Detroit Spinners: Spaceballs
May the Schwartz be with you: A synth-powered non-hit from the Spinners gets a thorough second look
This week, Mel Brooks finally laid his fingerprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s an achievement that was long overdue. And for those that have followed his storied career, it makes no sense that the famous director/writer/producer/actor — the gent behind iconic works like Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights and The Producers — had to wait so late in life to get the honorary treatment on Hollywood’s famous sidewalk.
The 88-year old Brooks got the last laugh, though. He placed an extra finger on his left hand. The stunt is so Mel Brooks.
A week prior, Joan Rivers passed away. The comedy legend played the voice of Dot Matrix in Brooks’ 1987 box office smash, Spaceballs, The funny film, which pokes fun at every corner of George Lucas’s Star Wars, is still considered one of Brooks’ most famous works. Along with the hearty laughs and an all-star cast, the film sported a nifty soundtrack featuring John Morris’s symphonic arrangements and original music from pop star royalty (Pointer Sisters, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Berlin).
What most people wouldn’t know is that the R&B group Spinners handled the funky uptempo title track. Billed as the Detroit Spinners (dating back to their Motown days), the group – now sporting John Edwards in the lead spot – had hit a dry spot in their career. After leaving Atlantic in the early ’80s, the Spinners hadn’t had a big hit since their Michael Zager-produced medleys charted (“Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl,” “Cupid/I’ve Loved You for a Long Time”). Making matters harder for the group, former Spinner Phillip Wynne, who left the group after the Thom Bell era ended and moving into the George Clinton’s Parilament/Funkadelic collective, passed away in 1984. With the sound of the Eighties morphing into a synth-driven, electronic-driven shuffle, the Spinners had to shift with the times. “Spaceballs,” produced by John “Jellybean” Benitez, sounded nothing like their music that preceded it. It was very club-like, dance-oriented and sprinkled with youth (thanks to Brooks’ comical lyrics). Unfortunately, the single never made any major chart action, even in the clubs. If MGM decided to promote it right, using some of the green that Paramount pumped into The System’s theme song for Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, it may have put the Spinners back into action. Nevertheless, the song lives in cinema history and can be heard in one of the films’ hilarious scenes — when Spaceballs One/Mega Maid is just about to explode into a million pieces.