Songs I wish I'd written: #2

March 13, 2021 9:21 PM ET music

by King Crimson

I have been chasing “Starless” for the better part of my music-writing life. I imagine that when people think of King Crimson, they tend to think of “21st Century Schizoid Man” or “Elephant Talk” or “Frame By Frame,” but to me, “Starless” is the platonic ideal of Crimson songs. It has some improvisation sections that echo earlier Crimson work, bookended by a long, unfurling guitar melody, and a vocal treatment that bridges the gap between early Crimson and Belew-era Crimson. If you squint, you can see into the past and future King Crimson from this point.

“Starless” unfolds almost like a theme and variations; its improvised sections are punctuated by composed parts, using an almost jazz-like treatment of the changes before returning to the opening melody with a more driving, bass-heavy framing. Those composed sections are more varied in texture, and it gives the impression that the entire song was composed. Despite its floaty beginning, the song ends in the same sonic neighborhood as the opening tracks on the album, which is a little unsurprising on a five-track, 40-minute album (especially when the preceding track, “Providence,” is an 8-minute improv soundscape), but it makes “Starless” the coda of the entire album, almost presenting the entire album‘s trajectory in miniature.

But what I love most about this song is that the melody is paramount. While the opening melody and the vocal melody are effectively the A and B sections of the song, they somehow seem more related than unrelated, and everything supports their existence. That attribute is the gold standard of instrumental music for me, and to do it in the form of a “rock band” is progressive rock at its best.


Sundown, dazzling day
Gold through my eyes
But my eyes turned within only see
Starless and bible black

Old friend charity
Cruel twisted smile
And the smile signals emptiness for me

Starless and bible black

Ice blue silver sky
Fades into grey
To a grey hope that all yearns to be