Jesus of Cool: Rock Wars 1980 — Shooting Star vs. Touch

Written by Jesus of Cool, Music

Shooting Star AlbumI would hope that every music geek had a friend growing up like my friend John – a guy who was just as passionate about music as you were and wanted to talk about it all the time, and who absolutely, positively hated every artist you liked. John and I could talk for hours about one band after another, and most of the conversations would go like this:

“I was listening to G—— while I was doing my homework…”
“Oh, man — why? They suck!”
“No, they don’t. H——- sucks.”
“No they don’t — they’re awesome. Anyway, what’s with the keyboard part in that G—— song? That’s not a rock’n’roll song — that’s Dan Fogelberg.”
“Oh, sure. You and your 20-minute guitar solos. I don’t think any guitar solo should last longer than 30 seconds.”
“That’s because you’re a pussy.”

Touch AlbumIn other words, it was like your basic Popdose post — except WE WERE 14! (Here at Popdose, we don’t apologize for arrested development…we advocate it.) Anyway, John had an advantage over me when it came to discovering artists he could claim as his own: Every summer he would go visit his extended family in Puerto Rico, where the radio stations seemed to revel in turning fringe-dwelling AOR acts into local chart-toppers. By the time we finished high school the list would grow to include Duke Jupiter, Saga, Glass Moon, the Monroes — and on and on. (Heck, Glass Moon even got a 7-Up commercial there!)

John would bring these albums home from San Juan and I’d inevitably say, “Who the fuck is that, and why does the bass player have that Village People moustache?” But no matter how crappy (I thought) the music was, John would act like he had some cosmic understanding that I couldn’t share because I didn’t give two shits about “What Do All the People Know” or “I’ll Drink to You.” And he’d say, “Yeah, well, they’re better than (insert whatever long-ago-discredited-but-since-resurrected mainstream act I was listening to at the time here).” Usually it was “Hall and Oates”; I was a big fan, and John would say the words “Hall and Oates” the way Bill O’Reilly says the words “liberal Democrat.”

Shooting Star groupJohn’s favorite band in the summer of 1980 was Shooting Star, a six-piece from Kansas City that released its eponymous debut album the previous January. In the real world, their primary distinction was being the first band ever signed by Virgin Records in the U.S.; their debut album managed 14 weeks in the bottom half of the Billboard chart, pushed by the low-charting single “You’ve Got What I Need.” They got most of their airplay in the Midwest — and Puerto Rico, apparently. But to John, they were the epitome of his I-know-something-you-don’t coolness – since our local AOR stations in Virginia didn’t play them, I would have to borrow John’s record, and I couldn’t do that because I would have been forced to stop making fun of him if I’d actually liked it.

Meanwhile, I had latched onto a band I’d heard exactly once on the radio. Touch was a quartet from New York led by keyboardist Mark Mangold, who previously had fronted a band called American Tears. Touch released its eponymous debut album in the spring of 1980, and it spawned not just one but two (take that, John!) low-charting singles, “(Call Me) When the Spirit Moves You” and “Don’t You Know What Love Is.”

Touch groupLed as it was by a keyboardist, Touch had a slightly different sound than much of the AOR rock of the day; Mangold occasionally even ran the guitars through a processor to make them sound more like synths. Both bands had excellent harmonies, but the difference between Touch’s keyboard-centric sound and dramatic vocals on the one hand, and Shooting Star’s straight-ahead guitar rock on the other, neatly encapsulated the difference between my taste and John’s. Of course, we weren’t mature enough to recognize that at the time; our back-and-forth on the subject was pretty much limited to “This is boring” and “That doesn’t sound very rock-and-roll to me” and “You suck” and “No, you suck.”

I think it was conversations like that that led me to become a music critic in college, because I knew I had to develop better arguments than “My band is better than your band.” (Not that I ever really succeeded in finding those better arguments; after all, here I am, reliving two mediocre early-’80s rock bands as though they’re worthy of serious consideration now.) John and I never bothered back then to learn anything about Shooting Star or Touch, which weren’t getting any mainstream press at the time; fortunately, we can do that now (Thank you, Wikipedia!), and this past week John and I compared notes on the achievements and subsequent activities of our two beloved bands.

The argument for Shooting Star, from John: “They were as good, if not better than, many of their better-known contemporaries (in AOR rock). Richard Branson wouldn’t have signed them if he hadn’t had some sense of their potential. Indications are that they were victims of record company squabbles — if not for that, they would probably be getting airplay on classic rock stations outside the Midwest today. Their first album, which is the only one I have any attachment to, rocks. It’s one of those rare (for me) albums where I like every song; heck, even the B-side to the first single, while lyrically very cheesy, still rocked.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/SDiiDTgBdaM" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

“The album’s got a great, epic closing song (“Last Chance”) which doesn’t resort to an extended guitar solo, and even has kettle drums. They’re still around, active and recording (they broke up in the late ’80s, but later re-formed and put out an album as recently as 2006). They’ve made more albums, and they’re available on CD (and on eMusic, for that matter). They’ve even got a DVD. And they still sound good, while Touch sounds very dated — very ’80s.”

My argument for Touch: They had a number one album-rock hit in England, then opened the very first Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington. (Supposedly one member of the band swallowed a bee onstage!) They had two hits in 1980 that both charted higher than Shooting Star’s one. They recorded a follow-up album with Todd Rundgren, but imploded before it could be released. Their music is not currently available on CD — there was once an album compiling their debut with the unreleased second album, but it’s been deleted — which makes them mysterious. It also makes me unbelievably cool to be posting the MP3 files below.

Mark Mangold has gone on to some ungodly number of other bands, most prominently a cheesy late-’80s outfit called Drive, She Said. He co-wrote “I Found Someone,” which was a hit for both Laura Branigan and Cher. (Can we please ignore that he co-wrote it with Michael Bolton?) More recently he’s released a couple albums of new-agey stuff, and future American Idol winner Jordin Sparks recorded a song of his on an EP she self-released at age 13. Finally, Touch rocked WAY more than Shooting Star — and that’s really all that matters.

RobertWell, we’ve had our say. Judge for yourselves, faithful readers. But don’t come back with any bullshit like “They’re both pretty good” or “They both suck.” That’s not possible; it’s one or the other. As Colbert would say, “Pick a side — we’re at war.”

But while you’re thinking about it, celebrate with me the birth of John’s (long-awaited) first child, Robert, who came into this world on January 25. Hopefully John won’t be pushing this crap music on him…

Shooting Star, “You’ve Got What I Need” (download)
Touch, “Don’t You Know What Love Is” (download)
Shooting Star, “Tonight” (download)
Touch, “(Call Me) When the Spirit Moves You” (download)
Shooting Star, “Last Chance” (download)
Touch, “Last Chance for Love” (download)
Shooting Star, “Wild in the Street” (b-side) (download)
Touch, “(Listen) Can You Feel It” (download)

Buy Shooting Star at Amazon or eMusic.
Buy Mark Mangold’s solo album Mirror Image at Amazon or eMusic.