Horns up folks, it’s time for another rendition of That 70’s Guy’s – Forgotten Gem of the 70’s where I pull out a classic, not so well known album from my youth and give it the light of day again. Its not supposed to be a masterclass in journalism, but a light- hearted recap of what it meant to me and what impact it had on someone that was coming of age during its initial release.
Every review I‘ve done to date always gets the same response from my buddy Mark – When’s Starz? Ok Mark, now its time for Starz and their 1976 debut to be featrured in this Retro Review!
I debated back and forth on which album to review. Should I do the classic debut or the second masterpiece Violation, as it has some real true pinpoint memories for me. This time, however, I am opting for the debut and will save what many call their best effort Violation for another rainy day.
Starz were formed in New Jersey out of the band Looking Glass, where bassist Pieter Sweval and drummer Jeff Grob, who’s stage name was Joe X. Dube, resided. They had a number 1 hit called “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” in 1972. Being a music nut in the 70’s and well aware of both of these acts, I even didn’t know that! Even I can learn something new. Anyways, Pete and Joe recruited singer Michael Lee Smith and guitarist Brendan Harkin to form Fallen Angels. Shortly after, Richie Ranno was scooped up from The Stories (Brother Louie) and in 1975 Starz was born.
Any music fanatic growing up in the 70’s relied heavily on three huge music television shows – The Midnight Special, ABC’s In Concert and Don Kirshners Rock Concert. These were absolute staples with 100% live performances. In 1976, all three were in peak form. It was there (on October 23rd) that we witnessed Starz’s performance on DKRC. My buddy Rod immediately purchased the album and many nights were spent in his basement listening, air-guitaring and more importantly studying and getting to know the band and the lyrics of our new found friends.
1976 was just loaded with some of the most influencial bands and albums to date. “Arena Rock” was at the top of its game. The Boston debut, Agents of Fortune by Blue Oyster Cult, 2112 by Rush, Leftoverture by Kansas, Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy, Free For All by Ted Nugent, the Moxy debut, Destroyer by Kiss and countless others were hitting Radio Shack car cassette players and 8 tracks all over. It was a time when rock stars looked like rock stars! It was a real great time to be 16 then. One of the great pastimes then was roller skating. Roller skating on the outside fast lane to killer cuts of Starz and the above listed bands was a memory to keep forever locked upstairs.
Ok, let’s lace up them skates and take a spin around the roller rink!!
Released 1976 on Capitol Records
- “Detroit Girls” – a fantastic way to hear Starz for the first time. A kick ass heavy rock song that delivers from start to finish. In 1976, Detroit was where Kiss Alive was recorded. “Detroit Rock City” was king. The Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent, and Detroit’s own Bob Seger were on top of the rock world. Picking up the distant late night AM stations on my radio from there proved Detroit was the place to be!
- “Live Wire” – when you look up Starz in any record archive you will usually see comparisons to 70’s Kiss and Aerosmith. Well this song could’ve been on a Kiss record, from the “Cold Gin”-like start through to Michael giving his best Paul Stanley vocal. I love Kiss and I love this!!! Fantastic song.
- “Tear it Down” – another rocking tune. Great intro, nice dual guitars with a nice sing-a-long chorus. Michael always reminded me of a heavy version of David Johansen from the New York Dolls.
- “Boys in Action” – if I were to intoduce Starz to anybody who has never heard of them I would get them to start here. What an absolute super heavy killer rock and roll anthem. 70’s party lyrics with layers upons layers of Ranno losing his mind. That ending is as fine as any song you will ever hear – then and now! Oh, and did he really say what I thought he said? What tastes just like a milkshake? It’s songs like these that make my existance worth while!
- “(She’s Just a) Fallen Angel” – Starz’s first attempt at a single and radio airplay. A beautiful song, with such great “girl’ memories and dreams from my 16 year old mind. Should’ve been a huge hit. Just listen and you’ll understand why. Great vocal performance from Smith.
- “Monkey Business” – side two starts where one ended – rocking the roof off. That fabulous 70’s ch-ch-ch guitar sound leading into a real fast classic rocker!
- “Night Crawler” – slow intro leading into one of my faves of the album. Truly one of the best Starz’s chorus’s on the album. Fabulous background melodies and some amazing dual guitar soloing from Ranno and Harkin. Mind blowing stuff to listen back through as I do this review!
- “Over and Over” – fast, heavy, to the point – perfect. I could listen over and over.
- “Pull the Plug” – a classic dark bluesy song that is a cult favourite among fans. I was always freaked out about the meaning because being 16 meant living life not pulling the plug on someone. A real serious well written and composed song. Sweval and Grob are at their finest here. I still get goosebumps listening to this one.
- “Now I Can” – the last song on side two always got the shit end of the deal. The one thing about albums especially at a party was there was always that opportunity when you go to switch the album over, someone always yells “put Styx on” or “You had your listen now lets let someone else pick” as opposed to letting a CD run through from beginning to end today. My point – don’t do it here. This may be the least familiar song on the album but it’s a great one!
There you have it. I know during each review I repeat myself over with saying these guys should’ve been BIG. But, in the case of Starz, they really should’ve been. There was NO reason not to be. They had it all. It was the right time for them. Yes, they had success and yes, they had big tours and many bands like Poison and Motley Crue name them as influences but….In our circle of friends, we really didn’t realize that they may not be on pace with many other bands in their vein because they were everywhere we went and part of everything we did. From river partys with car stereos blasting to roller rink hijinx, Starz were there for us – and I guess at this point that’s all that matters and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I never had a chance to see Starz live, but they are still sround and do put on the odd show here and there. If and when I hear they do again, I just may be there – to thank them for being an part of the important years of my life. We sure were boys in action in 1976!
Do Starz and I a favour, and don’t go without listening to this song!