Records You Never Heard: Starz “Violation”

The idea of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is spectacular. A place of honor nestled on the picturesque banks of Lake Erie seems perfect for musicians who have formed the foundation this great genre of music. All under the roof of a spectacularly designed building. Unfortunately, the good people who choose such inductees don’t seem to know jack shit about the history of rock.

Over-hyped idiots such as Axl Rose get in their first year of eligibility when actual contributors to the art like Alice Cooper and Rush need to wait years…if not decades! When artists like Big Star, Link Wray, Television, and Yes are not in the Hall, and have NEVER been nominated! One-time nominees such as the MC5, Deep Purple (eligible 19 years before first nomination), and Rush (14 years before first nomination) are not in the Hall either…but they got Axl, even though he didn’t show up for the ceremony. Thank God for small miracles.

While the late Donna Summer (nominated five times) and Stevie Ray Vaughn will be inducted one day, there are some important groups that will never get in. Again, many of them never had a gold record, number one single, or sold out tour. Neither did Jelly Roll Morton or Alan Freed, but their contributions are obvious.

This is my nomination for one such band.

Everyone knows the song “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by New Jersey band Looking Glass. After their second album failed to chart, the band reorganized as Fallen Angels. A year later, the band changed their name again to become Starz.

With the help of Kiss’ manager Bill Aucoin, Starz was signed to Capitol records in 1976 and their self-titled debut hit the stores before the end of the year. At the time, “Starz” was considered to be “arena rock” with its powerful guitars and strong vocals. Singable tunes like “Detroit Girls” and “Boys in Action” are obvious live songs, especially when you tailor the former to wherever the band is playing (the version on “Live in Action” changes the name to “Cleveland Girls”).

Sales of the first album were good, but didn’t reach Kiss or Aerosmith levels. As was the case with many bands of the era, a sophomore record would almost inevitably follow even the most lukewarm initial reception in order to build an artist’s audience, almost unheard of in today’s make-it-huge-or-lose-it industry. “Violation” followed in 1977.

Nine more arena rock songs filled the second record. Richie Ranno’s fuzzy guitar leads into the title track along and Michael Lee Smith’s vocals scream out “Subway Terror” as perfect examples of tunes designed to echo across a large venue. But it’s the first track that broke the band.

The radio friendly “Cherry Baby” hit the American charts and peaked just inside the top 40. Success of the single, available on yellow vinyl, pushed sales of “Violation” to just shy of gold record status. But the lack of top-10 singles or albums started the friction between the band and the label.

Two more albums, the polished “Attention Shoppers” (with its brown paper bag inner sleeve) and harder “Coliseum Rock” failed to top the relative success of “Violation.” After the ubiquitous live album, Starz parted ways with their label. A lack of interest in the growing “new wave” market for a hard rock band caused the call it quits in 1979.

In hind sight, Starz was the prototype for hair metal of the 1980s. Their “glam rock” style matched to their hard rock sound opened the door for such legendary bands at Bon Jovi and Poison among dozens of other acts. While fewer than a million copies of their four studio records were sold, many of them must have fallen into the right aspiring musician’s hands.

Decades later, Starz has reunited for tribute concerts. Ranno has, over the years, released records of outtakes and live material, and the idea of a collection of new music still hovers around the remaining members of the band.

If the band never releases another new album, they will forever remain one of the biggest influences on 1980s rock music. When and if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ever learns about Starz, the tribute concert will be filled with some of the most exciting performers of the hair metal age. And these beneficiaries of genre’s foundation layers should flex their industry muscles in order to put Starz in the Hall, where they belong. Until then, any hard rock act of the 1980s inducted should thank Heaven for Starz.

 

 

 

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