The music created by the exceptional quartet Starz was blessed with the amazing vocal talents of Michael Lee Smith to create simply one of the greatest hard rock records of all time.
Written by: ReynoRoxx
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Michael Lee Smith – lead vocals * Richie Ranno – guitars * Brendan Harkin – guitars * Pieter Sweval – bass * Joe X Dube – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Boys In Action * 02 Detroit Girls * 03 Live Wire * 04 Monkey Business * 05 Night Crawler * 06 Now I Can * 07 Over And Over * 08 Pull The Plug * 09 She’s Just A Fallen Angel * 10 Tear It Down
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Boasting the melodic, yet razor-sharp dual guitar attack of Richie Ranno and Brendan Harkin as well as the solid rhythmic work of bassist Pieter Sweval and drummer Joe X. Dube, the music created by this exceptional quartet was blessed with the amazing vocal talents of Michael Lee Smith to create simply one of the greatest hard rock records of all time.
Sweval and Dube (aka Jeff Grob had previously enjoyed brief success with Looking Glass, best known for the hit 45 ‘Brandy’ and the lesser-known chart single ‘Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne’.
However, vocalist Elliott Lurie suddenly quit although the band carried on, by first teaming up with guitarist Brendan Harkin, and then leaving the quartet (keyboard player Larry Gonsky rounded out the group) to recruit Alabama born Michael Lee Smith to the ranks and changed the name of the band to Fallen Angels in the process.
Whereas Harkin’s previous recording experience had been to arrange and play on an album released by Elektra Records in 1969 with a band called Bamboo, cutting an album with the seven-piece Papa Neboon on Atlantic in 1971 and had also produced a group called Free Beer.
Smith had unusually been treading the boards as an actor in the New York Shakespeare Festival. Fallen Angels signed a deal with RCA and recorded an album’s worth of material in December 1974 at Sound Stage Studios in Toronto with Jack Richardson producing. However, the record was shelved when the two single releases (‘The Kid Gets Hot’ and ‘Romeo And Juliet’) failed to ignite the charts.
Some of this material was used as the soundtrack for the early 70s porn film ‘Divine Obsession’, a movie that was once the holy grail for Starz collectors, although the Fallen Angels album has since been semi-officially released as part of a collection of CDs featuring previously unreleased Starz related material.
Fallen Angels were discovered by Sean Delaney, a key figure in the Aucoin Management organisation, who worked with the group to hone their craft in a similar, yet equally unheralded role, which he had adopted with management stablemates Kiss.
It was Delaney who found erstwhile Stories guitarist Richie Ranno and drafted him into the band, prompting the almost instant departure of keyboardist Larry Gonsky. Following the guitarist’s recruitment, the band recorded an eight-song demo at The Record Plant in New York in October 1975, when the band were still known as Fallen Angels.
The demo included ‘(She’s Just A) Fallen Angel’ and ‘Do It With The Lights On’. The latter song was later re-written for ‘Violation’ and became ‘Rock Six Times’. The Songs also include original versions of later Starz classics ‘Cool One’ and ‘Monkey Business’. In February ’76 they recorded a further demo with producer Jack Douglas that secured the band a deal with Capitol. The Songs were ‘Detroit Girls’, ‘Live Wire’ and ‘Pull The Plug’.
With the name of the band changed to Starz at the insistence of Delaney, who also helped conceive the iconic logo, the quintet returned to the Record Plant with Jack Douglas to cut the debut album. Interestingly, one of the engineers was John Jansen, later to be elevated to the producer’s chair himself a decade later with his work on albums by Cutting Crew and Britny Fox, to name but two.
The album packaging was, as you’d expect from an Aucoin managed act, exquisite. Aucoin’s in-house art director Dennis Woloch handled the design. It’s possible that there may be some connection between the inner sleeve photo of a leather-jacketed, rather buxom young lady’s cleavage adorned with a Star pendant and Michael Lee Smith’s brother Rex‘s ‘Sooner Or Later’ LP that followed a few years afterwards.
Rex‘s album features a fairly similar approach on the rear cover boasting (or not, as it were!) a pendant and (fully covered) chest shot that seemingly acknowledges Rex‘s then more pre-pubescent fan base.
Where do you start? This has to be one of the greatest collections of hard rock songs ever released in a single package! Opener ‘Detroit Girls’ is wonderfully sleazy and as great as any opening song from any album you care to mention.
Despite Kiss releasing ‘Detroit Rock City’ within a couple of months, Richie Ranno swears the Starz song was written before Kiss came up with theirs, although I always thought there was added resonance behind the line (‘and I’m looking for a lover to help me to discover what a kiss can really mean’). Still, see if you can spot the nod to James Brown‘s ‘Night Train’ towards the conclusion of the track.
Then there’s ‘Boys In Action’, a real rabble-rouser and pretty close to the, uh, bone for the mid 70’s lyrically (‘when we cum it tastes just like a milkshake’). As for ‘Live Wire’… now there’s an intro that brings goosebumps akin to hearing the opening to Van Halen‘s debut album for the first time. Of course, there’s no let up in the quality.
There’s the monstrous ‘Tear It Down’, the pure evil of ‘Night Crawler’ and menacing ‘Now I Can’ plus the two tracks that made the transition from the band’s first demos in 1975 in the form of ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘(She’s Just A) Fallen Angel’, the latter beautiful yet with a certain element of sleaze about it at the same time. This was Poetry written with dirty fingernails.
The crowning glory though has to be ‘Pull The Plug’, a track surrounded by controversy at the time as the band were denounced as sick due to a high profile court case surrounding the tragic circumstances of one Karen Ann Quinlan all over the media back then.
The 21-year-old Quinlan collapsed at a party after swallowing alcohol and the tranquilizer Valium on 14 April 1975. She suffered brain damage and lapsed into a ‘persistent vegetative state. Her family waged a much-publicized legal battle for the right to remove her life support machinery. They succeeded, but Quinlan kept breathing after the respirator was unplugged. She remained in a coma for almost ten years until her death in 1985.
Of course, in the early 80s Balance would write a song with the same title, but written from the perspective of the individual in the coma. There’s a fine line between clever and stupid, as Spinal Tap would say.
How can ‘Starz’ not be ranked as one of the greatest hard rock records of all-time? As with the trio of the other Starz studio albums, this record has been re-issued on CD no less than three times. The original release appeared on Metal Blade Records, with subsequent re-issues appearing on BGO in the UK and Rykodisc in the US. The latter issue boasts far better sound quality and four bonus tracks.
Entire Album (Select Tracks)