|Song by King Crimson from the album Red|
|Released||8 October 1974|
|Genre||Progressive rock, jazz fusion, hard rock, heavy metal|
|Writer(s)||John Wetton, Richard Palmer-James|
|Composer(s)||Bill Bruford, David Cross, Robert Fripp, John Wetton|
|Red track listing|
The original lyrics and melody for "Starless" were written by John Wetton. He intended the song to be the title track of the group's previous album Starless and Bible Black. Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford initially disliked the song and declined to record it for that album. Instead the group chose an instrumental improvisation as the title track. However, "Starless" was later revived, its lyrics altered and a long instrumental section (based on a bass riff written by Bruford) added to it, and performed live between March and June 1974. For the Red recording sessions, the lyrics were again altered (with contributions by Richard Palmer-James). The haunting introductory theme, originally played by David Cross, was taken over by the guitar, with Fripp making minor alterations to the melody. As the title "Starless and Bible Black" had already been used, the original title was shortened to "Starless".
The piece is roughly 12 minutes and 15 seconds in length, the longest on the Red album. As the last track on the last King Crimson album of the 1970s, it features several moments which recall earlier releases. It starts with mellotron strings, electric guitar and a saxophone, playing in a style recalling "Epitaph" from In the Court of the Crimson King. These introduce a vocal segment in conventional verse-chorus structure. The middle section of the song is a build-up of dynamics and tone in 13/4 which recalls "The Talking Drum" from Larks' Tongues in Aspic. Starting with John Wetton's bass, then shortly after joined by Bill Bruford on woodblocks and cymbals which gradually progress and increase until the entire drum kit is utilized, and Robert Fripp's guitar repeating a two note theme in a repetitive rhythm, the playing of each member gradually becomes louder, more distorted and much wilder in each verse, though the tempo stays constant. All the while Fripp's guitar plays only two different notes in each verse, gradually ascending the musical scale of the piece while increasing the loudness and distortion in line with the increasingly louder playing of the bass, and the more frenetic playing of the drums. The unusual 13/4 time signature allows for a lot of creative rhythmic playing by Bruford, which rhythms mirror the increasing tensions building in both the ascension of Fripp's tonal scale and the gradually more distorted and menacing bass and guitar playing. The song's final section begins with an abrupt transition to a fast, jazzy saxophone solo with distorted guitars and bass, expressive tribal drumming by Bruford, and the tempo doubling up to a time signature of 13/8. The solo ends and the song drives now at its peak in 13/8 time, with Wetton's original bass line repeated at the double time speed at full volume and distortion, Fripp also at full volume distortion at the highest note of the musical scale of the piece and Bruford pounding the drums at full intensity. With all of the players hitting full out power at top speed, the song reaches its climax. This recalls the wilder section of "21st Century Schizoid Man", the band's signature piece from that era (and also from In the Court of the Crimson King). Finally, the sax once more enters, and the song ends with a reprise of the opening melody.
Though the phrase "Starless and Bible Black" serves both as the chorus for the song's vocal segment and as the title of an instrumental track on the album Starless and Bible Black, there is little apparent similarity between the two pieces.
Recorded cover versions of Starless include those by: Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, and Randy George; Craig Armstrong, on his album As If to Nothing as "Starless II"; Banco de Gaia, on their album Memories Dreams Reflections; The Unthanks, on their 2011 album Last.
The song has been covered live by Asia, a supergroup of which John Wetton became a member; 21st Century Schizoid Band, a group made up of earlier members of King Crimson (save for Jakko Jakszyk); After Crying, a Hungarian symphonic rock band, with guest vocals by Wetton; U.K., whom one of its members was once again Wetton; and District 97, with yet again featuring vocals from Wetton.
- Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron
- John Wetton: bass guitar, vocals
- Bill Bruford: drums, percussion
- Mel Collins: soprano saxophone
- Ian McDonald: alto saxophone
- non-credit: cello
- Romano, Will (2010-09-01). Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock. Backbeat Books. ISBN 9781617133756.
- Bruford, Bill (2009-01-01). Bill Bruford: The Autobiography : Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks, and More. Jawbone Press. ISBN 9781906002237.
- The Official Website of Bill Bruford and Bill Bruford's Earthworks