Greatest Hits (Ten Years And Change 1979-1991)


BMG, 1991


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Like the musical acts who create them, some albums need to exist and some just plain don’t.

Starship is a group that should have ceased to exist in 1988, if it should ever have existed at all. And yet here in Northern California, every year I continue to see nightclub and casino ads listing “Starship featuring Mickey Thomas” among their future shows. And therein lies the story of this album.

Starship came into being in 1985, when Paul Kantner finally decamped what remained of the group he had founded as Jefferson Airplane in the 60s and continued as Jefferson Starship through the late 70s and early 80s. The catch was, the rest of the then-current lineup still wanted to stay together. One lawsuit and one settlement later, Kantner walked off into the sunset with the name Jefferson Starship in his pocket, while the remainder of the band -- which by then consisted of Mickey Thomas (vocals) Craig Chaquico (guitars), Pete Sears (bass), Donny Baldwin (drums) and longtime Kantner foil Grace Slick (vocals) -- forged onward known simply as Starship.

A reasonable solution in theory. The problem is, from that point forward the band continued to disintegrate album by album until by 1991 you had Mickey Thomas recording under the name Starship with no one but himself left who had ever been in Jefferson Starship. Grace Slick -- who after the settlement held a 51 percent interest in the name Starship -- could have stopped the madness when she left in 1988, but for whatever reason, she opted not to play the heavy.

Among other things, her failure to act resulted in this 1991 travesty of a greatest hits album. Basically, this album highlights the “Mickey Thomas years” -- like there was any great groundswell of demand for that to happen -- of the two different groups for which he was male lead vocalist between 1979 and 1991. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first five cuts here are taken from the final three releases issued by the 1978-1984 edition of Jefferson Starship, Freedom At Point Zero, Modern Times and Nuclear Furniture. This opening salvo includes hit singles “Jane” and “Find Your Way Back,” cuts which still sparkle with a guilty-pleasure arena-rock sheen almost 30 years later, making them the clear highlights of the Thomas years. Chaquico in particular shines, banging out muscular leads and shearing solos that contrast markedly with his later reinvention as an acoustic New Age artist.

Ah, but it’s all downhill from there. The minute Kantner left, any balance or tension between his iconoclastic vision and Thomas’ distinctly Top 40 mindset ended, as did any attempt by the band at writing its own songs. The result was a series of increasingly slick, soulless, empty-headed singles like the over-caffeinated synth-pop anthem “We Built This City” -- once named the Worst Song Ever by Blender magazine -- and the sickeningly syrupy power ballad “Sara.” Both of which went to number one, of course, but if ever there was proof that quantity doesn’t equal quality, these two songs and the flaccid, Diane Warren-penned schlock-fest “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” would do it. Hard to imagine, but if you survive that trio, the music actually gets worse after that.

As you move through the four latest songs here, from 1987, ’89, ‘90 and ‘91, the band sheds one member after another, with drummer Donny Baldwin’s 1989 departure being the most notable other than Grace Slick’s, in that it followed a physical confrontation between him and Thomas that landed the latter in the hospital. (Hey, if my drums sounded as processed-cheese-y as Baldwin’s did by then, I’d probably want to hit something, too…)

By the last track, the credits list Thomas and a cadre of hired hands, including “We Built This City” co-composers Peter Wolf (the Zappa keyboard player, not the J. Geils Band frontman) and Martin Page. As each member leaves you can feel the foundation crumbling out from under what had already become an empty shell. Closer “Good Heart,” recorded for this disc in 1991, is unintentionally ironic; if the guy singing it had one, he would have long since shut things down and moved on.

Greatest Hits is neither the greatest hits of Jefferson Starship -- since it doesn’t include any pre-Thomas JS singles like “Miracles” or “Play On Love” -- nor the greatest hits of Starship, since they didn’t issue enough material post-Kantner to rate a hits collection all their own. Instead, this album was the musical equivalent of Weekend At Bernie’s -- Mickey Thomas and the group’s label propping up the corpse of a long-gone band and trying to con people into believing it was still alive.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2007 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of BMG, and is used for informational purposes only.