#1 Record/Radio City
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They didn't sell a lick when they were released, but over the years the two albums by Alex Chilton's post-Box Tops band Big Star have taken on almost a mythical quality, cited by power-popsters (a power pop zine, Mod Lang, is named after one of their songs) and indie-rockers (think R.E.M especially) as hugely influential. Now, Fantasy is reissuing these two American rock classics on one newly remastered CD, with the rare bonus tracks In the Street (single mix) and O My Soul (single edit) to boot! Contains a contender for greatest rock and roll song ever written, September Gurls .
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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.
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]