One of the stranger hits of the Eighties was a song by the band named Stars on 451. 45s, you may remember, were vinyl singles with one tune on each side, Sides A & B. (I did a couple of OTs on this a while back.) At any rate, here’s how the group came about.
In the summer of 1979, Willem van Kooten, the director of the Dutch publishing company Red Bullet Productions, visited a record store and heard a disco medley. Not so strange; disco was the in genre at the time. This particular medley, though, combined samples of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Archies and Madness with hits of the day like Funkytown, Boogie Nights, and Take Your Time (Do It Right). Van Kooten heard a bit of the 1970 hit Venus by the Dutch band Shocking Blue and thought (probably in Dutch): “Hey, I own the copyright to this!” That also clued him in that this medley was a bootleg.2
Being an enterprising record exec, Van Kooten thought, “We can’t release this; we’ll never get the copyrights. But we could release a soundalike!” He called up his friend, producer Jaap Eggermont, formerly drummer in the Dutch band Golden Earring, and the two went to work. Session musicians were hired to duplicate the instrumentals and vocals. Bas Muys provided John Lennon’s parts; Hans Vermeulen sang for Paul; Okkie Huijsdens covered George’s.3 Eggermont and musical arranger Martin Duiser wrote a link piece entitled Stars on 45, sung by Jody Pijper, to help tie the medley sections together. A prerecorded drumloop with loud handclaps served as the backbone to the entire track.
An 11:30 song entitled Stars on 45 was released in December 1980. In the normal course of events, it would have been quickly forgotten. However, the assassination of John Lennon that same month spurred interest in the Beatles among the young and the grieving older fans, and a 7” 45 was hastily complied and released (with Venus as the opening chord). Thanks to Bas’s eerily accurate John Lennon vocals, it was a monster hit worldwide in the first half of 1981. The album, entitled Long Play Album in Europe and Stars On Long Play in the US, also was a Top Ten hit around the world.
Did I buy this single? Yep. I even bought the album. I still enjoy it, even the non-Beatles sections. It’s a perfect summation of the disco era. It also has the longest single title for a #1 hit, due to the requirements that each song be listed by name:
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
A 41-word title. I think most DJs just announced it as either Stars on 45 or “that Beatles medley”, though.
This spurred a plethora of disco medleys, some by Stars on 45, some by others. ABBA, the Supremes, and the Beach Boys did medleys. So did Capitol Records the following year, when promoting their new Beatles compilation Reel Music.4 Quite honestly, I think Stars on 45 did it better in most ways.
So thanks to the Dutch for their contribution to my music collection.5