Starless by 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; thus it may be considered the culmination of that phase of King Crimson's existence.

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 in 13/8 which recalls "The Talking Drum" from ''Larks' Tongues in Aspic.'' Starting with John Wetton's signature distorted bass, the playing gradually becomes louder and much wilder, though the tempo stays constant and all the while Fripp's guitar plays only two different notes. The song's final section begins with an abrupt transition to a fast, jazzy saxophone solo with distorted guitars and bass, an expressive tribal drumming by Bruford, and the time signatures alternating between 7/8 and 4/4. 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). 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.