Coliseum Rock

Album: Coliseum Rock (1978)
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Songfacts®:

  • In 1978, the same year Van Halen unleashed "Eruption," Starz put forth their blazing guitar-based instrumental, "Coliseum Rock."

    It's the title track to their last major-label album. Starz did indeed play coliseums in the mid-'70s, but not as headliners: they served as an opening act for Blue Öyster Cult, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and Kiss (with whom they shared a manager). Their live performances earned them a fleet of fans, but they fell victim to record company politics and to disco. They did land six chart hits, the biggest being "Cherry Baby" from their second album, Violation, in 1977.
  • The song started out as an instrumental showcase for Starz guitarist Richie Ranno. "On our first tour I wanted to play a 30- to 60-second solo without the band," he told Songfacts. "I just wanted to play some wild guitar thing. I had done that with my old band from Wisconsin called Bungi. They agreed but wanted me to come up with something that would be a bit consistent. So, that's how it started. I guess it extended a bit as the tour went on and eventually the band started to come in and play parts. Over the next three tours it evolved into what you hear on the record."
  • Starz were starting to fracture by the time they recorded the album in Toronto with producer Jack Richardson. Two original members - guitarist Brendan Harkin and bass player Pete Sweval - had been replaced by Bobby Messano and Orville Davis. Their label, Capitol Records, had seemingly lost interest in the band and weren't likely to promote them. Still, they recorded a well-regarded album that served as their swan song. The band broke up in 1980 but got back together from time to time for live shows and occasional recording. Musicians who grew up listening to Starz gave them some attention in the press; according to Richie Ranno, Lars Ulrich told him the Coliseum Rock album was a big influence on Metallica.
  • This was one of the last songs recorded for the album. Richie Ranno taught it to the new band members right in the studio.

    "I had just gotten a rack-mounted analog delay/flanger effect to try from Ibanez," he explained to Songfacts. "I turned it on for the first time and hit a low E on the guitar and started turning some knobs. Fortunately, the engineer, Cub Richardson, had the tape rolling and recorded it. That's the sound that almost sounds like a motorcycle at the beginning of the song. Jack edited it right into 'Coliseum Rock' and then segued it into 'It' A Riot,' but they were recorded separately and are actually two different songs. Then we named it 'Coliseum Rock' and used it as the album title."

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