KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Satur-debut – BIG STAR “#1 RECORD”

Seven years ago I dedicated a B-Sides The Point post to Big Star, who I described as “a short-lived but hugely influential Memphis-based band from the early 1970s, formed on a foundation of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Byrds and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, with hints of contemporary glam-rock artists like T. Rex and David Bowie.” The original lineup of Alex Chilton & Chris Bell (both guitar & vocals), Andy Hummel (bass & vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums) only lasted for one album (1972’s #1 Record) before Bell departed. The remaining trio released two more records & then quietly disbanded in the mid-’70s, as the lack of record sales & radio play sealed their fate. Future generations discovered them and they are now revered by critics, musicians, record collectors & especially power-pop aficionados. They never became the big stars their name conjured up but their influence is immeasurable, and their magnificent debut is the ideal entry point into the world of Big Star.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.

 

 

From B-Sides The Point – BIG STAR:

Their debut album, #1 Record (1972), is as close to a perfect collection of songs as I’ve ever heard, and it was a sheer joy to play this one over and over. Many people already know the song “In The Street” as the theme song from That ‘70s Show, in versions performed by Todd Griffin (first season only) and Cheap Trick. It’s an immensely catchy tune with great Byrds-ian harmonies on “Not a thing to do but talk to you.” The album opens with “Feel,” an upbeat rock song with a melancholy half-time chorus (“I feel like I’m dyin’, I’m never gonna live again”), a cool George Harrison-influenced guitar solo and some subtly excellent drumming from Jody Stephens. “The Ballad Of El Goodo” is among my favorites. The aching melody in the verses recalls the soft rock of Bread or The Carpenters, which then gives way to an incredible Badfinger-esque chorus (“There ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round”). “Thirteen” is a folky ballad with pretty acoustic guitar picking and tender vocals. I love those phased vocal harmonies too. “Don’t Lie To Me” is an angry glam-rock stomper with a snarl that matches the best of the Rolling Stones. The original Side One concludes with “The India Song,” a brief song whose vocal harmonies remind me of some of Pink Floyd’s more pastoral material from ’70 & ’71. The swirling flute melody gives this a hypnotic quality, and the lush acoustic guitar strumming recalls the best of America or Crosby, Stills & Nash. We’re only 6 songs in and there hasn’t been a wasted note. Side Two turns out to be just as strong.

“When My Baby’s Beside Me” (which begins with “Don’t need to talk to my doctor, don’t need to talk to my shrink…”), is a buoyant pop song with a giddy chorus (“When my baby’s beside me I don’t-a worry”). The Badfinger influence pops up again on the gorgeous “My Life Is Right,” especially in Chris Bell’s vocals. At first this seems a little downbeat (“Once I walked a lonely road, I had no one to share my load”), but turns out to be positive and uplifting (“You give me light, you are my day”). “Give Me Another Chance” isn’t as immediate as the rest of the album, but it’s pretty and subtle, and it grew on me with each listen. I like the pleading, mostly falsetto vocals with the slow acoustic strumming, and the big harmonies during the “Don’t give up” section. Also, is that a Mellotron giving this a prog-rock/Moody Blues vibe? The slow, languid pace and acoustic strumming of “Try Again” caught my ear immediately, with “Lord I’ve been trying to be what I should” and that exquisite George Harrison-esque slide guitar. “Watch The Sunrise” begins with fast acoustic strumming that reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and the acoustic songs on Led Zeppelin’s third album. Even the vocals (“I can feel it, now it’s time…open your eyes”) could be Robert Plant singing “That’s The Way” or “Tangerine.” This is simply a remarkable song, and shows another facet of their songwriting and arranging.

The album closes with “ST 100/6,” basically a song fragment (it’s under 1 minute long) with two intertwining acoustic guitars and simple lyrics (“Love me again…be my friend”). This is one of those records that left me feeling so good that I couldn’t wait to hear it again. With Bell’s subsequent departure, the chemistry they had on this album would never quite return, but they weren’t done making amazing music yet.

 

I know there are plenty of Big Star fans out there and I’d love to hear from you. Do you feel the same way I do about their debut, or do you prefer one or both of the records that followed? If you’re new to Big Star please share your first impressions based on the audio clips above. Thanks.

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14 comments on “Satur-debut – BIG STAR “#1 RECORD”

  1. 80smetalman
    May 18, 2019

    You know what? I probably did listen to this back in the 1970s but don’t remember it. It does sound strangely familiar.

    Like

    • If you did listen to them in the ’70s then you were in the minority, since they didn’t start getting any kind of mainstream critical success until the ’80s & ’90s. They seem like the kind of band that fans of various genres could enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Aphoristical
    May 18, 2019

    My take on this album is that the mellow stuff like ‘El Goodo’ and ‘Watch The Sunrise’ is terrific, but I don’t like the rock stuff as much. Radio City is easily my favourite Big Star record, and one of my favourite records of all time – that one has great rockers and pretty stuff.

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    • I enjoy how we always seem to like a lot of the same artists but rarely agree on our favorite albums by them. Chris Bell added something to the first album that was lacking on the albums that followed. I do love Radio City but don’t think it’s quite as consistent as the debut. Glad we agree that Big Star is awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        May 19, 2019

        I can see Big Star being quite divisive, as their three 1970s albums all offer something different. I just looked up Rate Your Music, and all three are rated very highly, but it looks like Third/Sister Lovers is the consensus favourite. So three different opinions.

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      • Isn’t it ironic when fans of the same artist can still be divided based on their favorite albums?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        May 19, 2019

        It’s more fun when you can argue. I’d say consensus albums are pretty rare in large discographies – The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds is probably one example, because it’s one of their few records where the other guys don’t get in the way of Brian Wilson too much.

        Have you heard this – https://rateyourmusic.com/release/comp/chris-bell/looking-forward-the-roots-of-big-star/

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      • Have you ever written anything about “Consensus Albums”? If not, it would be a good topic for a blog post. I like the concept.

        As for the “Roots Of Big Star” compilation, I don’t own that but I have the “Rock City” compilation that was released about 15 years ago, and they share many of the same tracks. Very good stuff, but as I wrote in my brief mention of it in my original Big Star post, it’s “missing an edge that Chilton often provided.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        May 21, 2019

        After our previous conversation, I’ve actually been thinking about going through most of the artists on my site, and writing a best album post for each. Doing stuff like comparing my pick with the critical consensus, picking out key tracks, giving some background etc.

        It would take less time then doing worst to best posts, and it would be less crossover with my existing website pages. Also, you wouldn’t need to complain about my use of the term worst… I think it will work well, just trying to figure out how to tie it into my blog rhythm – usually (NZ time) Thursday is quiz, Sunday is songs, and Tuesday is miscellaneous posts.

        Like

      • That sounds like an excellent plan and I look forward to reading those posts whenever you get around to them. I give you credit for sticking to a strict blogging schedule. I’ve always posted whenever I was ready. Sometimes that was a couple of times a week, other times it took weeks before I was ready to post. Only in the last few years have I created day-specific posts (Thirty-Year Thursday, Forty-Year Friday, Satur-debut), but that was only because of the “clever” series names and they’ve kept me focused on posting regularly. Otherwise I might take another 6-month blogging sabbatical like I did a few years ago.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill P
    May 19, 2019

    I’m always surprised at the mythic status that this band has achieved. I sometimes wonder if it is that need to find something hidden and unique that you can make your own. Big Star was one of those bands for whom the fates conspired against. Marketing missteps, lack of label support, and then, unfortunately, the death of Chris Bell. My brother is a big fan of power pop bands so likes Big Star.

    For me, I hear the Byrds influence you write about. I hear a sound similar to other bands of the time like the Raspberries, Badfinger, and even a little Todd Rundgren (“Couldn’t I Just Tell You). Jangly guitars, juicy hooks, etc. All things to like, and I do.

    It is a shame they didn’t achieve more success in their time but I almost feel that the hype has been overdone. The sort that record collectors give when trying to out compete another collector with their knowledge or possession of rare obscurities. Similar to the effect that the Nuggets box set and its garage rock lost gems had on the punk rock scene. This is a great album that stands toe-to-toe with its contemporaries (and one I find enjoyable to listen to) but I somehow wonder if their lack of promotional luck/success didn’t do them a favor in building the myth.

    Like

    • Great points, Bill, and I completely agree that the “mythic status” might be a bit too much for them. They were no better than the artists you mentioned (all of whom I love) but because they didn’t have any commercial success critics & record collectors have made them into some kind of undiscovered geniuses. Once you peel away the hyperbole, though, I think they live up to the hype. I just hope that every hipster who ever discovered them based on the myths has also checked out Rundgren, Badfinger, Raspberries, Dwight Twilley, The Knack (yep, they were much more than their one huge hit), Jellyfish, etc.

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  4. J.
    May 20, 2019

    I found Big Star in early 2000 via an issue of Uncut – particularly the inclusion of Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos on the CD. I checked out the album and that led to Big Star and #1 Record. That’s perhaps why I like this album most.

    Like

    • J, that’s a great route you took to find Big Star. Glad to hear that #1 Record is your favorite as well. There’s something special about the Chilton & Bell combination.

      Like

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