I remember Kerrang! releasing a series of four booklets of the best 100 rock and metal LPs ever, when I was 16-ish. I had a good few of the LPs featured, others I added later, some I’m still holding out against (Michael Bolton), but I did learn about a few totally new bands, one of which were Starz. All write-ups of Starz EVER have to include the fact that they were managed by Kiss’ manager Bill Aucoin, were really talented but just never translated that into sales – I think it was UN Security Council Resolution 49.1(2) (April 1986) that set down that law. But you know me, I’m a maverick I don’t obey laws – I break ’em!
Starz began life in New York in 1975 and were managed by Kiss’ manager Bill Aucoin, were really talented but just never translated that into sales. They released four hard rocking albums, left behind a few kick-ass live recordings, a great logo and dissolved. I found their greatest hits album Brightest Starz in a second-hand shop in Swansea back towards the dawn of time (October ’89) cheap and snapped it up. To be honest it had a 50/50 chance of me snapping it up for the geekily brilliant crashing spaceship album cover alone. Released on Brian Slagel’s Heavy Metal America label* this was a great chance for me to get one up on my mates who’d never heard of the band. As long as they were any good that was.
Rest assured they were and Brightest Starz, apart from the track ‘She’ which I think sucks, is bursting with good, old-fashioned late 70’s US pop rock, albeit laced with something a little darker and heavier than usual at times. Kicking off with ‘Rock Six Times’, which appears to be a high energy tale from the future about finding a copy of Walk This Way in a Welfare Store and rocking out to it – I think I have to be right there, it had only been out for 2 years when Starz wrote this song. Taken from Starz’ second LP Violation the production is excellent, as you’d expect from Jack Douglas who, of course produced ‘Walk This way’ – so we have a man producing a song purporting to be from the future about a song that the same guy produced in the past – that’s some seriously circular shit! Starz get bonus points for the way Michael Lee Smith sings, ‘I only listen to guitars / They make it sound like it’s piped in from Mars’, over the guitar solo.
Next up is ‘Cherry Baby’, some proper power pop, the group betraying their origins in 70’s popsters Looking Glass (Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl), anyone?), I really like it too, Richie Ranno’s guitar doing some gentle underlining work here and there, it’s particularly well sung by Smith again too. All very well and sweet, until you realize it’s a jailbird singing about his love; why is he inside? did he kill her?
All aboard the sicko train for next track ‘Pull the Plug’ which is the first clue that what you have here is a bit darker than the hard rock previously encountered here. I’ve loved this song from the second I first heard it, it shares a certain attitude with The Diodes ‘Child Star’ in my view, even without much musical similarity – this one is a cool blues-based shuffle. I’m pretty sure it’s the only track in my collection about euthanizing a hot chick in an iron lung and I’m guessing it has never been anyone’s choice for a first dance at their wedding. You need this song in your life, even if you aren’t a killer, for the, umm, killer guitar.
She left the room for a minute or two
Now I know exactly what I’m gonna do
It’s been so long since your vital signs went
And you don’t look the same in that oxygen tent
Now if I get caught, I don’t care if I get hung
I can’t let my baby lie there in an iron lung
Goodbye my sweet
Understand what I’ve done
You can’t suffer no more if the motor won’t run
I’ll pull the plug, I’ll pull the plug, I’ll pull the plug
I’ll pull the plug on my love
I’ll spare you the full track-by-track (as I always say at this point), some highlights:
So Young, So Bad – basically KISS really should have written this track, it’s the mandatory 1970’s track about hot schoolgirls (15 in this case) banging singers from rock and roll bands** – ‘You should be home doing your history / Instead you’re dancing and drinking with fake ID’; it’s irresistibly good, even one of voice-box Peter Frampton things works really well here.
Subway Terror – genuinely creepy tale of a murderer/mugger doing his rounds – Michael Smith really inhabits his character on this one, after a scary line, or two about nurses we get the immortal couplet, ‘By God this blade is razor sharp /Do you know how to play a harp?’, followed by (thank you Jack Douglas) a harp. Top-notch sicko rock, again.
Coliseum Rock – Just a real blasting instrumental for three minutes, Richie Ranno shows some really serious chops on this track.
Boys In Action – Their real epic set-closing blast. At one point it all grinds to a halt and Michael Smith just gasps, ‘You want action? You want action? well … that’s … just…what …you’re …gonna…get’, before it all explodes in an orgy of fret-bending string lust. It’s almost up there with the Godz ‘Keep on Running’, almost.
So here you go this genuinely is a sizzling platter of Grade A 70’s rock, the slickness undercut with a touch of strychnine here and there. It’s an inevitable comparison point but I do wander why Starz didn’t ‘do a KISS’, they had the songs, the logo, much better production (certainly than very early KISS), the chops, a cool logo and appropriate management, so KISS had that fabulous cartoon image and a, frankly, terrifying amount of ambition – that’s my theory, that and dumb luck. So if you like good, hard rock from this period in time and you don’t know Starz at all, buy Brightest Starz; trust me, you’ll like it so much that you’ll have the logo tattooed on your butt by Christmas. Guaranteed.
*can you tell what type of music they released?
**why on earth did they keep writing songs about this subject? I guess it must have been to warn us, to prevent this sort of thing happening to others. ‘Learn from our mistakes, you fools’ they seem to shout at us across the decades.