n May 25, 1977, Meco Monardo joined the people at a New York City theater who were lined up to see the screening of a new film starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. Like millions of other fans seeing George Lucas' Star Wars for the first time, Meco thought the film was a tour de force. He loved the music -- although he didn't think the main title theme, as performed by John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra, was commercial enough to be a Top 40 single.
Meco hired 75 musicians to play on the track, and played trombone and keyboards himself. The complete composition was released as part of an album and on a 12" single. The original main title theme by the London Symphony Orchestra was released by 20th Century Records and entered the Hot 100 on July 9, 1977, less than two months after the film opened. Monardo was wrong about its commerciality; it raced up to number 10. But Meco's version, which debuted on the chart on August 6, raced past it to go to number one the week of October 1.
Star Wars went on to become the highest-grossing motion picture of all time, a record it held until the release of Steven Spielberg's E.T. in 1982. Meco later recorded other film themes in his own style. He followed "'Star Wars'/Cantina Band" with the "Theme from 'Close Encounters,' which ran a close second to John Williams' original version (Williams went to number 13 while Meco was right behind him, at number 18). Then came a medley of "Themes from 'The Wizard of Oz,'" a medley of themes from The Empire Strikes Back and "Love Theme from 'Shogun' (Mariko's Theme)."
Meco Monardo was born November 29, 1939, in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania. His father played the trombone and taught Meco how to play. He was proficient enough to join the high school band while he was still in the sixth grade. In high school he formed his own Dixieland band, and after graduating in 1957, won a scholarship to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He attended West Point, where he played in the Cadet Band, and learned about arranging from an Army sergeant. Returning to civilian life, Meco lived in New York City and was introduced to bandleader Kai Winding by a mutual friend, Chuck Mangione. Despite a strong dislike for pop music, Meco worked for nine years playing all kinds of music.
"I was doing all these dumb ditty bop records that never came out," he told Romeo. He also earned a nice living arranging commercials, like a Neil Diamond spot for Coca Cola. In 1974 he co-produced his first pop hit, "Never Can Say Goodbye" by "I Will Survive" chart-topper Gloria Gaynor, followed by Carol Douglas' "Doctor's Orders."
His most recent single to appear on the Billboard Hot 100 was "Ewok Celebration" in 1983, inspired by Return of the Jedi, giving Meco a hat trick of his songs from the Star Wars trilogy.
- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.
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