Brian May & Friends – Star Fleet Project (1983)

FrontCover1Star Fleet Project is a project of Brian May, most famous as the guitarist from Queen, which resulted in an album with the same name. The project was released as the work of “Brian May + Friends”, consisting of May, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alan Gratzer (of REO Speedwagon), Phil Chen (session bassist who played with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart), and Fred Mandel (session keyboard player who also played as additional keyboard player on Queen’s Hot Space World Tour and The Works). Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer, provided backing vocals for the title song. It was not meant for the tapes to be released and they had minimal mixing before release.

“I could have put away these tapes in a bottom drawer and kept them as a private record of one of the best experiences of my life. But the few people I’ve played them for have urged me to ‘publish’…I haven’t messed one scrap with the tracking done on the day. The rest is simply mixed ‘naked’.” (Brian May)

Recorded on 21 and 22 April 1983 at the Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles, California, it was released in October of the same year as a Mini-LP, a “challenge to the established principle that a piece of rock music must fit into either a 2×4 minute single, or a 2×20 minute LP format”. The LP consisted of three songs: “Star Fleet”, “Let Me Out”, and “Blues Breaker”.

The idea for the album came from May’s son, Jimmy.

“Star Fleet is the theme tune for a superb TV sci-fi series broadcast in England for kids of all ages; Japanese visuals and British soundtrack including music by Paul Bliss. The heroes pilot space vehicles which can assemble into a giant robot for land battles. The aliens fly fantastic insect-like craft which spawn smaller fighting machines; all intent on possession of the secret of F Zero One. Having been introduced to all this by my small boy, I became equally obsessed by it, and formed the idea of making a hard rock version of the title theme.” (Brian May)

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“Let Me Out” was an old Brian May song which until that point had not been committed to record. During the song Eddie Van Halen “tortures his top string to its audible death” (according to May’s liner notes) and plays the rest of the song on the remaining five.

“Blues Breaker” was dedicated to Eric Clapton, of whom both Van Halen and May were huge fans. This song, as well as “Let Me Out” were more spontaneous than “Star Fleet”, showing both guitarists enjoying a jamming session, with Brian showing off his signature sound and Van Halen using his tapping technique to great effect (although the best example of this is at the beginning of “Star Fleet”). (by wikipedia)

This near-legendary mini-album is probably infamous for the wrong reasons.  Ask a friend if they’ve heard this record.  If they haven’t, they may respond, “But that’s the one with Eddie Van Halen, right?  And they did that song for Clapton, and he hated it, right?”  That’s how the story goes anyway.

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The fact is that Star Fleet Project is actually really good, and so is “Blues Breaker (Dedicated to E.C.)”.  And yes, this is one of Eddie Van Halen’s rare cameos outside his eponymous band.  I am a fan of both Queen and Van Halen, but my love of Van Halen trumps my love of Queen.  As a Van Halen fan, it is really exciting to hear Eddie playing outside his band’s box.  On a technical level, I don’t know exactly how Eddie is torturing his guitar strings, but I sure love the sounds that come out of it.  I’m hearing Eddie at what many people consider to be his creative peak.  This is the era of 1984, “Jump”, and “Beat It”, considered by many to be the greatest guitar solo of the decade.  It’s sheer nirvana to hear Eddie tapping over Brian May’s trademark guitar sound.  It’s two things you never pictured together.  Once you hear them together, it’s like Reece’s peanut butter cups!

Eddie throws every trick he has into the bag.  Tapping, squeals and eruptions, it’s all here.  As for Brian, he does double duty on lead vocals as well, on two tracks:  “Star Fleet” and “Let Me Out”.  “Star Fleet” (8 minutes in its album incarnation) is a theme song that Brian covered, from a Japanese show that his son was a fan of.  It’s the most commercial of the songs, but I have to say I love it.  The chorus isn’t the best, but the guitar playing blows my mind every single time.

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Queen fans may enjoy the piano blues “Let Me Out” best, as it sounds like it would have fit right in on News of the World.  I can imagine Freddie putting his spin on it quite easily.  Brian takes the first solo, but next time he says “Help me, Edward!” and it’s Van Halen playing the blues.  You don’t get this on Van Halen albums.  Brian and Ed alternate, and then Eddie blazes the fretboard shredder style.  To hear these two guys going back and forth over a blues progression is such a monumental moment.

The final track (and all of side 2) is the infamous “Blues Breaker”.  I’m not sure what E.C. didn’t like about it (I’ll just assume he was too humble to accept such flattery).  You don’t get to hear Eddie Van Halen nor Brian May jamming very often.  This is the second such jam, and this one well over the 12 minute mark!  You’ll wonder where the time went.  As an admirer of both guitarists, I’m constantly in a state of anticipation for what they will play next. The backing band are not slouches either: Alan Gratzer – drums, Phil Chen – bass guitar, Fred Mandel – keyboards.  They captured this stuff mostly live off the floor, and that’s the way the record sounds. (by mikeladano.com)

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Personnel:
Phil Chen (bass)
Alan Gratzer (drums)
Edward van Halen (guitar)
Fred Mandel (keyboards)
Brian May (guitar, vocals)

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Tracklist:
01. Star Fleet (Bliss) 8.11
02. Let Me Out (May) 7.18
03. Blues Breaker (Gratzer/May/v.Halen/Mandel/Chen) 12.54
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04. Starfleet (single US edit) (Bliss) 3.07
05. Son Of Starfleet (single B-side) (May) 4.33

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