"Neither particularly good or particularly bad. It's just bang average": Freedom At Point Zero by Jefferson Starship

Grace Slick and Marty Balin were gone but Jefferson Airplane had Jane, an AOR landmark, and riffs from Craig Chaquico that would guide the band into the gleaming 80s

Jefferson Starship: Freedom At Point Zero cover art
(Image: © Grunt)

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Jefferson Starship: Freedom At Point Zero

Jefferson Starship: Freedom At Point Zero cover art

(Image credit: Grunt)

Lightning Rose (Carry the Fire)
Things to Come
Girl with the Hungry Eyes
Just the Same
Rock Music
Fading Lady Light
Freedom at Point Zero (Climbing Tiger Mountain through the Sky)

After spectacularly imploding during their 1978 European tour, losing singers Grace Slick and Marty Balin, plus a drummer in the aftermath, Jefferson Starship returned a year later sporting a youthful, clean-cut Mickey Thomas on vocals and a single, Jane, that would define AOR alongside Toto’s Hold The Line, both characterised by high, taut vocals and ubiquitous hammered piano triplets. 

In fact, Jefferson Starship had already cornered the market in rock ballads with hits like Miracles and Count On Me, but Jane raised the bar dramatically thanks to Ron Nevison, the first producer the band had used, who insisted that Craig Chaquico’s blitzing 28-second lead guitar break be included, in an era when guitar solos were distinctly unfashionable.  

“Whenever I hear the solo to Jane on the radio, it makes me so happy,” Chaquico told us. “We fought for every second of that thing.”

Jane charted at the end of 1979 and took Jefferson Starship seamlessly into the 80s and the new decade of AOR. Its parent album Freedom At Point Zero went Top 10 in the UK, and spent nearly three months knocking around the charts. And while nothing else on the album comes close to Jane, aRock Music tries valiantly and Paul Kantner’s Girl With The Hungry Eyes at least has the passion. 

What saves the album is Nevison’s hard-rock instinct that puts guitarist Craig Chaquico on a pedestal, allowing him to let rip at will. He brings a steely edge to Jefferson Starship that they scarcely deserve. It was the beginning of a transformation that would soon find the band building this city.

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Other albums released in November 1979

  • Machine Gun Etiquette - The Damned
  • The Soundhouse Tapes - Iron Maiden
  • Night in the Ruts - Aerosmith
  • Setting Sons - The Jam
  • In Concert - Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  • Joe's Garage Acts II & III - Frank Zappa
  • Live Rust - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  • Metal Box - Public Image Ltd.
  • The Wall - Pink Floyd
  • Degüello - ZZ Top
  • Down on the Farm - Little Feat
  • No Nukes: The Muse Concerts for a Non-Nuclear Future - Various Artists
  • Phoenix - Dan Fogelberg
  • Real to Real Cacophony - Simple Minds
  • Sometimes You Win - Dr. Hook


What they said...

"Since the band's previous album, the Top Ten, million-selling Earth, the group had lost its two lead singers, Grace Slick and Marty Balin, and they had been replaced by Mickey Thomas. Jane, released as a single in advance of the album, displayed the result: even before Thomas' soaring tenor entered, it sounded like Foreigner. But it also made the Top 20, which helped the album into the Top Ten and to a gold record award." (AllMusic)

"Hawkwind-goes-commercial leads off one side, Foreigner-hurries-home the other; both cuts are catchy, both sexist tripe. The rest of the album is a familiar muddle of fixations: space travel, good-time, the deluge, the possession of pretty girls. Personal to Mickey Thomas: ain't nobody gonna boogie to the moons of Saturn." (Robert Christgau)

"Freedom at Point Zero has plenty of impact on first hearing: the production is dense and vigorous, undiluted by conflict or experimentation. Given these songs, however, it’s all wasted energy. After a few listenings, all the arpeggios and sound effects and shouts seem like the pitiful flailings of a band that knows it’s obsolete. The album’s final words are “It’s gonna be all right.” Who is Paul Kantner trying to convince?" (Rolling Stone)


What you said...

Mike Canoe: Of course I know Jane. That song was all over rock radio. The rest of Freedom at Point Zero? Not so much. Anyway, I was more inclined to follow-up Modern Times with its MTV-ready videos for Find Your Way Back and Stranger.

While nothing hits as hard as Jane, there are plenty of things to like about the full album. I certainly have a better appreciation for the musicianship and songwriting of this incarnation of Jefferson Starship. Singer Mickey Thomas helps give the band a melodic rock makeover and having journeyman Aynsley Dunbar on drums doesn't hurt. Craig Chaquico's more commercial songwriting actually blends surprisingly well with Paul Kantner's sci-fi/New Agey numbers. Epic Awakening is a great contribution by the husband/wife team of Pete and Jeanette Sears. And a band that can sell a lyric (and sentiment) as simple as "Rock'n'roll is good time music" has to be able to deliver and they generally do.

Kudos also to saxophonist Steven Schuster, who contributes to so many of the songs that it almost feels like he should have been a full-time member. His playing on Just the Same and Things to Come is fantastic (although I probably wouldn't have had a similar appreciation in 1979.)

While I'm generally ambivalent about Jefferson Starship (too much music, too little time), I'm glad one of their albums made the cut. Like them or not, they're one of those "classic" classic rock bands and in good company with other classic rock acts that made their club debut this year, including April Wine, Kansas, Molly Hatchet, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Supertramp, and Montrose (a 2-for-1 since it also included the club debut of Sammy Hagar). I look forward to what Year 7 (!!!) will bring.

Evan Sanders: I like how this late 70's album kicks off with the radio-friendly Jane, showing that Jefferson Starship could stay relevant without Marty Balin or Grace Slick. Unfortunately, that song is the highlight until the title song and closer, as the rest of the album is a set of generic rock numbers that would have fit well as classic rock B sides. The musicianship is good, but without memorable lyrics or melodies. 6/10

Pete Webb: Because of my age, I was aware of Jefferson Starship before I knew about Jefferson Airplane. I bought Freedom At Point Zero when it came out, mainly for Jane, which was all over the radio in 1979. That song, with a sound reminiscent of Foreigner or Toto, is uncharacteristic of the album as a whole.

Listening back decades later, Freedom At Point Zero stands up surprisingly well, especially Paul Kantner’s songwriting contributions on Lightning Rose and Girl With The Hungry Eyes. The playing is solid – no surprise considering Aynsley Dunbar is on drums and David Freiberg (formerly with Quicksilver Messenger Service) shares bass and keys with Pete Sears. Overall, a good but not great album. I’d rate it 7/10.

David Cichocki: Maybe a huge arena attraction of 1970s/80, if I wasn’t a nipper then they still would not have coaxed me there. I think this the first listen in my 61 years that I could not work out if this was purposely a progressive album, blended with whatever they wanted – jazz, gospel and FM. Not that bands and music should be placed in appropriate boxes – but sometimes it helps if you can’t work it out from the album sleeve. 

Awakening is genuinely a great epic and really helped the listen but this album is really about Jane – the rock discos of 80s Bristol were quite rightly banging this out. However, I’m not sure where most of Freedom At Point Zero is going.

A mostly female-fronted Starship headlined a low-key Heroes Of Woodstock tour in the UK in 2009. It was a mixture of Airplane/Starship material - although Kantner was there, I would have loved to have seen Grace Slick.

Graham Tarry: Love this album. There’s so much more to it than just Jane! Awakening is immense

Gus Schultz: This album seems to follow the same sort of formula as the previous Jefferson Starship albums, except for a harder sound and modern production for the time. Mickey Thomas does a good job of replacing their main balladeer Marty Balin and the notorious Grace Slick. They’ve always seem to have a hit or two on most of their albums especially Red Octopus with the massive crossover hit Miracles and may have been their top selling LP. 

I’m not so sure we would be reviewing this album if Jane were not on it, obviously the strongest track on the LP. Rock music and Freedom at point zero were minor hits that received decent airplay but didn’t have the same power as Jane. Modern Times seemed to follow a similar pattern with Find Your Way Back as a fairly big hit on radio. Still it’s a very listenable album albeit a little dated in sound. Not an album I would play very often preferring some of their older recordings.

Happy New Everyone!!

Bill Griffin: I can't reappraise it because I never bothered to listen to it before. That having been said, a number of the tracks were played on FM radio besides Jane so I am not totally unfamiliar with it. It's inoffensive music for sure, even enjoyable. I still don't think I missed anything though.

Gary Claydon: When the Airplane had crashed and burned, the new, interstellar, version of Jefferson discovered an ability to produce polished AOR but had never been willing to fully embrace it. A democratic approach to song writing plus the idiosyncratic talents of their frontwoman often resulted in a lack of clarity and direction. They came across as a band who were totally unsure of their place in the scheme of things, unable to move forward. So, how would their Grace-less offering, Freedom at Point Zero, fare in a pretty turbulent flight path?

There is a clear effort to move towards a slightly harder, more commercial sound but with a reluctance to completely sever ties to their hippy-fied past. The results are somewhat muddled, not helped by the usual plethora of song writing credits. Bestriding the whole album is Jane, one of the great pop-rock songs. Nothing else really comes close, although the pomp of Awakening has a damn good try, even if it could have done with editing down by a couple of minutes. 

Girl With The Hungry Eyes always makes me think the band had been listening to Hawkwind at some point. The rest of the album is mainly unremarkable, fairly generic AOR - throughout Freedom at Point Zero there are a number of "where have I heard that before?" moments. The best parts of Freedom at Point Zero come courtesy of Craig Chaquico's guitar, aided and abetted by Ron Nevison's propensity for pushing the guitars further forward in the mix, often at the cost of some bottom end wallop. This, in turn, adds to the overall lightweight feel of proceedings.

In the end, Freedom at Point Zero is neither particularly good or particularly bad. It's just bang average, which still makes it better than anything that would come in the future from the various Starship enterprises.

Dale Munday: After the brilliance that were the Airplane, I thought that the move to big bucks territory was awful. A generic AOR sound redolent of so many over produced faux rock bands of that period.

Greg Schwepe: Just how catchy is Jane, the leadoff track from Jefferson Starship’s 1979 offering; Freedom at Point Zero? Well, catchy enough that 1979 Me went out and bought that album after hearing Jane many times on the local FM rock station. And this is from someone who had passing knowledge of prior Jefferson Starship (and Airplane, for that matter) albums and the band’s lineup and history, but had no interest in actually purchasing anything of theirs. But Jane seemed to change all that.

Now when I got home and plopped that album on the turntable and began to check out the liner notes, did I initially realise that Mickey Thomas was the new lead singer and Martin Balin and Grace Slick were no longer in the band? Probably not. Did I realize that this album was a bit of a departure from Earth, Red Octopus and Spitfire? Definitely not at the time, I just knew that this one seemed to really jump out of the speakers. Like, really jump. And because I had an ear for "slick and polished" (no "Grace pun" intended), this seemed to really fit in with other bands I listened to.

The ironic part of this week’s selection is that I had heard a track from Earth this summer in a playlist I had found, then began to explore more of the Jefferson Starship catalogue, revisiting Freedom once again. And by looking back at the prior albums, I realised for me, how much of a departure this album was. And in a good way. “Let’s swap out all our vocalists, and really update and modernize our sound and let the chips fall where they may!” And I think this happens at about 2:16 into Jane, where Craig Chaquico rips off a guitar solo that seems to say “here’s the updated Jefferson Starship!”

About half the songs have Mickey Thomas’s vocals harmonised with another band member (Paul Kantner, I believe?), so you have that layered approach. And while it doesn’t sound like a female vocal, the layering gives the illusion that it is. So, for those wondering how things will sound without Grace Slick, it’s still dang good.

The eight minute plus Awakening takes you on a winding instrumental journey first, before the Mickey Thomas vocal finally kicks in after 2 and a half minutes.

Girl with the Hungry Eyes could be a song by The Cars. Modern keyboard sounds and layered vocals make it sound like something off of Candy-O.

Rock Music gets my vote for the best cymbal clanging song on the album. Flat out rocker with a repeating guitar riff. Thomas shows his voice has range and it can soar.

Freedom at Point Zero earns Jefferson Starship the “Arena Rock” tag, and you could add them to any list of bands which included Journey, Foreigner, Boston, Styx, and the like. Releases after this album would cement that moniker even more, which is not a bad thing. It wasn’t the 80s just yet when this album was released, but Jefferson Starship was prepping themselves for it with their updated sound. 8 out of 10 on this one for me.

Mark Herrington: Back in 1979 , this album was my first encounter with the band , not having heard the Grace Slick era , at that time. It sat naturally for me with the Foreigner, Styx and Journey side of my album collection back then.

There is a really good spread of Epic rock songs, standard rockers, ballads and folky tracks here, at logical intervals, creating good listening contrast throughout. Awakening is a thrilling tour de force, Just the Same another great epic, and Jane just rocks.

Mickey Thomas has a fine set of lungs , and I like the style of guitar playing here. I used to prefer all the rockier tracks back then - but over the years the folky stuff grew on me too .

Truth be told , I went on to explore their earlier output , but always preferred this. Overshadowed somewhat by what had come before , and miles better than when they became Starship and produced pop , this stands up as a fine piece of work on its own .

John Davidson: Alongside the classic rock acts (Purple, Zep, Rush, Sabbath, Priest, UFO, Lizzy) and NWOBHM I dabbled in a bit of 'pomp rock' in the late seventies. Early Styx, Magnum, Kansas all got a good old listen, but there was something about the more AOR leaning bands like Journey, REO Speedwagon and Foreigner that never really floated my boat. It didn't help that Jefferson Starship were a legacy band that had transformed several times and in the days of "one album a month" there was no obvious jumping on point for a 16 year old with limited funds (worse still a friend had unwisely invested in the previous album Earth and we all hated it).

If memory serves this album got panned in Sounds when it came out, certainly none of my friends bought it either. I might have borrowed it from the local library but, if i did, I didn't make a tape copy which tells a story in itself.

All that set aside, on listening to the album now it's not bad. Its more eclectic than many of its contemporaries which isn't a bad thing in retrospect, but they were so out of sync with late 70s tastes that it doesn't really surprise me this didn't make a big impact on me.

Listening now, its light, frothy fair with some decent melodies but it has no emotional resonance for me and without that there isn't enough to hold my attention for long.

Jane is the kind of thing I'd play in the car, Things to Come is a decent understudy in the same vein and Awakening appeals to my proggier instincts but after that it all blends in to one. Even Rock Music lacks the zip of similar songs from the likes of Boston. Either a 6 or a 7. 

Philip Qvist: I can't say I'm a huge fan of the music of Jefferson Airplane, while the less said about the disaster that was Starship the better. However, there was something about Jefferson Starship that appealed to me - and considering that during the late 70s and early 80s I was gravitating towards AOR acts like Journey, Toto and Foreigner, it is hardly a surprise.

So what do I think of Freedom At Point Zero? The highlights are definitely the voice of new recruit Micky Thomas, the drumming of the other new recruit Aynsley Dunbar, the general songwriting and the guitar interplay between band leader Paul Kantner and lead guitarist Craig Chaquico.

Jane is the obvious stand out track (and it is still one of my all time favourite AOR songs); along with the eight minute epic Awakenings, the title track and the Girl With The Hungry Eyes. The other tunes are good but they didn't really stand out for me, although there isn't anything resembling a dud on here either.

If you are a fan of AOR music then this album should be in your collection; although I expect Freedom At Point Zero to be dismissed by many who are not fans of this genre. A 7, possibly an 8, for me.


Final score: 6.57 (90 votes cast, total score 592)

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