Monday, August 15, 2011

Starbuck Is My Co-pilot

Long before anyone thought of this, this, or this when they heard "Starbuck," any sentient being with an ear for smooth music and thought of this:

Starbuck. The name is evocative of mystery and manliness being crushed together at the atomic level, the way Superman crushed coal into a diamond with his bare hands. I mean, it’s got “star” and “buck” right there. What more could you ask for? It’s such a cool word that it was only a matter of time before some hack sci-fi series with walking toasters, the old dude from Bonanza and a robot bear called “Muffit the Daggit” eventually stole it. Then Satan himself swiped the name for his coffee cartel. But once upon a time, the word was as pure as Bruce Blackman’s signature chapeau blanc.

The name was a genius move when you consider the band’s original name was “Mississippi.” Would you ever pick up a record by a band named “Mississippi?” I wouldn’t pick it up if it was 49 cents in Montgomery Ward’s cutout bin. But Starbuck? Deal me in, croupier.

On Starbuck’s signature tune, “Moonlight Feels Right,” Bruce Blackman & co serve up more smooth than mere mortals can handle. I’d count the song among the smoothest in the smooth rock oeuvre. The band should have a place on Smooth Rock Mt. Rushmore, but there’s a space constraint issue because there are, like, 27 people in the band. 23 of them play keyboards. And this, fellow traveler, is the secret to Starbuck’s success.

“Moonlight” could not exist as a guitar jam. Try to hear it in your head as a thought-sound experiment. Go ahead. I’ll wait. See? It doesn’t work. The reason this song is so smooth is because it floats on a sweet current of mellow keyboard tones that tickle the smooth receptors in your medulla oblongata. (This statement has not been scientifically verified, but it’s a pretty good theory.)

The coup de grace of “Moonlight” is delivered via Bo Wagner’s majestic marimba solo. You may scoff, but this was a particularly gutsy move. Guitar solos, keyboard solos, bass solos and even drum solos had been done to death by this point in rock history. The marimba solo here is obviously a nod the harpsichord solo from “In My Life” by The Beatles. On the surface, both instruments are foreign words in the rock music language. But it's impossible to imagine either song without its respective odd-man-out instrument. It is rock and roll alchemy that few bands outside The Beatles and Starbuck have figured out.

I’d like take a moment here to point out Bo Wagner’s questionable wardrobe choice in the above video. I realize it was 1976, the bicentennial for the U.S. of A. We were all in a celebratory mood. But I think the open-fronted, navel-exposing, rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit is trying just a little too hard. You’re already playing the marimba, cowboy. The chicks are going to be all over you. No need to dress like Elvis at Canival. I mean, check out Bruce, with his jaunty hat, his sunset orange shirt, and his moon medallion-- a clever yet subtle nod to the title of his hit record. He’s got it right and he knows it. You can tell by the way he laughs near the end of the first two verses.

If I had one complaint with this nearly perfect song, it would be that it’s obviously set in a convertible automobile, not a boat. Bruce is taking his lady down to Chesapeake Bay to plant some wet kisses on her under the moonlight, and it feels right. But wouldn’t it feel righter on a sailboat? I bet you a silver dollar he’s eyeing those boats with envy and he wrote this song knowing it would make him enough bread to buy the biggest boat on the bay.

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