I loved this puzzle...on so many levels. Matt Ginsberg might become one of my new favorite constructors.
The theme was revealed at 63A, and I didn't have any of the theme answers until then. And it finally began to make sense. When I read the clue [Words missing from the answers to the eight starred clues], it dawned on me why I hadn't been able to figure out 15A: 1961 chart-topper for Ray Charles. HIT THE was the answer to 63A...and the hit song was [HIT THE] (Road, Jack).
The other seven theme answers, which fell into place rather quickly at that point, were:
13A: Party game [HIT THE] (piñata).
19A: Vie for votes [HIT THE] (campaign trail).
37A: Get off to a quick start [HIT THE] (ground running).
55A: Get it exactly [HIT THE] (nail on the head). You gotta love a gimme that long.
62A: Shoot perfectly [HIT THE] (bullseye).
28D: React to gunfire, maybe [HIT THE] (floor).
31D: Fail [HIT THE] (skids).
There were a few things I didn't know, but the crosses were doable...and I managed to finish without resorting to Dogpile. I love when my guesses pan out...that happened a few times as well. Good guesses include:
9A: Phil who sang "Draft Dodger Rag" (Ochs). Had *C*S, and I knew the first letter was a vowel. Guessed the O in the cross at 9D: California hometown of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman (Ojai)...not familiar with either show or California. That gave me HCL for 11D: Stomach acid, to a chemist...Hydrochloric acid?
35A: "Mother of all rivers" (Mekong).
59A: Vein locale (coal mine)...although I had gold mine at first.
61A: Classic Studebaker whose name means "forward" in Italian (Avanti).
38D: __ Jeeves of P. G. Wodehouse stories (Reginald). I had enough letters that nothing else would have worked...but I've never heard of the stories.
53D: Walter who wrote "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money" (Tevis). The first letter didn't come easily, though. I was missing something on the cross at 51A: Calif. setting (PST)...finally had my aha moment.
Favorite clues include 27A: You, to you, or me, to me (self), 43A: Swell place? (sea), 3D: Zooid (animal), 14D: Largest of a septet (Asia), 20D: 10 Benjamin Franklins (grand), 26D: Ticker tape letters? (EKG), 30D: Chapter's partner (verse), 58D: Doth own (hath) and 60D: Unsafe? (out).
The best nontheme answers:
18A: How trapeze artists perform (aerially).
31A: Where Wounded Knee is: Abbr. (S. Dak.).
42A: Hockey great Jaromir (Jágr). Never heard of him, but what a great name.
2D: Capt. Sparrow, e.g. (pirate). Not my kind of movie...but he's definitely my kind of pirate.
7D: Morgue ID (toe tag). Morbid, but a good answer.
43D: Mrs. Woody Allen (Soon-Yi). They're definitely not my favorite couple, but her name works well in the grid.
46D: Abominate (loathe). I like both the clue and the answer...great words.
I also liked some of the multiword answers. 40A: Corrida chant (ole ole), 10D: Selected (called on) and 45D: Entertaining (open to)...appropriately deceptive clue for a Thursday. Nice.
That's it for today. Here's the grid...
...and I'll see you tomorrow.