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Song by King Crimson
from the album Red
Released8 October 1974
Composer(s)Bill Bruford, David Cross, Robert Fripp, John Wetton
Lyricist(s)John Wetton, Richard Palmer-James
Producer(s)King Crimson

"Starless" is a piece by British progressive rock band King Crimson. It is the final (and longest) track on the Red album, released in 1974, after which the group disbanded.

The original chords and melody for "Starless" were written by John Wetton, who intended the song to be the title track of the group's previous album Starless and Bible Black.[2] Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford initially disliked the song and declined to record it for that album.[3][4] 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[2]) 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 introductory theme, originally played by David Cross, was taken over by the guitar, with Fripp making minor alterations to the melody.[citation needed] As the title "Starless and Bible Black" had already been used, the original title was shortened to "Starless".[2]

Musical content[edit]

The piece is 12 minutes and 15 seconds in length, the longest on the Red album. It starts with mellotron strings, electric guitar and a saxophone. 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. Starting with John Wetton's bass, shortly after joined by Bill Bruford on woodblocks and cymbals, it gradually progresses and increases until the entire drum kit is utilized. Robert Fripp's guitar repeats a two note theme. The tempo stays constant. The 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 song's final section begins with an abrupt transition to a fast, jazzy saxophone solo with distorted guitars and bass, expressive tribal drumming, and the tempo doubling up to a time signature of 13/8. The original bass line is repeated at the double time speed at full volume and distortion, the guitar also at full volume distortion at the highest note of the musical scale of the piece. 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.

Cover versions[edit]

Recorded cover versions of Starless include those by: Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, and Randy George;[5] 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 was a founding member; 21st Century Schizoid Band, a group made up of earlier members of King Crimson (save for Jakko Jakszyk, who would later join King Crimson); After Crying, a Hungarian symphonic rock band, with guest vocals by Wetton;[6] U.K., one of whose members was once again Wetton; and District 97, yet again featuring vocals from Wetton.

In other media[edit]

The song was featured prominently in the 2018 horror film Mandy, starring Nicolas Cage.



  1. ^ "The 100 Greatest Prog Songs Of All Time". Prog Magazine. March 26, 2018. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Curtiss, Ron; Weiner, Aaron (June 3, 2016). "John Wetton (King Crimson, U.K., Asia): The Complete Boffomundo Interview". YouTube. Retrieved 3 March 2019. Event occurs at 5:15-7:01.
  3. ^ Romano, Will (2010-09-01). Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock. Backbeat Books. ISBN 9781617133756.
  4. ^ Bruford, Bill (2009-01-01). Bill Bruford: The Autobiography : Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks, and More. Jawbone Press. ISBN 9781906002237.
  5. ^ The Official Website of Bill Bruford and Bill Bruford's Earthworks
  6. ^ Progarchives

External links[edit]