There are few musical fads as goofy — and short-lived — as the medley craze in the very early ‘80s. Just like today’s EDM fans, what kept backpackers and Belgians alike grooving all night in European discotheques back then: long works of uninterrupted dance music. Today, DJs use laptops and electronic equipment to make extended dance mixes, but in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, it meant splicing tape or seamlessly seguing one record into another.
In 1980, a Dutch music publisher named Willem Van Kooten, who owned the rights to the Shocking Blue’s 1970 hit “Venus,” heard a snippet of that song in a bootleg disco medley, which also included a ton of Beatles songs. And so, he ripped off this unauthorized rip-off, re-recording a properly rights-sourced version of the medley (and original, intro and outro sequence) with a bunch of anonymous studio singers and musicians he called Stars on 45. Under copyright law, the song’s title had to include the full names of all the tunes sampled, resulting in a mouthful: “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.”
But most people just called it “Stars on 45” when they went to record stores to buy the 45 rpm record…which exploded in popularity when Beatles nostalgia erupted worldwide after the December 1980 assassination of John Lennon. This weird collection of song snippets sung by a couple of guys who sort of sound like Lennon and Paul McCartney hit #1 almost everywhere, the Netherlands, of course, as well as Australia, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S.
The medley craze was on, probably because record labels realized they were an extraordinarily easy and relatively cheap thing to turn out, thus getting people to buy music with which they were already incredibly familiar and maybe even owned already. Stars on 45 led the charge with “More Stars” (featuring the songs of ABBA), “Volume III” (a disparate mix of ‘70s songs, everything from the Star Wars theme to “Kung Fu Fighting” to “Baker Street”), “Stars on 45 III” (Stevie Wonder), and “Stars on 45 III: Rollin’ Stars” (Rolling Stones songs). By 1983, other equally anonymous and enterprising studio acts turned out medley/tributes to Rod Stewart, the Bee Gees, and the Beach Boys. One of the most successful was the one that most imitated the progenitor: “The Beatles Movie Medley.” Featuring songs from Fab Four movies, it hit #12 in 1982.
People so loved listening to familiar music with a 1-2 drumbeat for a few seconds at a time that even a classical music medley hit the top 10: the Royal Philharmonic’s Beethoven-heavy “Hooked on Classics.”
Why’d the fad die? Because that’s what fads do: they burn brightly then fade away when everybody gets tired of them.