Overlooked Songs From Notorious Names – Heatwave’s “Star of a Story”
Soulful stories, jazzy chords and incomparable harmonies made up the band Heatwave. A group of worldly influences marbleized with Ohio funk, this septet thrilled audiences on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1970’s. With the release of their 1977 debut Too Hot to Handle, songs like “Boogie Nights,” “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” and “Always and Forever” put Heatwave on the map, born out of the prolific, unique song craft of keyboardist Rod Temperton, and the keening, sultry falsetto of lead singer Johnnie Wilder. The following year, they proved their power again with Central Heating, padding their catalog with more funk and more soul. Also included on that album was a song unlike any other Heatwave ever recorded.
With a damning strike of cello, “Star of a Story” already sounded nothing like what one would expect from a funk band like Heatwave. However, as it slowly transitioned into mystifying siren vocals and soft caresses of electric keyboard and acoustic guitar, one goes from being apprehensive to being spellbound. Temperton had a pension for composing song intros with classical and/or traditional jazz leanings, usually within a contemporary subtext (i.e. “Boogie Nights” started with a bebop drum chart and harp flourishes), but never before had their material sounded so ethereal. The hypnotic arrangement was made to match Temperton’s lyrics, describing a man’s longing to be subjected by an otherworldly love from his object of desire. Wilder’s vocals were hazy and adrift, as if he was standing 10 feet from the microphone. This effect, however, suited the song perfectly, especially during the chorus. Two lead vocal tracks, each with slight variations of the lyric, played simultaneously, yet intertwined one another like vines around a column:
“Hold me all through the night, (Hold me through the night,)
“Stay ‘til the day is bright, (light up my life, stay ‘til it’s bright)
“And Angel, don’t ever break the spell, (Angel be well, don’t break the spell)
“‘Cause you’re the star of a story (‘Cause you’re the star of a story)
“I’ll always tell…” (I’ll always tell…)
Although Heatwave was accustomed to recording beautiful balladry, this didn’t have the spontaneous excitement of “Always and Forever,” but rather possessed a lingering, mythical atmosphere; the equivalent of an aurora borealis hovering over Alaskan mountains, shining a blinding light to a midnight sky. “Star of a Story” was a sentiment not often associated with any group during the disco era, and proclaimed the bands limitless versatility and ability to express love on a transcendental level.
Lost in the shuffle among Central Heating hit singles like the dance anthem “The Groove Line” and the jazz/pop perfection of “Mind-Blowing Decisions,” “Star of a Story” was never released as a single. Two years following its original release, it was covered by George Benson on his Grammy winning album Give Me the Night, but perhaps its most high profile appearance came in the form of hip hop. A Tribe Called Quest sampled it for “Verse from the Abstract” on their seminal album, The Low End Theory, proving that its power can affect people in ways you’d least expect.