Strange cover versions and even stranger original songs on the disco legend’s ‘official’ soundtrack to An American Werewolf in London.
John Landis has made some catastophically bad decisions in his time, and on the whole his choice to sanction the album Impressions of An American Werewolf in London by disco producer Meco is comparatively minor – at least no one died during the production of this album. How many wished that they were dead while listening to it is another matter…
When Landis made his 1981 horror movie, he hired Elmer Bernstein to write the original soundtrack, though chose to mostly feature a soundtrack made up of songs with the word ‘moon’ in the title – Bad Moon Rising, Moon Dance, Blue Moon and such. It was an inspired choice that still works for the movie, grounding it in pop culture and offering an ironic humour that fits nicely into the black comedy that permeates the movie. This meant that Bernstein’s orginal score was pretty short – less than ten minutes long. This meant that the traditional movie score soundtrack LP was out of the question, although there was no reason – beyond a financial rights issue one – that an LP of the featured songs together with Bernstein’s score couldn’t have been an option. However, with three versions of Blue Moon on the film soundtrack, perhaps even this might have been a little too short. In an age where film soundtrack LPs were big sellers, what to do?
Enter Meco. Born Domenico Monardo – in Pennsylvania, not Italy despite what many have believed – he had been dabbling in the music industry since the mid-Sixties as an arranger, and in 1977 caught the wind of both Star Wars and the disco boom, with a electro pop version of the sci-fi film’s main theme, which became a world-wide hit single, reaching number 1 in the US charts. The album Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk followed on Casablanca Records, and was also a big hit, even scoring a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Pop Performer. Meco followed with disco albums based on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Wizard of Oz, Superman, Star Trek, The Black Hole, and The Empire Strikes Back, which began to feel like a dead horse was being thoroughly flogged. Even the most enthusiastic fan must’ve felt like this was disco copycat overkill, and John Williams probably began to see Meco as some sort of parasite leeching off his own success (though for the record, we’ll take Meco’s versions over Williams’ overblown scores any day).
Meco’s final album for Casablanca was Impressions of An American Werewolf in London, and unlike his other knock-off works, this was an officially sanctioned release – not only does Landis provide sleeve notes, but the release is mentioned in the closing credits of the film – it is, to all intents and purposes, the official soundtrack album.
Of course, by 1981, the disco explosion was pretty worn out, and so for this album, Meco creates sound-alike cover versions of the songs featured in the films – the sort of Top of the Pops style covers that are close but still not quite right – with a cover of Bernstein’s music and his own compositions like No More Mr Nice Guy (not to be confused with the Alice Cooper track of the same name). These songs, complete with vocals, are interesting. Not to the point of being enjoyable, I should add, but definite curios, which is only fitting given that the album itself is quite the curiosity.
It’s hard to imagine who it was aimed at: film soundtrack collectors rejected it as an inauthentic release, the disco lovers who had enjoyed the earlier releases would have found this deeply unsatisfactory and anyone wanting a collection of moon-related classics would have been very disppointed. It’s likely that only John Landis – and possibly the coked-up executives at Casablanca – thought that this was a good idea.
The album took up space in record racks for what felt like an age at the time, unwanted and unloved. As with many an artefact of yesteryear, it has subsequently become a collectable (though not very valuable) cult item, perhaps not to actually be listened to by the collector, and as the only American Werewolf… merchandise (aside from some Don Post masks) from the time, is probably much sought after by fans of the film.
Meco would record a few more film-related LPs (including Ewok Celebration) before leaving the music business in 1985 to eventually work as a commodity broker. Assorted compilations of his work are available on CD, but Impressions of An American Werewolf in London has yet to be revived.