2020 Album Draft- Round 3- Pick 6- Badfinger20- Selects Big Star- #1 Record.
You can find Badfinger20’s blog at –https://powerpop.blog/
“Big Star is like a letter that was mailed in 1971 but didn’t arrive until 1985.”
Musician Robyn Hitchcock
I never travel far, without a little Big Star
“We’ve sort of flirted with greatness, but we’ve yet to make a record as good as Revolver or Highway 61 Revisited or Exile on Main Street or Big Star’s Third.”
The band didn’t chart a record when they were active. I still hold their music up along with The Who, Beatles. and Kinks…they never had the sales but they did have a giant influence. They released this album as their debut in August of 1972. I had to stop myself from writing an open love letter (I may have failed) about this band. Was it the mystique of them? Was it the coolness factor of liking a band that not many people knew? No and no. It’s about the music. Mystique and coolness wear off and all you are left with is the music…We are fortunate to have 3 albums by Big Star to enjoy.
In the early eighties, I heard stories from an older brother of a friend about Big Star out of Memphis…but their records were hard to come by. I loved what little I heard and it got lost in the shuffle but it planted a seed for later.
By the mid-80s I heard more of their songs. In 1986 The Bangles released “September Gurls” and I knew it sounded familiar…and the DJ said it was a Big Star song…then came the song, Alex Chilton, by The Replacements and I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t until the early nineties, I finally had Big Star’s music along with the Raspberries and Badfinger. My power-pop fandom kicked into high gear and I have never left that genre.
Big Star was the best band never heard. Such a great band but a long frustrating story. They made three albums that were among the best of the decade that were not heard until much later. They signed with Ardent which was a subsidiary of Stax Records.
A power-pop band on the soul Stax label doesn’t sound like a good idea now and it wasn’t then. Stax was failing at that time and could not distribute the records to the stores. Kids loved the music on the radio only to go to a record store with no Big Star records. Rolling Stone gave them rave reviews…but that doesn’t help if the album is not out there to purchase. They were through by 1974 after recording their 3rd album.
When their albums were finally discovered by eighties bands, they influenced many artists such as REM, The Replacements, Cars, Cheap Trick, Sloan, Matthew Sweet, KISS, Wilco, Gin Blossoms, and many more. They influenced alternative rock of the 80s and 90s and continue to this day.
Listening to this album with each song you think…Oh, that could have been a single. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell wrote most of the songs and wanted to emulate Lennon/McCartney and they did a great job but with an obvious American slant to make it their own. After the commercial failure of this album, Chris Bell quit but the other three continued for one more album and then bass player Andy Hummel quit after the second album, and Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens recorded the third.
I could have gone with ANY three of their albums. I picked this one because of Chris Bell. The songs are a bit more polished on this one than the other two but it fits the songs they present. Chris Bell added a lot to Big Star and after hearing his solo song I Am The Cosmos you see how much. Radio City, their second album, with Chilton in charge many consider their best and their third album, Third/Sister Lovers is not as commercially accessible but I still love it. All three are in Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time.
I’ll go over four songs.
The Ballad Of El Goodo A song about Vietnam conscientious objector…but it is much more than that. It is one of the most perfect pop/rock songs recorded to my ears. This would make it in my own top 10 songs of all time. The tone of the guitars, harmonies and the perfectly constructed chorus keeps calling me back listen after listen. This is when pop music becomes more.
In The Street is a song that everyone will know. It was used as the theme of That Seventies Show. Cheap Trick covered it for the show. I was not a teenager in the early seventies but with this song, I am there front and center. Steal your car and bring it down, Pick me up, we’ll drive around, Wish we had, A joint so bad.
Thirteen is a song that Chilton finds that spot between the innocence of childhood and the first teenage year where they meet and intertwine with confusion. Won’t you tell your dad, “get off my back” Tell him what we said ’bout “Paint It Black”
When My Baby’s Beside Me has a great guitar riff to open it up. This is power pop at it’s best. A nice rocker that should have been blaring out of AM radios in the 70’s.
I’m not going over every song (but I could easily) because reading this won’t do it…you have to listen if you haven’t already. You will not regret it. Not just these songs but the complete album.
It’s a mixture of songs on the album…rockers, mid-tempo songs, and ballads. Even the weaker song called The India Song is very listenable. My favorites besides the ones I listed are Watch the Sunrise, Don’t Lie To Me, Feel, and Give Me Another Chance.
I now have rounded out my albums on my island. The variety of The White Album, The rock of Who’s Next, and the ringing power-pop beauty of Big Star…swim or use a boat and come over to my island and we will listen…the Pina Coladas and High Tides (hey it’s an island) are flowing… let’s drink to BIG STAR.
On a side note. If you want to learn more there is a good documentary out about them called: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.
The Ballad Of El Goodo
In The Street
Don’t Lie To Me
The India Song
When My Baby’s Beside Me
My Life Is Right
Give Me Another Chance
Watch The Sunrise
- Chris Bell – guita
Well – you stole one of my picks but that’s OK with me. I’ll probably hide the double-CD of the first two records in my underwear on my way to the island. I don’t think I could live without hearing Alex’s guitar solo in “Thirteen” – the one that no one even comes close to recreating. Never went nuts over “Third” though. You can watch me ramble about my love for Big Star here: https://youtu.be/bIEJuwa3a50
Thanks Mike and I checked it out…a lot of info I didn’t know.
Sorry about the pick…I knew I had better pick it soon. Chilton and Bell should have ruled the airwaves at the time. Big Star working with Jim Dickinson was interesting on Third…it was different though no doubt.
Definitely up there with Velvet Underground for the band whose influence outpaces their success. When REM , tom Petty, The Bangles all point to you as an important influence, you were doing something right! But something wrong too, as you suggest seems like they were mis-managed and on a label which was a bad fit for them. First I ever heard of them was when the Replacements put out the single “Alex Chilton” and I was curious “who’s Alex Chilton?”
Glad you put the spotlight on a lesser-known artist!
Thanks Dave…they deserve the spotlight. Power pop doesn’t get much better than this.
I am the same- The Replacements song- made me go out and buy the Big Star albums! Great stuff.
To quote Charlie Brown, “AAAAAAAARGH!” I couldn’t remember who among this group of ten participants is the power pop aficionado, but I had a feeling this one wouldn’t be around much longer. True confession: I lived in Columbia, MO in the spring of ’93 and knew they were playing a gig in the parking lot outside the university’s football stadium, but for whatever reason I didn’t have my bleep together and didn’t go. I just didn’t know then what I know now about that band. The show ended up released as an album.
Oh Stephen that sucks! They were under a tent…that one is on youtube also and it’s great. Not great picture wise but it will do!
It was a coin flip between Radio City and this one…but the Chris Bell factor won out.
Well Max you had me but soon as I seen your pick it made sense.Pretty hard not to hear their influence on so many bands I like. So much good stuff going on in this music. I’ll be over to your Island for a listening party. Real cool choice. Another example of how the music chooses us. Good piece Max.
Thanks CB. Yes you can hear their influence in a lot of bands. The masses missed out on something great becasue of a series of events.
So much good music in that “masses missed” category. The main thing is, you didn’t. I might live with this one for a bit. Thanks for the nudge.
I would have taken Radio City if I had room for Big Star. I think the pristine pop/rock is great on this, but the rockers are way better on Radio City. Still classic for songs like El Goodo and Watch the Sunrise.
I like that one also…Chris Bell is the reason I picked this one. It was a coin flip really.
Max, I’ve got that doc on my waiting list at the library. After listening to your choices above and hearing you rave about them, you’ll make a Big Star fan out of me yet. They sound a lot like The Byrds to me. The guitar flourishes feel like “sound stars” for lack of a better term. I like the staccato drums in parts of the songs. The voice has a perfect angst/soulfulness to it to elevate the music. It is a dirty shame they weren’t on a good label!!!!! I think the same about Townes VanZandt 😦
Hey if I can convert one person my job would be finished! You are correct that ringing guitar does sound like the Byrds. The cool thing is their other albums are great also…especially the second one…Radio City. I’ll share on my island.
Ahhh Townes…so good, like Chris Bell – but if you listen to them back to back you risk being institutionalized.
LMAO Stephen. There is one Townes does about being institutionalized that you’ve probably heard…
Their music is really nice. I can’t believe I never heard them back when this was released, or maybe I heard them but didn’t know who it was. Anyway, better late than never.
I’d never heard of Big Star, but I listened to “#1 Record” all the way through and really like it a lot. Such a variety of sounds and styles, and you’re right, every track is good. Based on one listen, two that stood out for me are “Give Me Another Chance” and “Try Again”. I can still hear their influence in some of today’s indie power-pop and folk-pop bands from the U.S. and U.K. that I’ve reviewed.
Thank you for giving it a spin. It is an overall obscure album but it shouldn’t have been. The album is really solid and the follow-up album Radio City was a little edgier but just as good and some say better.
The tone Chilton and Bell got out of the guitars and harmonies won me over.