Top 100 Classic Rock Bands
By James West, The-Rocker.com
For most people the number “13” means dark and despair is entering their lives. I remember back then, as a boy turning 13, the number took on a totally different meaning- Your muscles grow, your balls grow, your body hair grows, your voice gets lower, and let’s not forget about that terrible acne! Basically, you turn into a big pimply blob of dark and despair with an attitude!
In my search to find meaning and my place in life I found Rock and Roll, or maybe I should say that Rock and Roll found me and
saved me from all the dark and despair. 1976 was a crucial time in my life and for Rock and Roll in general. Just think about this for a minute… All the major Rock acts that have influenced my entire life were hitting their stride in ’76. Groups like Aerosmith, Queen, Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Boston ruled Rock radio during this time. There were so many great Rock groups that there wasn’t enough room for record companies to promote all of them. But that didn’t stop us Rock fans from seeking them out. It was almost a challenge with me and my friends to see who would find the next big band that no-one had heard of yet.
Showdown: Starz vs Boston!
I remember like it was yesterday: I had just scored the album that everyone had wanted to check out- The first Boston album! “More Than A Feeling” and “Foreplay/Long Time” were ruling the airwaves, and everyone was wondering if the whole album sounded this cool, and yes, it did and still does. But to me the album sounded almost too polished and perfect.
It was missing that dark and despair attitude that a 13-year-old needed! Enter my best friend Leslie: Les lived three houses up the block and was a fellow young rocker. I went over to flaunt my new Boston prize and Leslie was ecstatic to hear this new Rock sound that Tom Scholz had brought to the table.
As per our normal agreement I would offer up an album in exchange for an album from him, and we would both check them out for a few days and report back with our Rocker reviews. Les was one of the few friends I felt comfortable in lending albums to; he actually took care of them and didn’t scratch them. Also, I was able to discover other great bands by doing the swap with him- great bands like Foghat and Lynyrd Skynyrd were discovered via my best friend.
So, his latest offering to me was a band called Starz: Not much to look at from the album cover- just a big yellow Starz logo on the front and some dreamy picture on the back like they all wanted to be Peter Frampton. To say the Boston album cover looked more like what a Starz album should look like is an understatement! Ha! But I took it home and threw it on the turntable anyway…
Hallelujah, Holy Shit, you can keep the Tylenol! What I heard next rocked my world! Big monstrous riffs like Aerosmith; A swagger in the tempo like the Stones, and a voice that sounded like Elton John on steroids!
Now this was different in a good way, and it had that dark and despair attitude than all teenagers need.
Halleluja, Holy Shit, keep the Tylenol!
There were also lighter elements that surprised but fit in perfectly with the groove. It was part 50’s rumble seat and part sweet bubblegum guitar blended together into an ice cream Sundae I couldn’t resist. The brighter tones in the songs were way different than the crunch and punch of Aerosmith and the pop and sock of Kiss. Even though Kiss’ Bill Aucoin and Aerosmith’s Jack Douglas had a huge influence in getting them discovered and produced, this sound was all Starz, and there hasn’t been a band since with this perfect blend of sweet noise. Well, maybe Television, but other than the song Marquee Moon they couldn’t hold a candle to Starz. That whole first album from Starz kicks some serious ass. Just listen to the power of “Boys In Action” and that droning guitar riff as it clashes with the other riff and then fades into the beautiful intro to “She’s Just A Fallen Angel”. Brilliant… pure f*cking brilliance!
A month went by and Leslie and I never even brought up the idea of swapping back albums. He was having "More Than a Feeling" with Boston, and I was definitely not wanting to "Pull The Plug" on Starz!
NO! That's a Violation!
The second album from Starz, “Violation”, came out a year later just as my teenage hormones started to control my every thought and action. The album brought out the softer 50’s pop and 60’s bubblegum influences from the band. I initially was turned off by this even though I’m a huge fan of The Sweet, but the hooks were just too damn catchy to dismiss! Not to mention I had fallen in love for the first time with not just one, but two girls from school and the softer side of Starz would soon take center stage in my love life.
Both girls were best friends, so they had me choose between them as to with whom I wanted to pursue. I chose Lovely Linda as I liked her quirky personality, but I just couldn’t resist sneaking off to Sexy Suzie
either! I must have played “Sing It Shout It” a hundred times as it became the soundtrack to these new emotions I was feeling.
Violation also showcased Michael Lee Smith’s incredible vocal range and Ritchie Ranno’s spectacular guitar virtuosity. And the lyrics, how about them lyrics? “I’d like to dirty up their little skirties up; they look so lovely and pale, when they kiss the third rail, they won’t step lively anymore!” (From Subway Terror). Now these were the lyrics a young teenager could relate to. Unfortunately, neither Lovely Linda nor Sexy Suzie shared my same enthusiasm for a dirty skirty-- I wanna love someone—NO, THAT’S A VIOLATION!
Third Time's The Charm!
The next album “Attention Shoppers” continued in the same power pop vein with catchy-as-hell choruses and bubble-to-the-gum riffs. Songs like "Don't Think" and "Hold On To The Night" got you moving. And, after the one-two disaster of my first couple of tries at love, the song “Third Time’s The Charm” instantly became my first broken hearted sob song.
Even though I had hated "Beth" by Kiss and thought it was just way too sappy for a rock band to play, for some reason "Third Time's The Charm" from Starz reached out to me. Just to be safe though, I made sure I played it through my headphones so no one would catch me being sappy! But how did this kick-ass Rock group from New Jersey know what this pimply-faced boy from Podunk Arkansas was going through at the time? Well, Maybe they had X-Ray Spex! Lol
Times They Were A Changin!
By the time Starz’ last album “Coliseum Rock” came out the times, well… they were a changin’. Aerosmith were all washed up, Kiss was doing solo albums, and Queen were doing Jazz. Starz tried to heavy things up more and there’s some great riffs on the Coliseum Rock album. “Oufit” and “Last Night I Wrote A Letter” both rock and so does “So Young, So Bad”, even though that horrible wah-solo ruins it for me.
The instrumental “Coliseum Rock” is a nice jam with the Bad Motor Scooter-type intro and awesome fret-work, but ultimately the album ranks as my least favorite from the band. With the 80s right around the corner and my musical tastes soon changing from the bubblegum of bands like Starz, Sweet, and Angel to the metal sounds of Scorpions, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the bubblegum soon changed to beer to help get me through those High School years.
Starz Will Shine Brightly Again!
I look back now and can’t believe how many great bands there were in my teens. If only bands like Starz and Angel would have gotten the promotion from management and money from the tours and albums they so rightfully deserved, who knows how many more great albums and memories we could have gotten from them.
But at least today I am proud to say I am Facebook friends with both Michael Lee Smith
and Richie Ranno. Michael has had some health issues and Richie still performs regularly in New Jersey venues. This month brought news of a successful hip operation for Michael and news of a possible reunion tour along with Angel in the works! I am now on cloud nine as I never got to see either band perform live back in the day. SING IT SHOUT IT I’LL BE TELLING THE WORLD ABOUT IT!!!
So, here it is, some forty years later, and I still can’t resist some musical bubblegum after my steak and potatoes and beer. I find that It helps clean the musical palette and it gets me back to a simpler time, when all you had to worry about was Linda, Suzie, and your balls getting bigger. Nowadays all they do is sag…