James Last

Composer James LastThe king of «non-stop dancing», James Last has churned out more instrumental albums than Carter has liver pills, and he continue to record and release records at the rate of one every 11 days. Soon about to exhaust the supply of Western popular songs, Last is rumored to be exploring the potential for adapting Chinese operas to his seamless style, which would provide him with at least another decade’s worth of material. Everything from Gregorian chant to «Smells Like Teen Spirit» has been fed into the Last-icizer to produce countless medleys that somebody, somewhere, must be playing at their non-stop parties.

James Last started out as a bass player and played with the Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra in the early 1950s. In 1955, he joined the staff at Polydor Records, where he stayed for the next 30-plus years. In the early 1960s, Last became a recording artist in his own right and his copious output for Polydor began. At first he covered a variety of light instrumental styles, including a Tijuana Brass clone that Warner Brothers released in the U.S. as «James Last and the American Patrol».

For some reason, German records are full of medleys, in which the highlights of one melody segues into another over the stretch of 3 to 5 minutes. Last became a pro at putting these medleys together, and when the discotheque craze hit around 1964, he saw his chance to translate this skill into commercial success.

James Last added a new element to the medley formula, mixing in background sounds of laughter, talking, and clapping in rhythm to suggest a real party going on in. He stretched 5 minute medleys into 25 minute monsters, and Polydor packaged the result as «Non-Stop Dancing.» It was an enormous success. People just couldn’t get enough of it, apparently, although it was far less of a success in the U.S., which never caught the «Non-Stop Dancing» bug.

James Last has a devoted following in Europe. He’s sold millions of albums, has flocks of earnest fans, and has had several biographies written about him. He’s never done that well in the U.S., however, although he briefly dented the Top 40 in 1980 with a cover of «The Seduction,» the love theme from the Richard Gere soaper, «American Gigolo».


Chances are, if you don’t like the first James Last album you hear, you won’t like the rest. However, with a quantity of output like Last’s, something odd is bound to slip through. His Voodoo Party is undoubtedly the most popular with the exotica fan, and his «a Go-Go» albums (Hammond, Guitar, Humba-Humba) are close seconds.