Greatest Hits: Ten Years & Change 1979-1991


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Greatest Hits: Ten Years & Change 1979-1991 Review

by William Ruhlmann

As its album title suggests, Starship's compilation Greatest Hits (Ten Years and Change 1979-1991) covers not only the group's popular heyday, 1985-1991, but also the earlier era, 1979-1984, which was actually the latter days of Jefferson Starship, after the departures of co-lead singers Marty Balin and Grace Slick, with former Elvin Bishop Group singer Mickey Thomas replacing Balin, and Slick, eventually, returning. The history that is described by the collection is largely one of attrition, effectively traced by the performer credits listed in the booklet. In 1979, the group is a sextet consisting of Thomas, lead guitarist Craig Chaquico, rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner (the last remaining holdout from the original Jefferson Airplane lineup), keyboardist Pete Sears, bassist David Freiberg, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Slick is back by 1981, joining Thomas on "Stranger," a singles chart entry from the Modern Times LP. By the time of Top 40 hit "No Way Out" and singles chart entry "Layin' It on the Line" in 1984, Freiberg has dropped out, with Sears moving to bass; Dunbar has been replaced by Donny Baldwin; and Peter Wolf (not the singer from the J. Geils Band), who co-wrote "No Way Out" with his wife Ina Wolf, is a non-member session musician playing keyboards. As of 1985's chart-topping "We Built This City" and "Sara," Kantner has decamped, taking the "Jefferson" in the name with him after a legal tussle. Sears has disappeared by 1987's number-one hit "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" and Top Ten follow-up "It's Not Over ('Til It's Over)." As of 1989's Top 20 hit "It's Not Enough," Slick is gone again, while Mark Morgan is in on keyboards, and Brett Bloomfield is playing bass. But on the 1990 song "Don't Lose Any Sleep" (written by power ballad queen Diane Warren), which is exclusive to this collection, only Thomas and Chaquico are credited. And as of 1991, with the track "Good Heart," this album's charting single, it's Thomas alone, albeit backed by Wolf, guitarist Peter Maunu, and, on background vocals, songwriter Martin Page (who also had a hand in "We Built This City"). No wonder Starship were declared defunct soon after this album was released. Clearly, the major element in the sound is Thomas' soaring tenor, a voice not unlike that of Journey's Steve Perry, who was making his mark around the same time. But a case could be made for Wolf as well; he plays on four tracks here, and he co-wrote three. Certainly, his icy synthesizer riffs (de rigueur for 1980s pop/rock) and Chaquico's high-pitched guitar lines are the main instrumental foils to Thomas. Starship always tend to be compared unfavorably with Jefferson Airplane and even Jefferson Starship, but on the band's own terms this is carefully conceived pop/rock music of its era, nothing more or less. It's worth noting that this particular selection is imperfect, leaving out the Top 40 hits "Be My Lady" and "Winds of Change" (both from the Jefferson Starship era), as well as "Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight."

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