Joe Klein Remembers…How “Stars Wars/Cantina Band” got to Number One
Joe Klein gave Casablanca its identity on radio. Through his friendship with Casablanca artist and renowned songwriter Artie Wayne, Klein developed a relationship with Scott Shannon, one of Casablanca’s many promotion stars. Shannon tapped Klein for producing a radio spot to promote David Castle’s debut. Neil Bogart liked what he heard and solicited Klein for Meco’s Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk (1977) album. Artie Wayne explains how Klein got the gig, “Joe was an incredible engineer and he loved the movie, so he made a mini movie out of that Star Wars spot. Neil bought $30-$40,000 worth of radio time and had that spot played and it took it to number one. Joe did successful campaigns from thereon”. Klein, who produced countless radio and television commercials for Casablanca, remembers how his radio spot spawned a chart-topping hit:
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Neil Bogart said, “Look, I need you to pull out every trick in the hat. I want you to produce the best commercial for a record album that’s ever been produced”. I said, “Well that should probably be pretty simple, Neil, because nobody’s been really spending much time and effort and money in this area”. He goes, “Well that’s about to end”.
He said, “This is what I want. I want only one song in this commercial. I’m going to buy so much goddamn airtime on this commercial that that’s the way we’re going to get this record played. You’ve only got one minute so you got to cut this thing down and I want you to make me a masterpiece, Joe Klein”. I said, “Well I’ll give it my best shot Mr. Bogart. I think I really could do this for you”.
I got the copy of the master tape and I got the script and I remember the script was very simple. The script said, “There’s a lot of Star Wars albums to choose from but there’s only one that counts”. Then the next line was “Meco: Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk”. Then we played the music and then at the end the announcer just says, “Meco: Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk from Casablanca Record and Filmworks”.
These disco records were all very heavy 4/4 beat productions so it was an editor’s dream come true because it was so easy to cut this stuff down because everything was based on a heavy 4/4 beat. There’d be little breaks. I must say, to this day, it’s probably one of the best editing jobs I’ve ever accomplished.
I bring the spot into Neil’s office. He had a huge sound system in his office. He had a rack full of real high-end audio gear made by a company called SAE, which interestingly enough I used in my own studio. He had these little red LED lights blinking. I bring him the master of the commercial and he’s got a two-track tape machine. He says, “Let me see what you got”. He’s on the phone, he’s walking around. I thread the thing up and I play the spot and I crank it up a little bit. He freezes. He just stops what he’s doing. He was kind of preoccupied. He hears the thing and he just freezes. He had a phone receiver in his hand and he dropped it. He hears the commercial and it stops and he picks the receiver up – I don’t know who he was talking to – and he says, “I got to call you back”.
He says, “Play that motherfucker again…and turn it up louder”. I play it again and he hears the thing and now he gets on his desk and starts dancing. He’s dancing along with it. It comes to end and he jumps off the desk onto the floor and he says, “That’s the best fucking goddman radio commercial I’ve ever heard in my whole fucking life”. He says, “That’s incredible. What’s your name again?” I said to him, “Joe Klein”. He says, “Well Joe Klein, you know something? I hope you don’t have much else going on in your career right now because you got a new career with me. I’m going to have you so busy you’re just not going to believe it. I think you and I have just discovered a new way to start selling records”.
That story has a happy ending because the record rocketed up the charts. That commercial really had a major role in making that record a hit. The music that was on that commercial was so good and so listenable. Ernie Anderson was such a revered announcer that all the DJs and the program directors loved this guy so they paid even more attention. Ernie Anderson had the voice that every DJ wished he had. That started a succession of ads. Over the next year or two, and I didn’t find out until much later, apparently DJs and music directors and program directors and production directors from radio stations all over the county were calling the label on a regular basis saying these ads are just unbelievable, who does your ads? Of course, they didn’t want to lose me. The label presented me with a platinum single, a gold album, and a platinum album for Meco.
The radio spots became a totally integral part of the marketing of their stuff. The combination of Ernie Anderson’s voice and these really driving heavy 4/4 kick drum spots, they didn’t sound like any other commercials ever made. The radio guys absolutely loved them. It started a great run for me.
// Notes from the Road
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