Random Runners-Up: ‘Hooked on Classics’, by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

For the next in our series of songs that almost made it… It’s time for something a little different…

‘Hooked on Classics’, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

#2 for 2 weeks, from 9th-23rd Aug 1981, behind ‘Green Door’

Disco had wormed its way into pretty much every area of popular music in the late 70s. ABBA went disco, Blondie too. Rod Stewart, of course, even The Stones… By the early eighties, amid the ‘disco sucks’ backlash, ‘cooler’ acts had ditched the glitter ball, new wave had taken over, and we were left with… this?

It’s a medley of classical pieces, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, set to a basic, drum-machined disco beat. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s both completely bizarre, and stunningly simple. I’m going to show up my terrible knowledge of classical music by trying to identify some of the pieces involved: there’s the bumblebee one, something by Vivaldi (edit: it’s Beethoven), ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, and the 1812 overture… There’s plenty more that I couldn’t identify, from Mozart, Handel and Grieg.

I’m trying to imagine who bought this? I can’t imagine classical music lovers really being into such dumbing-down of Tchaikovsky and co., nor can I imagine it filling a dancefloor. Perhaps it was bought by people who thought it made them look cultured – the type that call going to see ‘Mamma Mia’ a night out at the theatre (God, that sounded snobby!) At the same time, and as much as I liked ‘Green Door’, I do wish this had made #1. It would have made for one of the strangest chart-toppers of all time… And clearly there was enough of an audience, because the RPO released three entire albums in the ‘Hooked on Classics’ series!

There was a bit of a medley craze in the early eighties, to be fair. Stars on 45 are the big one that springs to mind, their sixties medley made #2, also in 1981, and got all the way to the top in the US. Britain would have to wait a few more years for its own set of chart-topping medleys, courtesy of a cartoon rabbit (don’t ask…) Anyway, here is ‘Hooked on Classics’, to be enjoyed in all its glory below. There aren’t many YouTube videos to choose from, and I’m not sure if this one with all its black and white footage is the original. Trigger warning: the video features more Steve Wright than is ever strictly necessary…

One last #2 up tomorrow!

4 thoughts on “Random Runners-Up: ‘Hooked on Classics’, by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

  1. Thing is classical music is everywhere in pop culture – blissfully copyright free – in movies ads TV, but its never back announced what it is. Back in 1981 unless you listened to the one existing station that played classical music you never knew what or whom you were listening to. Cue Hooked On Classics and suddenly all these fab tunes that were very familiar got a spotlight. Suddenly you could find out what they were and start taking more of an active interest in classical music. And guess what? It wasnt the boring Mendolsohn endless warblings you had to sit through at school assembly, it was stuff as wonderful as pop hits Mozart 40, Nut Rocker, Roll Over Beethoven, Fanfare For The Common Man and Joybringer! Cue the birth of The Greatest Classical Album Ever collections and a stepping stone into Classic FM in later years. So it did wonders for classical music even with that tinny disco beat….!

    • True, it’s a good point that access to classical music, or any music for that matter, wasn’t simply at people’s fingertips… And the pieces used in the song were listed on the sleeve, I think

  2. Starsound were very accomplished musicians who, with that uncanny knack of replicating the original sound, produced beautifully-crafted segues that you could marvel at – and never wanted to hear more than once or twice. Much the same goes for the RPO. They did a great job, but how often could you hear these medleys without getting irritated? (Apart from the fact that, as you state, they extracted the hooks and got rid of all the dull movements in between). Not only that, but they must bear some responsibility for that frightful Beatles Movie Medley the following year. And Jive Bunny later on. OK, great for parties and discos, yeah, but…

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