on August 30, 2000
No group in the history of rock 'n' roll ever put out three albums in a row more brilliant than Big Star. [Yeah, I originally said "as brilliant," but of course many bands have arguably matched them, so let's agree on a big tie at the top.] And it's hard to find any group that changed so radically as Big Star did in the span of three records. I've found that Big Star fans tend to fall into three camps:
1) Regards #1 RECORD as an all-time masterpiece, loves or likes RADIO CITY a lot, has a problem with SISTER LOVERS -- it's too acid-casualty incoherent.
2) Regards SISTER LOVERS as an all-time masterpiece, loves or likes RADIO CITY a lot, has a problem with #1 RECORD -- it's too slick and commercial.
3) Regards RADIO CITY as an all-time masterpiece and loves both the other two in their own very different ways.
And, of course, some of us are "3+" -- they're all masterpieces in my book, but RADIO CITY is the creme de la creme.
Other reviewers have done a wonderful job of describing this music and its enormous influence on indy rock. However, some have repeated the rather pernicious myth about the commercial failure of the listener-friendly #1 RECORD: that radio programmers didn't like it, that the record's sound was somehow wrong for its time.
There are folks at BILLBOARD and CASHBOX magazines who were paid well to listen to new releases and report on their commercial potential. Here's what BILLBOARD said on 9/9/72: "Each and every cut on this album has the inherent potential to become a blockbuster single. The ramifications are positively awesome." Boy, hedging their bet, huh? Here's CASHBOX a week later: "An important album that should go to the top with proper handling."
But just after the record was released, Ardent Records and its parent label, Stax, got into a distribution mess. Not only was there no promo activity at radio stations, there were no records in stores for people to buy. No radio station was going to go out on its own to play a record that wasn't in stores, no matter what the trade mags were saying. End of story. And it's impossible to understand why Alex Chilton and Chris Bell fell apart psychologically (and why Chilton has gone out of his way to be anti-commercial ever since) without knowing this part of the story.
In the spring of 1975 I was a college radio DJ. I happened to be playing "When My Baby's Beside Me" while a group of high school kids were being given a tour of the station. A bunch of them knocked on the control room door and wide-eyed and breathlessly demanded to know what the song was and who did it. So, yeah, 16 year old kids hearing #1 RECORD for the first time, back more or less when it was made, had the same jaw-dropping reaction to it that people do now. Genius is timeless. And had Big Star been signed to a major label, rock 'n' roll history would be enormously different.
on December 1, 2003
The merits of Big Star can hardly be overstated due to the band's lasting influence on soooo many artists - an ABRIDGED list might include Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, Replacements, R.E.M., Game Theory, Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, and Jimmy Eat World. Of course, with most of these bands becoming MUCH more well known than Big Star, the influence is diminished somewhat because the original is heard AFTER the followers. Regardless, Big Star's 1st 2 albums create an essential release made even sweeter by the 2-for-1 deal, and the tunes still sound fresh listen after listen. A few songs drag a bit, to my ears anyway, but even the less enjoyable tracks like "Don't Lie To Me" and "Life Is White" are worthy due to great performances and lyrics. Along with Badfinger, Big Star is the absolute touchstone for melancholy pop songs that should have been huge hits - forming the basis for every power pop pretender to the throne. Fans of any aforementioned bands will do themselves a favor to pick this up, along with fans of absolute classics such as the Who, Beatles, and Byrds (lead genius Alex Chilton's faves).
"The Ballad Of El Goodo" - George Harrison-esque, shimmering ballad with stunning harmonies and guitars. One of the most celebrated examples of Chilton's genius.
"In The Street" - The feel-good Chris Bell classic that was used in "That 70's Show" (warning: that version was done by Cheap Trick!)
"Thirteen" - Another Chilton gem. Gorgeous acoustics, tender and somewhat striking lyrics. A great, honest portrait of youth.
"Way Out West" - Oh, those guitars... What a tune, this is the blueprint for all left of center jangle pop (and the guitar tone is frequently channeled by pop wonders such as Myracle Brah)
"Back Of A Car" - Great drumming! This song follows typical pop song structure but is quirky enough to stand out, and that chorus is to die for.
"September Gurls" - Depending on personal preference, this may edge out songs like "Surrender" and "Couldn't I Just Tell You" to be the #1 pop song EVER.
"I'm In Love With A Girl" - Heartbreaking and sweet, this is a pure and simple folksy ballad with engagingly imperfect vocals. Great album closer.
on June 16, 2009
So much has been written by the brilliant pop music of these two albums, that there's little left to say about the music itself. Lauded by critics and ignored by pop music buyers, Big Star became the most influential rock band never to make it commercially. Their debut album, cheekily titled "#1 Record" (1972) and its follow-up, "Radio City" (1974), were reissued in 1978 as a gatefold two-fer that pricked the ears of pop fans and collectors who'd missed their original release. The group's name would be bandied about by an ever-growing underground of in-the-know fans-turned-worshippers. The group's unreleased-at-the-time third album (alternately titled Third and Sister Lovers) appeared briefly on vinyl on the PVC label shortly thereafter. The `80s passed before a CD reissue of the seminal first two albums appeared on Big Beat in 1990. This was followed by a domestic release on Fantasy in 1992, which was paralleled by a period live FM broadcast from 1974, Big Star Live, and a CD reissue of Sister Lovers.
The attention finally brought vocalist/songwriter Alex Chilton back to his Big Star catalog, and along with original drummer Jody Stephens and the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, a reconstituted Big Star recorded a live album at Missouri University, Columbia. Additional reissues of the three studio albums followed, along with more archival live recordings and rehearsal tapes (Nobody Can Dance) and a studio album in 2005, In Space. The selling point of this latest reissue, aside from renewing media and retail interest in two of the greatest rock albums ever recorded, is a pair of bonus tracks. The first is the single version of "In the Street," which is an entirely different take than the album track. This version was previously reissued on a grey-market vinyl EP in the 1980s, and appeared on Ace's Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story. The second bonus is a single edit of "O My Soul" that shortens the original 5:35 to a radio-friendly 2:47.
The fold-out eight-panel booklet includes liner note from Brian Hogg penned in 1986 (as previously included in both Big Beat and Fantasy's earlier CDs), and shorter liner notes by Rick Clark, penned for Fantasy's previous domestic reissue. In fact, the booklet reproduces Fantasy's 1992 insert almost exactly, with the original's solicitation for a Fantasy catalog trimmed away and the two new tracks grafted onto the song listing in a font that doesn't quite match. Those who've purchased one of the many previous reissues might see if download services offer the bonuses as individual tracks; if not, buy this for yourself and give your old copy to someone yet to discover Big Star. That should hold you until Rhino's Big Star box set arrives in September. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]
Big Star is one of those rare bands that have almost been overpraised, while paradoxically have still not been praised enough. #1 RECORD/RADIO CITY really are as good as they have been portrayed. #1 RECORD features one incredible pop song after another, the work of the combined genius of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton. RADIO CITY largely lost Chris Bell as a contributor (due to profound depression), but while it differs from #1 RECORD, it is, if anything, an even better album, featuring some of the greatest songs ever penned by an American rocker. Each song on the CD is nearly perfect, and hearing one you would swear it is the highlight of the disc, only to find that the next one is just as perfect, and just as delightful. Just as an example, #1 RECORD begins with the incredible "Feel," only to move on to "El Goodo," which in turn gives way to "In the Street," which is followed by the classic teen ballad "Thirteen." Four absolutely perfect songs, each very different from the others. How can so many great songs be on a single album? And the album then moves on to other songs just as fine.
It is testimony to the greatness of these records that ten lovers of the album might have a different song as their favorite cut. My favs are "Way Out West" (with one of my all time favorite lyrics: "Sometimes, I think she'll make me forget/
What I need most to remember") "Mod Lang," and the exquisite "September Gurls," but I wouldn't quibble with someone who preferred as many as a dozen songs above those. The albums are that good.
If you don't own this album, it is imperative that you acquire a copy immediately. This is as good as any music that has been produced in the United States in the past 35 years.
on June 19, 1998
From the opening chords of "Feel" to the whistful harmonies of "I'm In Love with a Girl," this 2 albums-on-1CD is a one two punch of true power-pop. Taking its cue from mid-period Beatles and the Byrds, Big Star's first two albums are the blueprint for today's alternative rock. Hundreds of bands from The Replacements to TeenageFanclub to Matthew Sweet to The Posies to even the Bangles owe their success to this band. Poorly distributed albums and markteting misfires made what should have been America's resounding answer to Badfinger no more than myth in the making.
The first half of the disc comes from their first album, #1 Record and feature the full line up. The album, starting with kinetic energy of "feel," moves into less vitrolic waters with songs such as "My Life is Right," and "Watch the Sunrise." The one/two punch of song writers Chris Bell and Alex Chilton place their hearts in England by root their souls in their hometown of Memphis, giving them a feel that would later be called transitory in relation to college radio. These songs soar with heartache and seek for redemption--beit spiritual (Ballad of El Goodo) or emotional (Give Me Another Chance). The best of the first album may be summed up in "13," a song that aches to be heard as well as felt. Being in touch with universal truths is not an issue with Big Star.
The second half of the CD is from Radio City. By this time Chris Bell (Chilton's Partner) has gone and as a trio, the band embraces anglo-rock even futher as in the appropriatly titled "Mod Lang." Again Chilton brings beauty and grace to the listener in songs like "Daisy Glaze" or the odd "Morpha Too." Radio City contains Big Star's most "famous (?)" song, "September Gurls"--a track covered by The Bangles.
Big Star is the zero point for today's alternative crowd who lock-in with harmonies and heartache. If there was ever a band that must b! e heard, it would be Big Star.
on September 2, 2005
Ah...where to start. OK, the beginning...In 1985, the Bangles crossed over from college radio to the mainstream with the album, Different Light.It was pleasant slab of '60's infused alternapop with a couple of songs contributed by outside writers, "Christopher" and Jules Shear, noted for Cyndi Lauper's "All Through The Night". My future wife would turn me on to the album. One song in particular seemed to standout as a piece of three minute pop bliss - on side two, a song called "September Gurls", written by A. Chilton. Being rather ignorant at the time of A. Chilton, I was nevertheless intrigued. I later found out, A. Chilton belonged to a group called "Big Star", which was soon getting name dropped by Peter Buck of R.E.M., another recent discovery from the bubbling from under the surface college indie scene. Then, two years later, I came across an EP by the band Big Star, which included "Don't Lie To Me" and "When My Baby's Beside Me", from #1 Record, and, "She's A Mover" and the aforementioned "September Gurls" from Radio City. Being transfixed by "SG", it was the song I craved hearing first. Of course, I wasn't prepared for the edgy and denser feel of the original version. The Bangles made it so clean and precise. Of course, upon further listening, the sanitary feel of the Bangles version washed away and the rougher impact of the original left its mark. Next came the re-release of Radio City onto vinyl, and that was quickly grabbed up. And, again, the charms of Big Star were not so instant. But soon, the likes of "Back Of A Car", "Mod Lang" and "Way Out West" where finding themselves being played over and over again. And, when modern technology took over, this double CD of the first two albums came into my possession. And, it got worn out in the same manner. Personally, I like Radio City better. I don't know if there is a bad moment on this collection. #1 Record sounds like what U2 wanted to achieve emotionally on "Boy", the sound of innocence and wide-eyed wonder. "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "Thirteen", "Watch The Sunrise"...has Chilton ever sounded more optimistic? Bell's earnest open-heartenness on "My Life Is Right" is a long way away from the despair heard on "I Am The Cosmos". Clearly Bell and Chilton had their demons, and both had control issues. Again, if given a choice, Radio City comes with me to the desert island if I must make a choice. Paul Westerberg took copious notes listening to Radio City, where melodies were chiseled into place and cynicism and vulnerability walk hand in hand. On songs like "Life Is White", "You Get What You Deserve" and "What's Going Ahn", Chilton starts moving away from his earlier hope of adolescence, as bitterness and reality settle in. And, driven by the underrated element of Jody Stephens forceful drumming, the music adds to the emotional kick. (It's easy to see why Big Star acolytes Gary Louris and Jeff Tweedy jumped at the chance to get Stephens to man the drum kit for Golden Smog's "Weird Tales" in 1998.) To be honest, this is not easily digested, easily tossed aside music. Big Star is a band who gets better with with repeated listenings. And, there are moments on Radio City where the tension is so heavy that songs feel close to falling apart. (Again kudos to the stength of Jody Stephens to somehow keeping things together. His fill at the end of "September Gurls" is still a stunner.) But, for true pop afficianados, the likes who delve into the Yellow Pills collection, who recognise the pop smarts of "Headquarters" or who don't recoil from the term "power pop", these two albums are the proverbial Rosetta Stone.
on October 27, 2015
No one would say this is a horrible album, but it's easy to see why it never went anywhere.
The are no "rockers" on it. It's somewhat boring. No raw songs at all. No excitement, muted.
Great for relaxing I suppose. The songs themselves are not too bad, but the flat performance is under whelming.
You almost want to think Beatles, but then listen to Revolver or rubber Soul and you will hear the big difference.
Consider that in came out in the same time frame as "Physical Graffiti".- heck Carol King rocks it harder on Tapestry..
on August 24, 1999
the best albums ever made make you remember where you were and what you were doing the first time you listened to them. i've got a few of these memories but none as powerful and significant as this one here.
big star made 3 albums and this compilation is the first (and, by far, most accessible) two. #1 record was made by a wide-eyed and hopeful band who firmly believed in their abilities (look no further than their band name). all of this optimism comes across in the music and the feeling is contagious. it's a perfect combination of everything pure and good about rock/pop music, the energy ("don't lie to me," "feel"), the melody ("ballad of el goodo," "thirteen") and the hopefulness ("try again," "watch the sunrise").
radio city is a different story. things changed for big star for reasons we won't get into and the death of the blind optimism carried into the songs. and yet, radio city is better than #1 record, or, at the very least, as significant an achievement. besides "september gurls" (which has startling hidden backing vocals i didn't even hear for 4 years), there's an abundance of timeless classics that carried a greater influence on modern rock than perhaps anything else outside the beatles and the v. underground. "back of a car," "i'm in love with a girl," "what's goin ahn" and so many others are unforgettable. and there's "daisy glaze" and "you get what you deserve" to hint at what's to come, an album in stark contrast to #1 record that stands as a remarkable recording of a songwriter losing his innocence and optimism, an album perhaps even more important than these two...
big star is the very best band that ever got lost in the shuffle and i know someday they will indeed get what they deserve. i'm envious of anyone who has the opportunity to hear this stuff for the first time though i must say it's every bit as incredible and fresh now as it was on my 17th birthday when i finally got my license to drive and chose this as the soundtrack to my first driving experience.
on July 31, 1999
When it comes to great lost bands, Big Star surely tops the list! This CD combines their first two albums on one CD making 24 tracks in all. Disc 1 (#1 Record) features the combined songwriting of Alex Chilton (of Boxtops fame) and Chris Bell. It should have actually been a #1 record, but it somehow got lost in the crowd. It is a highly varied album ranging from acoustic/folk style tracks like "the Ballad Of El Goodo", "Thirteen", and "Watch The Sunrise" to all-out rockers like "In The Street" (the current theme to That 70's Show) and "Don't Lie To Me". Bass player Andy Hummel also contributes a great mellow track, "The India Song". This was one of the best albums of the 70's. "Radio City" (their 2nd album) was almost as good. The main thing missing is Chris Bell, who left the group, although it is rumored he contributed uncredited songwriting to several tracks, most notably "Back Of A Car" an absolutely fantastic Badfinger style track. (Bell died in a 1979 motorcycle crash-check out his "I Am The Cosmos" a great collection of his solo demos.) Anyhow, "Radio City" is more Chilton oriented and rocks a little harder, but lacks the great harmonies of "#1 Record". It does, however, contain Big Star's best song and the great lost single of the 70's "September Gurls",a fantastic piece of jangling guitar pop with incredibly catchy drumming by the under-rated Jody Stephens. It was later covered quite well by the Bangles. Either of these albums by themselves would be great. Getting both on one CD is one of the best investments any music fan could make!
on September 18, 1998
Adding to a pile of cliches, Big Star may be the ultimate unsung rock band. Everybody eventually caught on to the Velvet Underground, but poor Alex Chilton has had to suffer 25 years knowing that he created two of the most influential albums of all time and has gotten squat for it. I don't even begrudge him the minor sell-out he made by allowing "That Ridiculous 70's Show" to use BACK OF A CAR for its opening theme song.
Besides, what other band can claim to be named after a supermarket chain? (Piggly Wiggly Live at Budokan!)