Starz was on of the leading metal band of the late seventies, along with Kiss, Aerosmith, Angel and a few others. These bands kept metal alive
until the explosion of the 80's. -Brian Slagel, Metal Blade Records
Bassist Piet Sweval (Born: April 13, 1948 - Toms River, NJ) died on January 23, 1990 from cancer.
Starz (BGD/Capitol) 1976
1. "Detroit Girls"
Starz are American pomp rock! Starz had it all, the logo, the image, the songs, the management, the producer, and the record label yet they never broke big like fellow 70's hard rock bands such as Kiss, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith. Regardless of sales, Starz '76 debut is a solid, glammy, campy, hard rock album and is one of the best debut albums from any band. The band wrote catchy songs and had an edge, thanks in part to producer Jack Douglas who is known for his work with Aerosmith and Cheap Trick's underrated debut. While it might sound trite, Starz had a sound that mixed equal parts Cheap Trick, Kiss, Aerosmith and a bit of T.Rex and Sweet. Despite the comparisons, they didn't sound exactly like any of those bands. What really set them apart was Michael Lee Smith's vocals. He had a unique style and tone that fit well the band's music. Their image was way ahead of it's time, mixing the drag of the New York Dolls with a tough guy image, not unlike bands like the early Hollywood bands such as Crue and Ratt. Actually, I remember reading a quote somewhere that stated that "Starz were doing Motley Crue before Motley Crue." That about sums it up. Shoot they even had a track titled "Live Wire" almost a decade earlier. Fans of 1970's heavy metal and pomp rock shouldn't pass this band up.
1. "Cherry Baby"
Violation was perhaps Starz's heaviest album. Growing up in the 1970's and being into hard rock, I couldn't help but hear "Cherry Baby". I don't remember if it was actually a charting hit or not, but it was one of those songs I heard fairly regularly, whether it was on the radio or on someone's party mix tape. The song was an early precursor to the American pop metal that came out of Hollywood. The song features buzzing guitars and an undeniable pop hook. The rest of the album is just as good as the opener, in my opinion. "Sign It, Shout It" has an equally strong hook, coupled with a fantastic guitar solo in the middle of the song. The title track and "Subway Terror" both rock hard and are accented by Michael Lee Smith's smooth vocal delivery. "All Night Long" is a sleazy number that easily could have become a hit if recorded by one the many 80's bands. I can imagine a band like Quiet Riot recording this song and giving it the same treatment they gave Slade. "Cool One" reminds me a bit of The Sweet and has some rather creative, flamboyant lyrics. ("She reached over and she squeezed on my rocks, I lost it all in the popcorn box, yeah") "S.T.E.A.D.Y." could have given Aerosmith a run for the American heavy metal kings in 1977. Coupled with producer Jack Douglas, who has also done great things with Aerosmith, Starz released one of their best albums and certainly one of the great albums of the 1970's. Unfortunately the album failed to generate that chart topping single or the sales that Capitol Records was expecting and the band was forced to change directions with their next release.
My particular copy of "Violation" is the 1991 Metal Blade reissue, which I believe was the first ever CD release of "Violation". The album was remastered and re-released on Ryodisc in 2005 with three demo tracks, "Do It with the Lights On", "Cool One" and "Rock this Town".
Starz - Attention Shoppers (Metal Blade) 1978
1. "X-Ray Spex"
Starz were one of those bands everyone expected to rise to the top in the 1970's, along with Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick. When their second record failed to generate the sales that Capitol Records expected they needed to come up with some 'hit' material. As such, Starz' third album "Attention Shoppers" is a much less aggressive rock album chock full of embarrassingly poppy, watered down hard rock. The album starts of strong with "X-Ray Spex" and "Good Ale We Seek". The nearly epic, seven minute bluesy track "Johnny All Alone" has it's moments as well. However, after these tracks the songs just don't hold water compared to the worst tracks on the debut or "Violation". It's a shame that "Coliseum Rock" wasn't the follow-up to "Violation". It may very well have taken Starz to the level that many expected them to go. Instead a new band called Van Halen would release their debut that would overshadow all others. One odd thing about this Metal Blade remastered re-issue, I believe they put the tracks from side two of the record first in the song order. I seem to remember "X-Ray Spex" and "Good Ale We Seek" being the first two tracks on side two.
Starz - Coliseum Rock (Metal Blade) 1978
1. "So Young, So Bad"
"Coliseum Rock" was Starz fourth studio album. Depending on who you ask, this was either Starz best or worst. Personally, I felt it was a return to form after the bubble-gum rock of it's predecessor, yet "Coliseum Rock" didn't quite top their excellent debut. Unfortunately the band didn't become the "stars" that Capitol Records hoped they would, so "Coliseum Rock" became their last album for a while. The band toured on the record for two years and eventually disbanned. What they left us with was a decent proto-metal album with some catchy songs like album opener "So Young, So Bad". Songs like "It's A Riot", "No Regrets", "Last Night I Wrote A Letter" or the instrumental "Coliseum Rock" were 1970's proto-metal at it's finest. "No Regrets" with it's slid guitar solos even has a slight Southern Rock vibe. Songs like "Take me", "Where will It End" and "Outfit" are equally catchy songs with great musical hooks and a pop rock sensibility. For a while this CD was a bit hard to come by and the Metal Blade CD reissue was pretty rare, which is the copy I have. However, this CD has since been remastered and re-released with additional bonus tracks.
Starz - Live in Action (Enigma/Metal Blade) 1989
1. "She's Just a Fallen
Recorded in Louisville, KY, 1978 and Cleveland, OH, 1977, "Live in Action" captures Starz live in their prime. Four albums into their career, Starz were a big concert draw. They had the logo, the look and their music bridged a gave between the 70's heavy metal of Aerosmith and Ted Nugent and the lighter rock fare of Foreigner and Cheap Trick. They had Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas behind the knobs and opened for everyone from Ted Nugent to Judas Priest to Peter Frampton. They even had a few minor radio hits (“Fallen Angel" & "Detroit Girls”). Yet despite all this going for them they never quite broke out to the mainstream like many of their contemporaries. Despite this, they left us a legacy of four great American pomp rock albums. This live album takes some of those songs and gives them a boost by capturing their live energy. Because they were one of those bands that toured endlessly, they were especially tight on the stage, which this album is a testament to. I've read that this album features little, if any, studio overdubs. One odd thing about this album is having the band introduction and "She" in the middle of the album instead of at the beginning. Like many bands from the 70's this album is a compilation of live songs, but it might have sounded better had the songs been put in an order to make it sound like one complete song. Otherwise, "Live in Action" is a stellar live album. As far as I know this album is out of print but is easily obtainable. There are several copies for sale cheap on Amazon and Ebay.
1. Detroit Girls (4:00)
This collection of Starz rarities is basically broken into two pieces. (Side A and B on the vinyl.) On the CD the first five songs are original recordings for songs that were later re-recorded and appeared on the first two Starz albums. The songs have different arrangements and lyrics to the album versions. "Do It With The Lights On" and "Fallen Angel" were both recorded with keyboardist, Larry Gonsky under the name The Fallen Angels. Apparently Larry decided to leave the band only weeks later and they changed their name to Starz. All five songs were recorded at the Record Plant with Jack Douglas of Aerosmith/Cheap Trick fame. "Do It With The Lights On" was later renamed "Rock 6 Times".
The last five songs, track 6 - 10, were demos recorded following the band's contract with Capital Records. The line-up for these tracks was Michael Lee Smith: vocals, Richie Ranno: guitars, Peter Scance: bass and Doug Madick: drums who also recorded and released an EP as The Hellcats. According to the liner notes "Dreamin' My Life Away" and "Miss U Tonite" were recorded live at the Record Plant on a 2-track recorder while the other three songs were recorded on a 4-track cassette deck.
1. Live Wire (4:02)
2. Fallen Angel (4:09)
3. Rock Six Times (3:54)
4. Subway Terror (4:32)
5. Pull the Plug (9:57)
6. Cherry Baby (4:23)
7. Take Me (3:58)
8. So Young, So Bad (3:05)
9. It's A Riot (5:34)
10. X-Ray Spex (4:16)
The "Extended Versions" series is a budget line of CDs from Sony Music. Most of them are simply rehashed material from band's past live records. However, in some cases the live tracks enclosed are unreleased material. That is the case with Molly Hatchet and that is also the case with Starz. (Correction, the full show was briefly available in the UK as Come Out At Night on Sanctuary Records.) Recorded in Cleveland in 2004, this album captures the band showing they can still rock with the best of them. This doesn't sound like a weak release from a bunch of old foggies who can barely play their instruments. This set features ten scorching tracks, including a ten-minute version of the bluesy "Pull the Plug". Starz were definitely firing on all cylinders. For sure this recording is live and raw but the sound quality is still very good. Though the performance is solid, the overall performance is a bit off since the twin guitar attack which was always a crucial part of their overall sound is lacking. For whatever reason guitarist Brendan Harkin couldn't make this gig, giving Richie Ranno full reign. Richie does a fantastic job, but having only one guitar definitely gives the band a more open and raw sound. I suppose it makes this recording unique as it is unlike any other Starz live album.