"It's safe to say there would have been no modern pop movement without Big Star."
"Anyone not in possession of Big Star's three landmark studio albums...should stop reading this now and go purchase them."
"Radio City and #1 Record brim over with punchy songs that served as the blueprint for almost every power pop band to follow, and the much darker Third/Sister Lovers is a depressive masterpiece."
I read the first excerpt in a review for Third/Sister Lovers back in the early 1990s, and was dumbfounded. I had never heard of any such group before. And these guys were a major fount from which the likes of R.E.M., the Replacements, Happy Mondays, the dBs, the Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, the Posies, the Soup Dragons, and Matthew Sweet all came? (For starters.) Wow. Gotta pick this one up. (At the time, Third/Sister Lovers was a major disappointment for me. To be continued later.)
One of the group's founders and the resident genius, Alex Chilton, died on St. Patrick's Day this year. His death prodded me to get their first two albums, both on one CD. And OH MY GOD what was I thinking not getting them sooner?
#1 Record is a brilliant, perfect power-pop masterpiece, brimming with optimism, excitement, wistfulness, puppy love, and just plain fun. Do you dig '70s Aerosmith? Alice Cooper? Badfinger? Todd Rundgren? Love? Moby Grape? The Byrds? The soundtrack to Dazed and Confused? Or even the other bands I've already mentioned? Go out and get this album NOW.
Just like with the Descendents' Somery, I can't narrow down which song is the ultimate pinnacle on #1 Record. But let me see if I can capture the high points.
1) "Feel" - Subtle strumming and an eerie, plangent twang suddenly explode into fireworks of scream-singing and wild drumming that don't let up for the entire song. These guys are going for broke. One hellaciously beautiful way to start off an album.
2) "The Ballad of El Goodo" - Crappy song title. Beautiful, defiant Statement Of Purpose. Required listening for really earnest and idealistic kids who are determined to live life on their own terms, goddamnit.
3) "In The Street" - Big Star's only claim to fame over the past decade. That '70s Show swiped the song for the opening credits. Extra points for the hilarious line "Wish we had a joint so bad."
4) "Watch The Sunrise" - Gorgeous, gorgeous meditative 12-string showcase by Chilton. And yes, you can just imagine the sun rise as the song is playing.
5) "When My Baby's Beside Me" - Kinda lame beginning, but man, I defy you not to clap along to the chorus. Addictive.
6) "ST 100/6" - Indecipherable song title. Not even a minute long. Slightly psychedelic harmonies over some simple guitar chords. Complete in its incompleteness, perfect in its imperfection.
So why didn't these guys get a break? Apparently, Ardent Records (or maybe it was Stax...the details are kinda sketchy), the company in charge of printing and distribution really, really fell down on the job. People heard them and wanted to get their hands on #1 Record...it just wasn't available anywhere. Another, much lesser reason was that people in the early '70s were just done with the Beatles and the Byrds and all those other poppy, fun bands that were so last decade. I don't buy that excuse. Music like this is just too awesome and timeless to pass up.