From the ashes of early 70’s one-hit wonder Looking Glass (“Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)”) came this New Jersey hard rock act. Managed by Bill Aucoin (who also managed a little band called Kiss) and signed to Capitol Records, the five-piece seemed to have all the pieces in place for national breakout success. In fact, their debut effort was a near-perfect collection of hard-edged, radio-ready hooks that recalled Kiss and Aerosmith…perhaps too much so. Take one listen to “Boys In Action” and tell me that it isn’t better than 9 out of 10 songs played to death on classic rock radio.
The album opens with the Foghat-like boogie of “Detroit Girls”, the menacing riffage of “Live Wire”, and the bluesy drive of “Tear It Down”. The highlight of the album, though, is “Pull The Plug”; a disturbingly frank ode to a dying girlfriend:
“She left the room for a minute or two
Now I know exactly what I’m gonna do
It’s been so long since your vital signs went
And you don’t look the same in that oxygen tent
Now if I get caught, I don’t care if I get hung
I can’t let my baby lie there in an iron lung
Goodbye my sweet
Understand what I’ve done
You can’t suffer no more if the motor won’t run
I’ll pull the plug, I’ll pull the plug, I’ll pull the plug
I’ll pull the plug on my love”
Despite touring with KISS, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and other hot acts of the day, the band’s debut effort failed to break into the Top 100.
With Jack Douglas again at the helm, the band’s second effort is a boisterous effort that improves upon their debut. While highlights include the Stonesy swagger of “Cool One” and the demented lyrical exclamations of “Violation” and “Subway Terror” (which spells out, in haunting detail, the actions of a serial mugger), the album is best known for the Top 40 radio hit, “Cherry Baby”, for which the band is most notably remembered.
Perhaps it is the success of this song, much like “Brandy” by the aforementioned Looking Glass, that labeled the band as a soft rock act in the eyes of the public. Many regarded the song as a slice of cheesy pop, but, truth be told, if one paid attention to the lyrics, they’d discover the song was sung from the viewpoint of an institutionalized boy longing for his, ahem, “Cherry Baby”.
That this album peaked at #89 despite a Top 40 single is proof positive that someone somewhere was dropping the ball. The band recorded songs that, in hindsight, were the encapsulation of 70’s rock – riffing guitars wrapped around sugary hooks, had enough going on in the looks department to make the teenage girls swoon, and toured relentlessly.
Yet, if not for the fact that my uncle (who was 18 at the time) was into the band and played their albums while babysitting for my brother and I, their greatness would probably still elude me. To many, I fear, they were lost in the pack of rock bands all trying to compete with Kiss (Angel, anyone?).
The first thing I noticed about this album when it was released was that the band chose to produce it themselves. I also noticed that Capitol Records let them. To see a band produce their own record back then was much more unusual than it is these says and indicated that either a) Capitol Records believed enough in them to allow them to do so, or b) Capitol Records didn’t care enough anymore to say no.
The other notable thing about this record is that the band are really trying to do something different on this, their third outing. Songs like “Good Ale We Seek” (a love song about beer?) and “Third Time’s The Charm” (describing a father’s words of inspiration about love to his son) are remarkably original and show immense lyrical and musical growth.
While containing enough of their trademark rockers (“X-Ray Spex” and “Waiting On You”), the band treads a little more lightly here than they had on their previous releases. In fact, I’ve always considered this album a lost power pop gem, recalling bands such as Raspberries, Cheap Trick and Badfinger on tracks such as “She” and “Hold On To The Night”.
After over two years of non-stop touring and recording, with very little success to show for it, the cracks in the band’s foundation are evident on their last studio album. Most noticeable is that founding members Brendan Harkin and Peter Sweval are no longer in the band.
The album starts promisingly enough with the two-chord rocker “So Young, So Bad”, but the rest of side one (pardon my vinyl verbiage) is somewhat tedious and unremarkable. The latter half of the record is chock-full of winners; from the upbeat power pop of “Outfit”, to the heartfelt “Last Night I Wrote A Letter”, to the celebratory title track.
All things considered, this album lacks the identity of the band’s previous three releases and, at times, they seem to lack inspiration. You can hear that much of the fight had been kicked out of the band by this time and that is the real shame.
Metal Blade re-issued the albums in 1989, making them available on cassette and CD to fans who were just now discovering the band through raves from the likes of Motley Crue and Poison. In 2005, Rykodisc did much the same, going one step further by remastering and adding bonus tracks to the four studio albums.
This release was part of Metal Blade Records’ re-issue of the band’s Capitol catalog and was comprised mostly of material from the band’s promo-only Live In Louisville album (released to radio in 1978). Songs from a 1977 Cleveland show are also added to the line-up.
For diehard fans who had long sought copies of the now highly-collectable Live in Louisville, this CD is a godsend. For newcomers, it is further proof that Starz were a great band lost in the rock & roll shuffle.
I am making the entire CD available for download to DONATE TO CHARITY SLICE readers.
Tear It Down
Rock 6 Times
Medley (Waiting On You, Greatest Riffs of All Time, Coliseum Rock)
Pull The Plug
Boys In Action