The heart is a prison cell in Marty Balin’s Journey-esque AOR-lite 1981 ballad “Hearts”

By on February 28, 2019

We’re taking another peek-a-boo at the Playboy Channel’s “Hot Rocks” — a new music video show that featured music videos showcasing occasionally NSFW nudity — which premiered on “Night Flight” on July 15, 1983, and you can now watch on Night Flight Plus (by the way, you won’t find “Hot Rocks” on Youtube!).


One of the videos featured was Marty Balin’s Journey-esque AOR-lite ballad “Hearts,” a single from his imaginatively-titled 1981 solo album Balin.

Although Balin’s video didn’t really feature any real nudity to speak of, it gives us a chance to espouse a little bit about Balin, who died on September 27, 2018, in Tampa, Florida. He was 76 years old.


San Francisco-native Marty Balin — born Martyn Jerel Buchwald on January 30, 1942, in Cincinnati, Ohio — was, of course, one of the founding members of Jefferson Airplane, the band he began with Paul Kantner in 1965.

Balin initially flew high with the Airplane — who later re-named themselves Jefferson Starship and then Starship — from 1965 through 1971, citing his bandmates’ excessive drug use and the emotional impact of Janis Joplin‘s death as reasons for leaving.

Balin managed bands in the local San Francisco area for a few years until re-joining them again in 1975. He remained with them through 1978, contributing lead vocals & songwriting to their platinum albums Red Octopus (1975), Spitfire (1976) and Earth (1978).


By the time of recording the Balin album, he was focusing on his solo career, although he’d pretty much abandoned songwriting, co-writing just one song, “Lydia.”

Let’s remember, Balin had co-written five songs on Jefferson Airplane’s acclaimed second album Surrealistic Pillow, including one of Night Flight’s personal favorites, “Comin’ Back to Me.”

He also sang tenor lead vocals on several of the Airplane and Starship’s classics, including “Miracles” (#3, 1975) “Count On Me,” “With Your Love,” “Runaway,” and “Volunteers,” to name just a few.

In addition to the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, the Jefferson Airplane also played at two of the biggest Sixties rock festivals of all time — Woodstock and Monterey Pop — something that not a lot of bands can also claim.


Balin may have been more focused elsewhere in the early ’80s, pursuing personal projects like his movie Christopher Space as well as co-directing the Bay Area Music Awards (the Bammies), and directing a rock musical, Rock Justice.

He’d also produced two albums for his longtime friend, songwriter Jesse Barish, who in addition to writing “Hearts” for Balin had also penned another of the album’s singles, “Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love),” as well as an album track, “Music is the Light.”

Barish had previously written the Starship hit “Count on Me”


Technically, Balin wasn’t even really his first solo album: sometime during his first hiatus from Airplane he’d recorded an album titled Boracious for RCA, but it was barely released and it’s so rare it’s not even listed on Discogs.

Although he’d had a lot of success with Jefferson Airplane, the solo career experience had left him reluctant to engage again, but he set those feelings aside when he signed with EMI Records.


You can tell what kind of mood he was in, perhaps, in celebrated celebrity photographer Richard Avedon’s stark black & white photos that were used for the cover and elsewhere.

Balin would chart at #8 on the Billboard album charts, and “Hearts” would top out at #8 on the Hot 100 (the other Barish-penned single, “Atlanta Lady,” made it to #27).


Read more about the famous Alcatraz prison and Marty Balin below.


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The occasionally steamy Shankshank Redemption-y video, as you’ll see, features Balin manspreading in Speedo-style underwear while wistfully daydreaming or fantasizing about a lovely woman he’s missing because he’s now locked up in a cell on Alcatraz Island, once home one of the world’s most famous prisons.

The metaphor is pretty cliché and simple to understand: the heart is a prison cell.

And, if you’re a San Francisco musician and you’re going to put a prison in your music video, it’d better be Alcatraz.


If you’re a movie fan, you already know Alcatraz is one of the more recognizable shooting locations, having appeared in likely hundreds of films and music videos at this point.

The main ones are probably, in chronological order: John Frankenheimer’s Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), starring Burt Lancaster; John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), starring Lee Marvin; Otto Preminger’s Skidoo (1968), featuring a soundtrack with Harry Nilsson songs (Nilsson also appears in the movie along with a great cast); Escape from Alcatraz (1979), featuring Night Flight contributor Larry Hankin and starring Clint Eastwood, who had previously filmed the climactic scenes of the Dirty Harry sequel The Enforcer at the prison in 1976; the silly horror movie Slaughterhouse Rock (1988), starring Toni Basil; The Rock (1996), and, okay, probably X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).


The Scorpions would also shoot their video for “No One Like You” — from the band’s eighth studio album Blackout — at Alcatraz a year after Balin’s video.


Balin’s solo hits and his 1982 hit with the Starship, “Miracles,” may give the impression he was more interested in the softer, AOR-side of pop music, but let’s all remember that the late Marty Balin was no creampuff.

Don’t forget, he once jumped into a pit of Hells Angels who were beating an Altamont concertgoer for apparently no good reason, getting himself knocked out in the process.


Watch the Playboy Channel’s “Hot Rocks” — which featured the uncensored videos for Duran Duran‘s “Girls On Film,” and David Bowie‘s “China Girl,” as well as uncensored videos by Queen, Doug and The Slugs, the Tubes, Peter Godwin, and much more — on Night Flight Plus.


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.