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Mar 10

STARSHIP – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”

FT + Popular115 comments • 7,147 views

#590, 9th May 1987, video

Listening to this song you realise that at some point the idea that a rock record should sound like a bunch of people in the same place playing the same music at the same time was completely abandoned by record producers. Not in the name of experimentation, or expanding a record’s sound, but I guess just because that kind of verisimilitude didn’t seem relevant any more. In its way this even seems a more radical shift than genres like dub reggae or techno which were clearly studio constructs from the off.

This is a long way of saying that there’s something quite off about a song like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”: built for a movie, it has the same oddly flat, perspective-warping quality as a studio set, like it only really exists in the context of the action, when it’s soundtracking something. That eerie dead space is created pretty much entirely by the echo on the percussion: I guess it could also be filled by crowds of people singing along, which is why arena rockers took to this kind of song.

Listened to alone there’s a discrepancy between the size and effort of the sound (colossal) and the emotional take-out from it (pea-sized) that tips me into laughter when Starship try and go up a gear leading into the guitar solo. Maybe if I’d put more hours in with Grace Slick’s earlier work I’d find it in me to despise Starship but for all its vacuous, leaden bigitude, deep in its tiny heart this is affable enough to be harmless.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    rosie on 10 Mar 2010 #

    I wouldn’t say Baxter is rubbish, Tom. Not as startlingly and groundbreakingly good as Surrealistic Pillow, and it took a bit of working at. But I don’t think I could be bothered with it now and it has never made the transfer to CD for me.

  2. 62
    lonepilgrim on 10 Mar 2010 #

    there are some recordings of Jefferson Airplane from the sessions for the Volunteers album here for those who want to get an idea of what they sounded like:

    http://bigozine2.com/roio/?p=420

  3. 63
    Snif on 10 Mar 2010 #

    Speaking of “We Built This City”, did anyone else experience this?

    There’s that bit during the instrumental where they drop in this faux DJ doing a spiel about San Francisco, like they just taped it off the radio and dropped it into the mix. One of the local radio stations here thought it would be a great idea to do their own bogus DJ doing the same thing about my hometown, and drop that into the mix instead (don’t know how they managed to get rid of the original). It was cringe inducing to the max, dude.

    As for Grace berating the German audience, one of the earliest issues of “Creem” that I bought in late ’77 had an account of an outdoor Starship gig gone wrong in Germany – for various reasons (including Grace wigging out) they didn’t appear, and the audience showed their displeasure by destroying the stage, PA and equipment. This might have ticked her off enough to give them some stick back next time they played in-country.

  4. 64
    Alfred Soto on 11 Mar 2010 #

    nd, at least if you were in the US there was all manner of stuff from ‘Waiting for a star to fall’ to all of Def Leppard’s hysteria hits coming right up over the next year or two. So, no. No end in sight!

    except the Def Leppard hits were mostly excellent.

  5. 65
    lord darlington on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Heart’s hits – esp. Alone – are also several leagues above this in execution, production, and have weird sensual powers to boot.

  6. 66
    wichita lineman on 11 Mar 2010 #

    After Bathing At Baxters – ok, maybe I should try harder, maybe it’s the psychedelic Dazzle Ships. I don’t think it’s “rubbish” but still think it must have felt like a dreadful letdown after Takes Off and the genuinely gorgeous, giddy, and psychedelic Surrealistic Pillow. The world, post Monterrey, was pretty much theirs for the taking after all, and they blew it.

    Wiki comes up with the splendid explanation that Baxters is “classified as psychedelic rock because it eschews the more commercial type pop songs, such as Somebody to Love”. I don’t think it does – Watch Her Ride has the structure and feel of a single, just not a good one, while Rejoyce (geddit?) is White Rabbit redux, only with Ulysses replacing Alice.

    I’m really not sold on it being more experimental than its predecessors, either; some of the songs sound like they should improve on repeated plays but – like the classic coke albums to come – Baxters does little more than loudly gesture significance (via shoutier vocals and squealier gtr) to suggest it was a worthy successor to S Pillow.

    No ‘neglected classic’, then. Love’s Four Sail on the other hand – the follow-up to Forever Changes – is almost always slated but, although the musical setting (hard rock with the odd Bacharach move) isn’t what Love fans probably wanted in 1969, it is consistently enjoyable and often (I’m With You, August, Nothing, Good Times) great.

  7. 67
    vinylscot on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Is “Forever Changes” (along with most of Nick Drake) not one of the most over-rated and retrospectively over-hyped albums of all time?

  8. 68
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    @67 That’ll be “Trout Mask Replica”

  9. 69
    lonepilgrim on 11 Mar 2010 #

    re 67/68 I struggle with the idea of ‘all-time classic’ albums. The designation makes me feel that listening to them is going to be like some kind of test. I’ve never listened to ‘Forever Changes’ or ‘Pet Sounds’ and although I’ve heard bits of Nick Drake and ‘Trout Mask Replica’ I’ve never felt compelled to listen to them. I engage with music as a fan not because it is ‘essential listening’

  10. 70
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    That’s precisely my point. I too have a problem with tastemakers who retroactively invent the past as a series of milestones that we ought to acknowledge. Personally, I find TMR incredibly hard to listen to, yet it still crops up on those 100 Greatest Albums lists. I honestly can’t think why.

    Having said that, I can understand why some might have a particular fondness for Nick Drake, for the same reasons people like Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison.

  11. 71
    Billy Smart on 11 Mar 2010 #

    To these ears, the least deserving five-star all-time “classic” album can only be the first Clash LP…

  12. 72
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    They’re just good records, there’s nothing scary about them, and nothing that says you have to like ’em either. (I love Pet Sounds, enjoy Nick Drake, can take or leave Forever Changes. TMR is a thornier issue as people use it to dismiss ‘experimental’ music, but you also get the feeling it’s standing in for all other vaguely difficult music on these lists – like, if people love Trout Mask so much why isn’t the list also full of other far-out stuff. And then there’s people sharpening their pens to say “DIFFICULT? Only if you have no ears”… basically it’s a record there’s a lot of rhetoric around, which is surely not what Beefheart intended. I certainly find other stuff by him easier going.)

  13. 73
    admin on 11 Mar 2010 #

    oddly i was thinking recently it might be interesting to host ‘which of these if any are actually any good’ polls pitching a list of ‘stone cold classic’ (ie critic-canonised 5star) against a list of ‘government issued’ (ie popular ‘everyone’ bought a copy) albums.

    problematic though the categories are (deliberately), i suspect drawing up those lists wouldn’t actually be hard, until the final few % which might become contested

  14. 74
    admin on 11 Mar 2010 #

    @63 “One of the local radio stations here thought it would be a great idea to do their own bogus DJ…”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Built_This_City
    “The song was also released without the traffic report and D.J. interaction during the song’s bridge (the B-side of the promotional 45-rpm record). Local stations were encouraged to make local versions”

  15. 75
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Two of my favourite claims about the first Clash LP:

    i (greil marcus): if you listen closely you can hear that they’ve been listening obsessively to trout mask replica
    ii (mark perry): if you listen closely you can hear that they’ve been listening obsessively to EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER

  16. 76
    Conrad on 11 Mar 2010 #

    You’re obsessed with ELP!

  17. 77
    punctum on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Response round-ups:

    #67 and #68: no, and no.

    Just because canons are canons and by their nature can seem oppressive and annoying doesn’t necessarily make their contents automatically wrong.

    #69: The best way is to forget the school classroom shoving-down-throat approach that critics sometimes apply. As with most great literature, these records’ real pleasures are to be derived if you come across them by yourself, spontaneously, make up your own mind about them and try to forget the weeds of forlorn authority that have grown around them. Or, as I try to do on my albums blog, try to grow new flowers in the same place.

    I first heard TMR when I was five (my dad bought it and played it to me) and thought it was great – colourful, wacky, crazy, noisy, totally in keeping with the cartoons I was watching on TV. Ditto Ornette, Stockhausen etc. In all cases I started early without knowing about their “legacy” or “importance” and that’s always healthy – encourages a fresher perspective.

    #66: Four Sail love seconded.

    #75: iii (my dad in 1977): if you listen closely you can hear that they’ve been listening obsessively to CORNELIUS CARDEW PEOPLE’S MUSIC

  18. 78
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Ok, so let me get this straight…I might have a better handle on TMR if I watch some Bugs Bunny and Sylvester & Tweety?

  19. 79
    Rory on 11 Mar 2010 #

    @77 Same for me with Nick Drake. I didn’t know there was all this critical argy-bargy going on, or that his UK revival in the 2000s was driven by adverts, or that his premature death meant that liking his music somehow made one a bandwagon jumper; I just read a passing positive mention online, borrowed Five Leaves Left from the library, and fell hard for “River Man”.

  20. 80
    lonepilgrim on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #77 Good points – I continue to be in awe of Then Play Long. You almost persuaded me to listen to a Val Doonican album! I was pleasantly surprised to see the man was still with us when he appeared at the memorial for Johnnie Dankworth recently

  21. 81
    punctum on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #78: Definitely – I’ve got a CD somewhere of the incidental music Carl Stalling did for the Warners cartoons and if you find it and give it a listen you’d be surprised at the stylistic overlap, even though Stalling was using the studio orchestra rather than the furiously-schooled Magic Band.

  22. 82
    punctum on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #80: Thanks LP!

    Another really good Val Doonican album is his 1972 Morning In The Country; we heard the single “Morning” on Pick Of The Pops while travelling back down to London after the New Year and were struck by how downright unusual a record it was, in both structure and subject matter. Not long after that we stumbled across the album in the charity shop for a quid and it was a wise buy, including as it does Val’s quite mesmerising reading of Kermit’s “Bein’ Green.”

  23. 83
    thefatgit on 11 Mar 2010 #

    #81…the story about how DVV and Zappa created this oppressive creative climate, was what drew me to listen to the album in the first place. Then upon hearing TMR, I suppose through the fog of critical opinion, somewhere in my late teens, I found no way in. I guess to a 5 year old, it would sound just as anarchic as Stalling’s and Franklyn’s Looney Tunes scores. You might just persuade me yet, Marcello!

  24. 84
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    As for my own canonical album I am, shall we say, ‘yet to appreciate’: Astral Weeks.

  25. 85
    wichita lineman on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Re 83 – Frank Zappa pioneered self-hating pop, a breakthrough of sorts.

    Re 84 – this may be the only case of my trying to ‘get into’ an album on a twice yearly basis and, eventually, it worked! It’s all about the mossy romantic atmosphere, in production and lyrics, for me – “between the viaducts of your dreams” being one of the more elliptically wonderful lines, the strings arriving at the end of Madame George, and the baby-baby-baby coda to Cypress Avenue being two other magical moments. I’m still waiting for my entry point to Steely Dan/Talking Heads/Incredible String Band/Radiohead/Joanna Newsom.

    Punctum – I was hoping to draw out your thoughts on After Bathing At Baxters – or post Surrealistic Pillow Airplane in general – but I’m glad you love Four Sail. I’ve always been intrigued by the overlooked albums of canonic artists, a hobby which has led me to buy Yes Please by Happy Mondays (thumbs down) and Wings’ Red Rose Speedway (thumbs aloft)?

    Those ‘essential’ lists are guaranteed downers if they parrot the same line. The Swedish magazine Pop did their 100 best lps in the late 90s and the top 3 included Plastic Ono Band (above any Beatles album) with There’s A Riot Goin’ On at no.1. Shame I couldn’t read their attempts to justify this but I admired their gall.

    I remember when Forever Changes and Pet Sounds were marginals on these lists (turn of the eighties) rather than boring perennials. I loved the Beach Boys, so getting into Pet Sounds was a no brainer, but Forever Changes drew me in with the beauty of its song titles – Alone Again Or, Andmoreagain, Between Clark And Hilldale, The Red Telephone – alone, and I bought it at Bonaparte’s in Croydon in 1981 without having heard a note by Love or Arthur Lee.

  26. 86
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    What’s fascinating to me is the historiography of the canon – as Wichita says there was a time back in the late 70s, early 80s, when Forever Changes wasn’t a given and had to be fought for, but once on it, it stuck. Once you’re in the canon the question becomes “can we justify leaving it off” not “should we put it in”. And back during the formation period there were simply far fewer records everyone had heard.

    So you get records like Odessey and Oracle (say) which everyone now seems to like but which obviously missed a few crucial votes.

  27. 87
    wichita lineman on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Sergeant Pepper is a weird exception – it suffers for having been the undisputed best album for so many years. Now almost no one seems to claim it’s even the best Beatles album.

    Tom Hibbert’s The Perfect Collection from 1983, from memory, ended up with a standard set of results but the breakdowns of individual writers’ lists was fascinating. One writer included Big Star’s Sister Lovers (all of 5 years after it was released!), Five Leaves Left, Starsailor, Soft Machine 2, Astral Weeks, Odessey & Oracle, with his 1 & 2 being Pet Sounds and Forever Changes. American bloke, never heard of him before or since, but he was way ahead of the nineties consensus on most of them. Hibbert himself was always going to buck the trend, voting for Paul Revere & The Raiders’ Midnite Ride and claiming PJ Proby’s I Can’t Make It Alone as the best single ever made. I can dig that!

  28. 88
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    It hasn’t dropped out of the canon though has it?

    I think Sgt Pepper’s suffered because the people who lived through its impact became more and more diluted in the voting pool. It’s much harder now – even though far more has been written about it – to grasp the event-ness of SP’s release, you just have to accept it, and it becomes something that people resent slightly.

  29. 89
    rosie on 11 Mar 2010 #

    wichita @ 87: I’d dispute that Sergeant Pepper has been undisputed ‘best album’ – I know I’m far from alone in regarding Revolver as superior and it’s certainly topped ‘best-of’ lists in the past. I may be alone perhaps in regarding Rubber Soul as better than Pepper too.

    I’ve never had any problems getting Steely Dan. My arm needed twisting a little (but only a little) to get into Talking Heads. Radiohead goes Whoosh! right past my head and Joanna Newsom gives me toothache.

    I suppose if I give enthusiastic support for the canonical statuses of Tapestry and Ziggy Stardust I’m showing my age.

  30. 90
    Tom on 11 Mar 2010 #

    Sgt Pepper last topped a list in the late 80s, so I think that’s what WL is talking about by “suffered” since.

    Is Newsom canon? Blimey :)

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