A Close Encounter of the Dance Rock Kind

A Still from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'
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Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Noted film composer John Williams has worked in numerous motion picture genres over the years, including fantasy, but even for a man with as many credits as Williams has, it’s unexpected to see him listed as the composer for a Dance Fantasy...and yet, believe it or not, that’s precisely what happened in 1978 when Montana released an album entitled – wait for it – A Dance Fantasy Inspired by "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Although it’s credited simply to Montana, the individual behind this very, very ‘70s album is a gentleman by the name of Vincent Montana, Jr., who originally built a music career as a percussionist before evolving into an arranger and producer. In fact, Montana is arguably best known for having helped set up Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where he worked with legendary producers Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff. In addition, Montana was a founding member of MFSB, the group responsible for the Grammy Award-winning single “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia).”

From there, Montana founded the Salsoul Orchestra, which he proudly described as “the first disco orchestra,” and released half a dozen albums over the course of three years, but in 1978 he signed to Atlantic Records, which brings us back to our topic of discussion.

When you consider the amount of success that Meco found with his adaptations of the Star Wars score, it should come as no surprise that someone would take a shot at making the music of Close Encounters of the Third Kind a little more dancefloor-friendly. (Even Williams himself did, with a poppy arrangement of his themes included on a bonus single with the original soundtrack, that ended up reaching the Top 20 of the pop charts.) As music journalist Tim Card wrote of the album, “Side One of the LP is a no-holds-barred ‘disco symphony’ in seven parts, no less,” describing it as “a great piece, heavy on the atmosphere and not always relying on an overt kick drum to remind you it’s disco.”

In truth, the only place where Williams gets a writing credit is in the seventh movement of the “Dance Fantasy,” but the reality is that if the whole thing was inspired by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then it never would’ve happened without John Williams...for better or worse.

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