Seamless: re-evaluating medley records of the 1980s

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In 1981, a medley of carefully re-recorded Beatles songs became a hit in several countries, signalling a revival of the medley format. 'Stars On 45' has been described as 'discofied nostalgia'; for some critics, it gave 'a chilling foretaste of the rule that the more obvious the sample, the more successful the record' (Broughton and Brewster 2006, p. 485). Broughton and Brewster's dismissal exemplifies common perceptions of medleys: that songs can be thrown together arbitrarily, and that medleys will automatically sell well as long as they feature 'obvious', familiar songs and a 'clap-track' (Kozak 1983, p. 46). Music theorists such as Thomas MacFarlane take a different route: they concede that medleys may be interesting, but only if the records exhibit the same kind of 'unity' found in Beethoven Symphonies. In this paper, I respond to both of these approaches. Even if 'Stars On 45' is mere 'discofied nostalgia', at some stage, a producer or arranger needed to ask: what is the most effective way to shift from 'Venus' to 'Sugar, Sugar'? Is the segue convincing? By retracing this process, I argue that producers needed more than a handful of tunes and a 'clap track' to make an effective medley. At the same time, I suggest that medleys require a mode of listening that is at odds with the model of listening implied by traditional musicological analysis, in which music's formal structure or 'unity' is taken to be its defining property.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhat's it Worth?
Subtitle of host publication'Value' and popular music : selected papers from the 2009 IASPM Australia New Zealand Conference
EditorsShelley D. Brunt, Kirsten Zemke
Place of PublicationAuckland
PublisherInternational Association for the Study of Popular Music
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780958149723
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes
EventIASPM Australia-New Zealand Conference - Auckland
Duration: 27 Nov 200929 Nov 2009


ConferenceIASPM Australia-New Zealand Conference


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