Thursday, September 24, 2009

The 'Small' Big Star Discography

O my soul, Big Star. I was going to start the Tier 1 discographies with Hüsker Dü, being the biggest challenge. But with my recent acquisition of the Feel (alternate mix)/Mod Lang (unissued single mix) 7", and the recent 4-CD boxset - Big Star it is! [Note: the Pitchfork review originally said "nonsense-language backing vocals," but has since been corrected.]

If you're not already a big fan, the boxset doesn't seem like the place to start though. How about a combo-CD of the first two albums?!

#1 Record
#1 Record (1972) 9/10 - One of the greatest rock debuts of all time, and the only Big Star to include co-guitarist/singer/songwriter Chris Bell. Some people might say there's a weak song here somewhere, but they are wrong. This is the sound of major Beatles fans ('65-'66 esp.) nailing down an entire genre: power-pop. "Thirteen" manages to be simultaneously nostalgic, vulnerable and funny. "In The Street" would be covered by descendents Cheap Trick for That '70s Show's theme. The rockers ("When My Baby's Beside Me," "Feel") rock hard. The ballads ("Try Again," "El Goodo") are tender. Everything is in the right place - how did this fail to connect? And it only gets better!

Radio City
Radio City (1974) 10/10 - One of the greatest rock albums of all time, and this time it's all Alex Chilton songs. It takes the #1's ante and raises all-in. Opening with atypical funky butt-rockin' "O My Soul" (at top), it strings together highlight after highlight. The songs are all excellent, and played with a reckless joy that constantly threatens to explode - or implode. Almost literally perfect guitar pop! (Brilliant album cover too.) "Back of a Car," "She's A Mover," "I'm In Love with a Girl," "Mod Lang," "You Get What You Deserve" - all beyond reproach. And of course, the acknowledged pop masterpiece,
"September Gurls":

3rd or Third/Sister Lovers (1975/1978) 9/10 - Speak of imploding. That reckless joy? It is now crushed - by label incompetence, by band member defections, by commercial failure, by popular indifference. The band was over by the time anyone could get their 3rd released. And Chilton is angry, bitter, sarcastic, and sometimes despondent. The songwriting's still there, but the rock songs are now just nasty, the ballads practically suicidal. And their cover of the VU's "Femme Fatale" ("Elle est une femme fatale") fits right in.

So many tunes missing from YouTube, but I guess we're getting somewhere anyway. Just one among many excellent songs - "Kangaroo" brings in sonic experiments that basically prophesy Wilco. In fact, the drumbreak parts of "Via Chicago" always remind me of this song.

I've never bothered to get any of the posthumous live records, nor the reunion album, In Space (2005). I'd go see them live if they came to town, but it's not a priority. Big Star was in the '70s. One record definitely worth mentioning is the literally-posthumous Chris Bell solo collection I Am The Cosmos (1992). It's well worth getting, after the band albums. The title track is heart-breaking. I was going to call "Speed of Sound" an undiscovered gem, but apparently it was recently used in a movie.

As I mentioned in the original Bookshelf post, the Spin Alt Record Guide originally hipped me to Big Star. Just for full credit, two albums are in their Top 100 list.
Radio City at #7
Third/Sister Lovers at #56
Couldn't have them tying the Velvet Underground, now could we?

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