TWO BIG-BAND medleys currently battling it out on the adult-contemporary radio charts have their roots in Washington: Meco's "Big Band Medley" (on Arista) was arranged and produced by local jingle magnate Dan Levine, while Larry Elgart's "Hooked on Swing" (on RCA) was programmed by music publisher Bill Schremp. Neither was aware of the other's project, though both combinations of classic big band tunes over a contemporary dance beat were encouraged by the runaway success (2 million-plus copies) of the London Symphony Orchestra's "Hooked on Classics" (More on that later.)
Schremp, a champion of big bands (he publishes charts by Dizzy Gillespie, Boyd Raeburn, Claude Thornhill and others), was an obvious choice to pick tunes for Elgart, a longtime bandleader in the midst of a comeback. Schremp, who has since become Elgart's personal manager, came up with six basic ideas, "Hooked on Swing . . . Big Bands . . . on a Star . . . Astaire . . . Broadway . . . and the Blue(s)."
"I was interested in getting together the most notable Astaire tunes, finding the most notable blues tunes, things that were 'blues' in the titles as well as in the category," he explained. The Astaire medley is the busiest with 16 segments, the blues the shortest with six songs and one reprise. "Once we found all the tunes that met the specs, they pretty well stuck, though we probably dropped some if they didn't fit the modulations."
It was then up to the arrangers (Dick Hyman, Mike Abene and Bobby Scott) to settle on "times, segues and modulations and pull the appropriate 12 bars out of each tune," Schremp explains. The swing medley, which is getting air play on WPGC, WEAM, WMAL and WLIT, was No. 36 (starred) as a new entry on Billboard's adult-contemporary charts last week.
The album, packaged exactly like "Hooked on Classics," entered the album charts at No. 87, superstarred (to indicate great upward movement). "We contracted for three albums and since this one is skyrocketing, the second one is now likely to be something similar," Schremp concedes. "We were a bit surprised at the dynamics. I mean, it was meant to be a big seller or RCA and K-Tel wouldn't be involved. But I guesss we were all surprised at the speed with which it is picking up it should be gold by four weeks after release ." The Elgart Band is tentatively scheduled for a July 15 appearance in Washington .
Back on the A/C chart, Meco's "Big Band Medley" is at No. 19, with a full-fledged album to follow in two weeks. Levine's move into the limelight is from another direction entirely: for the last eight years, he's owned a Washington-based jingle business, The Jingle Machine. Although Meco's name is on the project, it's Levine who produced the single. "I put the whole thing together, solicited it around to record companies. Meco best known for a series of flashy soundtrack themes heard it in Arista president Clive Davis' office and called. He wanted to put his name on it; at first I was hesitant, but I knew it would be good for my career. My name's still on the label as producer and arranger. We coproduced the album; the single, though, is all mine with the exception of the last 16 bars, which he did and spliced on."
The seven-song medley was recorded partly in Washington, mostly with local musicians. "I knew that the record business was depressed," Levine explains. "I also knew if I wrote something original, it would be that much harder to get a deal than if I came up with a novelty." He also took note of two separate phenomena--radio's acceptance of medley records and an ongoing public interest in music of the big band era. "And when classical music started being played on Top 40 stations via Hooked on Classics . . . "
Levine's project was finished before the Elgart record, but sat on the shelf for a few weeks; as a result, the Elgart reached the marketplace first. Next week, "Hooked on Swing" hits No. 43 in the pop-single charts, with a superbullet, while "Big Band Medley" is fading down the stretch. "The handwriting on the wall," Levine concedes, though he expects the album to reverse that trend. One reason for hope: a medley of old hits, "Patricia/Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White," done with a contemporary Latin feeling. "We don't have any competition on that." Yet.
There's a bit of controversy right now about the "Hooked on . . . " name. There's a third big band medley ("wouldn't you know we'd all come out at the same time," says Levine) called "Hooked on Big Bands" by the Frank Barber Orchestra on Victory Records; a court fight is set over the album's name. Both the "Classics" and "Swing" albums are being marketed for RCA by K-Tel, which means they are sold through traditional retail outlets and by direct response advertising (mostly on television). The medley concept isn't involved, since anybody can do a montage of music. The legal issue is over "product designation;" K-Tel apparently feels it has a propriatary interest in the "Hooked on" name based on the large amounts of money invested in the production and advertising of the "Hooked on Classics" album. A trial date has been set for June 22 in New York