Also Sprach Zarathustra by Deodato (CTI, 1973)

If you’re gonna record a cover song, why bother with another Motown or Beatles retread? That was the thinking of Brazilian arranger, Eumir Deodato. He went all the back to the late 1890s with a reworking of Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathrustra. As groundbreaking as the record may seem, Deodato had the benefit of Tom Parker testing the audience for classical remakes, when Apollo 100 took a Joy into the Top 5 the year before. And Also had the benefit of being recently reintroduced into the mainstream via Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Nevertheless, the public ate it up and the song rolled up to #2 in March 1973, held off only by Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song. [Wow, we sure were into drama back then…] It was the biggest hit for Creed Taylor CTI label, a jazz label that would delve further into fusion as the decade rolled on. Jazz crossover to the pop charts was getting very close to extinction in the 70s, unless you could get real funky, like the Crusaders or Chuck Mangione. Even George Benson, the ultimate 70s jazz crossover star and former CTI label mate, would have to smooth out his sound and lean heavily on the R&B side in order to get having hits.

Strauss, on the other hand, had passed away almost 30 years before this hit. Also was a tone poem written and first performed in 1896, immediately becoming a cultural favorite in Germany. Deodato’s version, as well as Kubrick, only reworks the first part called Sunrise. As the pop charts became increasingly rules by soul songs, the timing was right for this Rhodes-fueled piece of jazz-funk. Plus Grandma could be OK with young kids listening to it, believing that they were getting a piece of culture by listening to classical music, no matter the form. The 45 was 5 minutes long, an eternity for tightly programmed AM station playlists. I recommend the full 9-minute album version, which actually is only 20 minutes less than Strauss’ performance.

It also laid out a blueprint for future disco songs by Walter Murphy [A Fifth of Beethoven] as well as the jam-laden Saturday Night Fielder. [I always got him & Colonel Sanders mixed up as a kid.]

Deodato was a one-hit-wonder on the pop charts, but has hit the pop charts as arranger & producer, including current artists such as Bjork and k.d. Lang. His biggest success was when Kool & the Gang abandoned the funk, hired a permanent lead singer and asked Eumir to producer their LPs starting in 1979, making the band one of the biggest forces in the Top 40 in the early to mid-80s.

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