At the 1978 Grammy Awards, in the category Best Pop Instrumental Performance, John Williams’ famous Star Wars soundtrack faced off against… a disco funk cover of the Star Wars soundtrack that had outsold and out-charted the original.
John Williams’ soundtrack to the original Star Wars film is one of the most iconic and distinctive film scores of all time. (The American Film Institute ranked it as the #1 American film score, although I think the title should have gone to Vertigo.) The opening theme, released as a single, reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on September 17, 1977. But, just two weeks later, another Star Wars single hit #1 on that same chart. It out-charted John Williams’ original score – and it was a funky disco cover.
The unlikely hit was “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco. It was the single edit from an album hastily assembled to ride on the massive success of the film: Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk. The album took that classic main theme, and the quirky Cantina Band music, and a bunch of Star Wars sound effects, and a disco beat, and appropriately enthusiastic flourishes, and jammed it all together. Music journalist Tom Breihan calls it “fundamentally cheesy” and I cannot disagree. But hey, at least you can dance to it.
Not only did this single out-chart John Williams’ actual score, it also outsold it. Two million sales of the single. One million sales of the album. Suddenly, “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” was up for a 1978 Grammy.
This must have really stuck in John Williams’ craw. The cheesy disco cover was nominated for a Grammy in one of the same categories as his score: Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Fortunately, John Williams emerged victorious – he may not have the same sales, but at least he had the prestige. (He also won Best Instrumental Composition and Best Original Score, but lost Album of the Year to Fleetwood Mac.)
Meco went on to produce many more disco covers of famous soundtracks: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Wizard of Oz, Superman, Star Trek, An American Werewolf in London, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. They are… well, listen to them for yourself.