“There is always a disco version.”
That qualified truism became a recurring in-joke in our house last autumn, as my excavation of childhood nostalgia hit a rich vein of film and TV soundtrack singles from the latter half of the 1970s.
The film-score-to-dance-floor phenomenon didn’t start with Meco’s “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” but the stratospheric success of that boogified medley inspired a host of imitators. Even if the source material lacked the overwhelming presence of George Lucas’s space opera epic, the “disco” half of the equation was a marketplace juggernaut in its own right — and could theoretically have enough propulsive force to drag the rest of the package along in its wake.
The truth is, however, that Star Wars did do it, which left a lot of industry folks feeling that they were obligated to follow suit. It also helped that the prevailing trend for soundtracks gravitated towards either Williams-esque symphonic arrangements or experimental blippity-bloop tones, both of which shared a significant amount of genetic material with the late Seventies’ disco scene. Up the tempo, foreground the beat, use a little looping to pad out the length, add some effects, and — voila — the conversion into a dance jam is complete.
Because it bubbled up out of a franchise with spaceships and aliens, it tended to hover around similar genre fare. Again, it was an expected part of the package. If you were going to bite Star Wars, you weren’t going to leave any unchecked boxes on the sympathetic ritual list.
It applied to the most blatant imitations and it applied to even the most tangentially related efforts.
One afternoon last October, I somehow got to wondering if the In Search of… theme had ever been released on vinyl. The woo-heavy “documentary” series spanned the entirety of “the Cusp” (1977-1982), providing a whole sub-generation of impressionable kids with “true” accounts of UFOs, cryptid beasts, supernatural phenomena, and historical mysteries. The show terrified me when I was a kid and highly receptive to theories of a nightmarish invisible world.
Going back to it as an adult (thanks to a DVD box set generously gifted by pal Matt Maxwell) has instilled a different type of wonder, the kind that marvels at how stock footage, testimony from dubious “experts,” unsupported speculation, and stiff re-enactments can be given the semblance of a narrative by Leonard Nimoy’s familiar voice.
Well, the former Spock’s voiceovers and one of the most evocatively haunting TV show themes of my childhood.
Spacey yet spooky, the piece was the macabre cousin to the scores used in every low budget commercial or PBS moral education program from that era. And like them, it evoked some abstract universe outside my cozy domestic realm. (I blame my mom for introducing me to modern art while I was still a toddler. And brutalist architecture. And growing up in the Seventies, full stop.)
I did a little googling to see if had ever been issued on record, and once again discovered…
“There is always a disco version.”
It was a 12-inch and dead cheap, to boot.
While I was thrilled to add it to my collection, the actual product is a bit overwhelming. The dance version blunts haunting minimalism of the original by burying it beneath industrial-grade wakka-chikka guitar, a wall of brass, and an extended drum solo.
It’s not without it’s charms, but it doesn’t evoke “a child’s terror of the Loch Ness Monster” as much as it does “boarding the Pacific Princess’ gangplank with Larry Storch and Barbi Benton.”
(Which is terrifying, to be fair, but in an entirely different way.)