version of John Williams’ classic Star Wars theme. It is as ridiculous as any novelty tune you can name. It amazingly topped the charts in the summer of ’77, such was the public’s desire for symphonic sci-fi music and ornate dance music. But Meco, the man behind it, wasn’t just some guy desperate to cash in.
Domenico Monardo was a trombone player who had a knack for disco and horns. These dual talents bought him a lot of session and production work. Gloria Gaynor’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” was his co-production. Tommy James’ “Crystal Blue Persuasion” bore his arrangements, as did Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” a high point for all involved. (Meco’s trombone solo is easily as groovy as everything CHIC was playing on that record.) The Star Wars project came about because he just really liked the film (the story goes that he watched the film more than five times during the opening weekend). That, and a connection with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records, put him on the map. In three weeks he had cut a whole record, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, which bore an even longer version of the disco arrangement of Williams’ themes on the single, plus another side of originals.
Meco, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk (Millennium Records MNLP 8001, 1977 – reissued Hip-O HIPD-40171, 1977)
- Star Wars – 15:49
- Other Galactic Funk – 12:31
- Star Wars/Cantina Band – 3:32 (7″ A-side – Millennium MN 604, 1977)*
- Star Wars/Cantina Band (12″ Disco Mix) – 7:34 (12″ A-side – Millennium MND 20604, 1977)*
* bonus track on Hip-O reissue
While disco continued to die, Meco showed no signs of slowdown; the remainder of the decade saw him turning music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Superman: The Movie and The Wizard of Oz(!) into disco platters. In 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was released, Meco revisited that galaxy far, far away twice – this time with George Lucas’ blessing. The Star Wars discotheque added both medleys for Empire and a hilariously awful holiday album, Christmas in the Stars, featuring Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C-3PO and sound effects whiz Ben Burtt bringing R2-D2 and Chewbacca along for the ride.
But the oddest cameo on Christmas in the Stars was the work of co-producer Tony Bongiovi. As one of Meco’s cohorts (alongside Harold Wheeler and Jay Ellis – they were essentially to disco what The Corporation was to Motown), he was able to get his studio, The Power Station, for recording purposes, and bought in his second cousin, working as a custodian in the building, to contribute vocals. The author wonders what that young man, Jon Bongiovi, might think of the merits of his vocals on “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and how it might stack up to any of the Bon Jovi catalogue.
Meco, Plays Music from The Empire Strikes Back (RSO Records RO-1-3086, 1980)
- Darth Vader/Yoda’s Theme
- The Battle in the Snow
- The Force Theme
- The Asteroid Field/Finale
Tracks 1 and 3 were released as a single, RSO Records RS 1038. The full Empire suite, released as a 10″ LP, has never gotten a proper CD release, though parts of it did end up on The Best of Meco (Mercury 314 553 255-2, 1997).
Meco, Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album (RSO Records RS-1-3093, 1980 – reissued Rhino R2 72529, 1996)
- Christmas in the Stars
- Bells, Bells, Bells
- The Odds Against Christmas
- What Do You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb?)
- R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- Sleigh Ride
- Merry, Merry Christmas
- A Christmas Sighting (‘Twas the Night Before Christmas)
- The Meaning of Christmas
Against all odds, a single was released, “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas” b/w “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (RSO Records RS 1058).
Fortunately, Meco didn’t do a full LP for Return of the Jedi, but he did do something. Ewok Celebration (Arista AL 8-8098, 1983) featured a handful of Jedi music plus arrangements based on Twilight Zone: The Movie, Superman III and…uh, WarGames. There were some crazy guest spots too: Duke Bootee (who rapped on Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message”) lent some rhymes to the title track, and Meco’s version of “Maniac” (from Flashdance) featured a young Kenny Gorelick on saxophone, before he dropped everything in his last name but the “G” and spiced up elevators across the country.
Non-John Williams Star Wars music isn’t all novelty, though. There were two relatively well-done soundtracks released in the years after Return of the Jedi; one was devoted to a set of TV movies, the other was the music to…a book?
Peter Bernstein was tasked with adapting Williams’ Ewok theme and creating new music for two unusual televised features. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, released in 1984 and 1985, saw the adventures of the little teddy bear tribe before the events of the last Star Wars film (spoiler alert: Wilford Brimely is involved). Varese Sarabande released an LP of music from both films that has yet to see a CD release.
Peter Bernstein, Ewoks (Varese Sarabande STV 81281, 1986)
- Intro/Main Title
- Noa & Terak
- Set Up/Terak’s Theme
- Noa’s Ark
- Good Night, Bad Dreams
- Poker Game
- Pulga Chase
- The House
Tracks 1, 2, 7, 8 and 11 from Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
Tracks 3-6, 9, 10 and 12-14 from Ewoks: The Battle for Endor
Finally, the Star Wars overlords did commission a soundtrack for a book. The 1996 novel Shadows of the Empire was its own multimedia project (set between both Star Wars sequels) that encompassed comics, toys, a video game and the excellent score by Joel McNeely (hired at the recommendation of Williams himself), who adapted classic passages from the original music and created themes for new places and faces that sit comfortably next to the originals.
Joel McNeely and The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Shadows of the Empire (Varese Sarabande VSDE-5700, 1996)
- Theme from “Star Wars”/Leia’s Nightmare
- The Battle of Gall
- Imperial City
- Beggar’s Canyon Chase
- The Southern Underground
- Xizor’s Theme
- The Seduction of Princess Leia
- Night Skies
- Into the Sewers
- The Destruction of Xizor’s Palace