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                           Muses on The Music

A Single Shot of Starbuck

December 12, 2019

        Not long after I heard the One Hit Wonder that inspired my previous post, “How Long ” by Ace — perhaps even that same weekend, on the drive back from Milwaukee — another mid-1970s FM staple came on the sat rad channel.

        Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” was in the charts the year after the Ace hit, and matched the latter’s success, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Musically, it was of a piece with its predecessor: a pleasant three-minute pop tune, with a good groove and that essential ingredient, a hook.

        Most fans of The Music would also feel that the two hits had something else in common: they were one-shot deals, their creators unable to repeat Hot 100 charting success, much less Top Five status. But there was more to Starbuck than met the ear.

        The band was formed in Atlanta, Ga., in 1974, the founders being Bruce Blackman and Bo Wagner. The former handled the lead vocals and keyboards, and produced their records; the latter, the percussionist, had an unusual specialty for a rock band — the marimba.

        But Blackman and Starbuck guitarist Johnny Walker had preemptively dodged the One Hit Wonder label. They were members of Eternity’s Children when that “sunshine pop” group got “Mrs. Bluebird” to No. 94 in July 1968.

        Not a lot of bands have a No. 3 hit with their debut single, but it almost didn’t happen for Starbuck — and when it did, it was delayed. The 45 was released on the last day of 1975, and the band had personally pitched the record to hundreds of radio stations, more than nine out of 10 of which said they would play it, but didn’t.

        One of those stations, in Birmingham, Ala., said the record sounded like a summer song, so they would play it in the spring. Starbuck was about to give up on the single, but WERC-AM played it when they said they would, and it took off; it entered the charts on April 17, 1976, stayed in the Hot 100 for five months, and peaked the end of July, spending two weeks atNo. 3.

        Although “Moonlight Feels Right” was the only Starbuck single I remembered, the band had four more songs that charted in the Billboard Hot 100 between 1976 and ’78. The best they could do, though, was a No. 38, “Everybody Be Dancin’”; and a No. 43, “I Got to Know,” the follow-up to their big hit.

        Starbuck was popular enough that they were hired to open for some big-name acts, including Boston, Electric Light Orchestra and Hall &Oates; they also appeared on network music shows like American Bandstand, Solid Gold and The Midnight Special. Mostly the same musicians had another No. 43, “Let Me Be,” under the name Korona, in 1980. 

        “Moonlight Feels Right” is lyrically much more complex than “How Long,” which consisted of one verse repeated twice with a bridge in between. The Starbuck lyrics are a somewhat risqué — it’s a bit of a seduction song, probably something that would launch a Twitter mob these days.

        For instance, what to make of the first few lines? “The wind blew some luck in my direction/I caught it in my hands today/I finally made a tricky French connection/You winked and gave me your O.K.”

        Which is followed by: “I'll take you on a trip beside the ocean/And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay/Ain't nothing like the sky to dose a potion/The moon'll send you on your way.” Dose a potion? Ruffied by the sky?

        I always liked the words of the second verse, but my more modern sensibility would have to acknowledge the stereotyping at work. “I'll play the radio on southern stations/'Cause southern belles are hell at night/You say you came to Baltimore from Ole Miss/Class of seven-four, gold ring.” But the principals of Starbuck were from Mississippi, so maybe the know whereof they speak.

        That verse ends with “The eastern moon looks ready for a wet kiss/To make the tide rise again.” That second line is perhaps a euphemism, and the following chorus is preceded by a sort of seductive/suggestive chortle

        The next verse indicates that the seduction worked. “We’ll see the sun come up on Sunday morning/And watch it fade the the moon away.”

        But do the next six lines hint that there’s a repeat performance? “I guess you know I'm giving you a warning/‘Cause me and moon are itching to play/I’ll take you on a trip beside the ocean/And drop the top at Chesapeake Bay.” And there’s a reprise of the sky dosing a potion, before we fade out with the chorus.

        Musically, “Moonlight Feels Right” has too much of the synthesizers that came to dominate and define the mid ’70s — the pervasive pop sound that generated the punk rock and New Wave correctives that came towards the end of the decade. Wagner gets a marimba solo in the break between the second and third verses, but it doesn’t seem very distinctive, and sounds rather thin.

        All tolled, it’s easy to see why Starbuck didn’t have much for legs, and why “Moonlight Feels Right” is basically an orphan/outlier.

 

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