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Great Songs : King Crimson - Starless from Red

Yet another one of my obscure ‘series.’

It occurred to me that as I grew up and learned to appreciate certain songs, types of music, whatever, that it was based on…. random luck?  Articles that I happened to read in guitar related magazines that I happened to read because for a while I was a halfway decent guitarist and read those sorts of magazines?

I don’t know for sure, and it doesn’t really matter.  So, here goes.

This song is the greatest rock song ever written.  I can imagine that anyone reading this will disagree, and that’s fine.  You’re wrong.

At the same time, this song is almost unlistenable.  Even in the pantheon of progressive rock, where this song rightly sits, where multiple bands have written multiple songs that are almost unlistenable, this song stands out.

Except for the last minute or so, Robert Fripp plays guitar throughout the song, and yet there isn’t anything like a memorable solo in it.  The lyrics end about 4 minutes or so into this 12 minute work, and as rock lyrics go, they won’t replace your favorite Bible verse or cause you to change your life (if rock lyrics cause you to change your life, you have issues, but I digress).

What Fripp plays is…weird.  Those who know his voluminous work know he can play the fastest riffs if he wants to, so it is…weird, that in this work he plays…well, it’s hard to describe, but the same note, over and over.  And then he moves it up slightly in the octave.  Or slightly lower.  And plays it over and over.

From interviews and whatnot, Fripp apparently had a nervous breakdown or something while recording Red on which this appears, but regardless, I still try to imagine what he said when he introduced his idea for what to play for this song..”Okay, guys, here’s what I’ve got…ding-de-ding-de-ding-de-ding-de-ding-de ding-ding-ding ding-de-ding….”

But it works.  And works really well.  Someone (laziness prevents me from looking it up…google is your friend) wrote a dissertation about this song, and how it follows sonata form and yada yada yada.  And his dissertation makes sense.  Song starts with beautiful music, goes through unlistenable crap, and ends up repeating the beautiful music in the unlistenable crap (this isn’t how he described it, of course).

From a technical perspective, King Crimson has recorded more complicated music.  But in some sense, they’ve never recorded a better song than this one, and couldn’t do so if they tried.

Give it a listen.  You will probably hate it.  But if you don’t, you’ll understand how brilliant it is.

posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 10:19 PM Print
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# re: Great Songs : King Crimson - Starless from Red
SFFSDA
9/9/2009 11:53 AM
it's a great song.
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# re: Great Songs : King Crimson - Starless from Red
Tim
9/23/2009 2:07 PM
It's one of my alltime favorite songs, it touches me deeply...

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