May the Fourth is upon us and what better to celebrate than with a little Star Wars music. But we’re not going to go with an old standby like John Williams’s legendary movie scores, Carrie Fisher’s Life Day theme song or even Bill Murray’s croontastic version of the main title. No, we’re going to take you back to the 1970s and revisit perhaps the most unlikely No. 1 hit ever: Meco’s “Star Wars/Cantina Band.”
In May 1977, a trombone-playing music producer named Domenico “Meco” Monardo trekked downtown to see the very first showing of Star Wars in New York City. He was immediately struck by Williams’s iconic score.
“I wanted to take that music and dance to it,” Meco once recounted to Yahoo. After finagling himself a record deal (following countless rejections), Meco assembled a team that included famed producer Tony Bongiovi (The Ramones, The Talking Heads) and a 70-piece orchestra and cut a record that became a pop culture phenomenon.
Here are five fun facts about Meco’s disco Star Wars.
1. That’s not really R2-D2
Because this wasn’t an officially sanctioned project, Meco didn’t have access to the movie’s sound effects. So all the droid noises, lasers and space sounds had to be meticulously re-created on primitive synthesizers.
2. The oatmeal connection
Meco dreamed up the album cover, of two space beings dancing, and hired illustrator Robert Rodriguez to create the art. Rodriguez was best known at the time for the classic 1970s Quaker Oaks packaging.
3. A star is born
Meco’s Music Inspired by ‘Star Wars’ and Other Galactic Funk hit No. 13 on the charts and sold 1 million copies, which was more than Williams’s official Star Wars score. The “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” single did even better, hitting No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts and selling more than 2 million copies in the U.S., which is still a record for an instrumental track.
4. Props from John Williams
Meco’s “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” was nominated for the 1978 Grammy for Best Instrumental Recording but lost to John Williams and the London Symphony’s version of the “Star Wars Theme.” Afterwards, Williams sent Meco a plaque commemorating his hit record with a note reading, “Dear Meco, thank you so much for this marvelous version.”
5. The sequels
Monardo would go on to record albums for The Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens and a collection called Star Wars Dance Party tied to the release of The Phantom Menace. But his most original Star Wars-themed work was 1980’s holiday themed Christmas in the Stars. George Lucas gave his blessing to the album, approving the use of official sound effects, providing album art by Oscar-winning concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, allowing actor Anthony Daniels to sing a song as C-3PO, and dispatching an actor in a Darth Vader costume to the recording sessions.
The album also featured the professional debut of a hitherto unknown teen named John Bongiovi, who was sweeping floors in cousin Tony’s studio. Meco needed a singer for the chorus in “R2-D2, We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and John performed for $180. Four years later, that floor-sweeping singer would have a breakout hit of his own, “Runaway,” under his stage name, Jon Bon Jovi.
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