Red Octopus
Jefferson Starship
1975

Starship is coming to Portland. What? You thought they were dead? So did I! Perhaps these descendants of Jefferson Airplane were grown from stem cells. However they did this, I thought I’d listen again to their mightiest musical effusion, Red Octopus.

Listening to Red Octopus makes me feel like I am living in an alternate universe where you can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Oh shit, I am living there. Back in 1975, I read that RCA promoted Red Octopus by placing a red octopus in a fish tank in record stores all over the country. I can only vouch for the one I saw floating in its tank in Boston. It seemed to enjoy watching us. Personally, I wouldn’t buy something just because you called it red and then waved a red sea creature in my face, but I guess lots of people feel differently because this thing went to #1 on the Billboard 200. I’m in the wrong line of work.

Were the octopii naturally red, or where they painted red, the way the evil cult members in Help! kept painting Ringo red so they could sacrifice him to their heathen gods?

John: You’re all red again.
Ringo: I know. I’m beginning to like it.

Jefferson Starship (they streamlined the name to Starship in 1984 following a lawsuit) spent the 1970s trying to decide if they were Wings or Peter Frampton. They didn’t reach a decision on this album, though at times they do a passable imitation of the E Street Band. Red Octopus produced two hits, “Play on Love” and “Miracles,” both of which were designed to roll harmlessly off your frontal lobe like water off a duck. Too bad, because “Play on Love” is the best showcase for Gracie Slick’s voice since “Somebody to Love.” (Surrealistic Pillow – now that’s a record. You can get something done with a record like that.)

I forgot most of the songs on Red Octopus while I was listening to them. In fact it was a couple of minutes after the last track ended before I noticed that the room was quiet. “Sweeter Than Honey” is the best song in this bunch. It rocks just hard enough to remind you of Jefferson Airplane, though it would’ve been too joyous for the original incarnation of the band. As good as it is, however, Jefferson Starship’s contemporaries Journey or even REO Shitwagon could’ve done it better.

The main virtue of Red Octopus is that it doesn’t include “We Built This City.” And I say that even though many people whose opinions I value think that “We Built This City” is a good song. I’m not naming names because I don’t want to be painted red.

Random Pick of the Day
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, B.R.M.C. (2000), Take Them On, On Your Own (2003), Baby ’81 (2007)
In BRMC’s world, it’s always an hour before dawn, the chips are down, the jig is up, and you’re playing for all the emotional marbles. There’s rarely a break in their glum view of life and all the people in it. Only their love of psychedelia and their layers of droning guitars keep them from turning into The Cure. I can’t get enough of them, but even I can’t tell any of their songs apart, which is why I’m listing these albums together.

You might as well start with their 2000 debut, on the cover of which our three heroes pose like U2 in black and white. Nice try, boys, but you’re nowhere near as pretty as Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry were in 1980.

 

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