Star Wars has given us many great musical inspirations, including John Williams' timeless score. But the weirdest tune from Star Wars might well be "Lapti Nek," the song that Lucasfilm tried to turn into a major dance pop hit.
If you saw Return of the Jedi in its original release, you heard "Lapti Nek." It's the jamming dance song that's playing in Jabba the Hutt's throne room early in the film, before Luke Skywalker shows up. It's being performed by a weird creature with a very long snout ending in bright red kissy lips. The singer is Sy Snootles, who's recently gotten a more fleshed out backstory in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
The lyrics are in Huttese, but "Lapti Nek" roughly translates to "Work It Out." Here's how it looked in the original film, complete with dancing Twi'lek in chains:
The "Special Edition" of Return of the Jedi, released in 1997, removes the song "Lapti Nek" from the soundtrack, and replaces it with a less dancey, more bluesy, musical number called "Jedi Rocks." And Sy Snootles is suddenly all computer-animated. (And apparently it won't be an extra on the upcoming Blu-ray either.) Here's how that sequence has looked for any version of the film of the past 15 years:
Apparently, at some point between 1983 and 1997, George Lucas must have soured on "Lapti Nek," a song he was quite big on at one point — at least, judging by the amount of energy that went into making Sy Snootles the next Madonna.
For starters, it turns out the song was written by John Williams himself, with some arranging help from Ernie Fosselius (producer of the parody Hardware Wars) and John Williams' son Joseph — who was the lead singer of the band Toto. (Did you know John Williams' son was Toto's lead singer? Me neither.) The lead vocal in the movie version was performed by a Lucasfilm sound engineer Annie Arbogast.
But when it came time for "Lapti Nek" to have its first official release, Annie Arbogasts' rough and somewhat screechy vocal was replaced by a vocal track from a professional singer, Michele Gruska. (Although actually, Gruska's vocal was originally planned for use in the movie as well, but Arbogast's vocal was used instead at the last moment.) Here's the music video of "Lapti Nek" with Gruska's vocal, as it was released as a 12" single:
Talking to Crawdaddy!, Gruska explained:
I auditioned [in Los Angeles] to sing for Return of the Jedi, then they asked me to sing ‘Lapti Nek' for the Jabba The Hutt scene. It was both another day's work and challenging on two counts-one, learning this new made-up language on the spot was not too easy, [and] two, it was unnerving singing for [20th Century Fox music supervisor] Lionel Newman, THE John Williams, and George Lucas.
In any case, Gruska's version was released in a five-minute edit as "Lapti Nek (Club Mix)" by the Max Rebo Band, which is the name of the band backing up Sy Snootles. (The Star Wars Extended Universe has provided loads of backstory for the Max Rebo Band. The top image up there is concept art for the Max Rebo Band by Ralph McQuarrie.)
Michelle Gruska also recorded an English-language version of "Lapti Nek" called "Fancy Man," which was used in background music in various Return of the Jedi featurettes and side projects — including the mockumentary Return of the Ewok. Here's a snippet of the English-language version:
But even though "Lapti Nek" failed to become the mega-hit that John Williams and his son Joseph hoped, the song still spawned a number of cover versions. Meco, the Italian disco master who'd built his career on doing disco Star Wars versions, released his own version — which failed everywhere except Thailand, where it was one of the biggest hits of 1983. Meanwhile, Joseph Williams took a break from Toto to found a new band, Urth, which released a song called "Lapti Nek Overture" (which included snippets of the controversial Ewok "Yub Nub" song.)
"Lapti Nek" has remained a cult classic among Star Wars fans, sparking a million tributes and a boppy remix by Ladycreme. There's even a singalong video, created by the Lapti Nek preservation society:
And one last thought — since it's that day of the week again, chances are someone will expose you to a certain earworm created by one Ms. Rebecca Black. If you need something to flush that earworm right out, there's really nothing better than "Lapti Nek." You'll be humming it to yourself for hours. [Crawdaddy! and Crawdaddy!]