Big Star

A misnomer if ever I've heard one!
*special introductory paragraph!
*#1 Record
*Radio City
*Third/Sister Lovers
*In Space

Big Star is another one of those bands that alternative folk hail as a lost American classic. Led by former Box Tops vocalist Alex Chilton (who was like 17 years old when he sang "Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane!"), Big Star were based in Memphis, TN, but sounded more like The Byrds or Rubber Soul-era Beatniks or something. Were they good? Definitely. Were they influential? That I don't know -- surely there are lots of bands that claim to be influenced by Big Star (REM and the Replacements, to name just a couple), but was Big Star really anything more than the sum of their influences? Or are they just considered a cult classic because they were a really good straightforward rock band that never had a radio hit, and thus make good fodder for indie rock name droppers to toss around? In other words, would we be speaking in the same reverent way about the Raspberries if "Go All The Way" hadn't made it big? Or would Tom Petty be considered an lost underground gem if he hadn't become a staple of FM radio? I'll leave that up to you to argue. All I know is that Big Star made three albums full of wonderful jangly guitar pop songs with vocals deviating wildly between high-pitched Sweet-style wailing and lovely low-key harmonizing. Read on for Smores!

#1 Record - Ardent 1972.
Rating = 8

I think I just described this album in the introductory paragraph. It has lots of great early-'70s power pop -- including "In The Street," which is now the theme to That '70s Show! So if you know that tune, you have a general idea of what this album sounds like, though it should be pointed out that both the Big Star version of that tune and the rest of this album are much less bombastic than the cover version you'll hear on that show. This is pop, man. Back when pop meant sing-songy melodies, sweet harmonies and yet GUITARS too, as opposed to today's definition of "pop," which appears to be songs written by a talentless songwriter for a young, attractive performer who can't actually sing to sing in a studio where they can pick the best of 15,000 different takes of each word, which is then slapped on top of a synthesizer-created background music created by a computer so that the young attractive star can tour around the world dancing on stage with one of those microphone headsets on.

Just like Alex Chilton!

By the way, when you hear the more lower-key songs on here like "The Ballad Of El Goodo," you will be astonished to find out that they were recorded in 1972. It sounds just like Son Volt or one of those other modern-day alt-country-rock bands! Weird, man. Either Big Star was ahead of their time or the alt-country-rock scene is totally retro! Probably the latter but who cares when the songs are this pretty?

Reader Comments (Evan Streb)
Well it's ABOUT TIME somebody reviewed this band!! Sheesh!

What I don't get is that I can think of at least two other bands (Badfinger and the Flamin' Groovies) that share the "normal guitar band" sound and were around at exactly the same time, and yet Big Star's the only one that gets the "cult legend" tag by rock critics. But the sound WAS influential! Do you have any idea how many 80s and 90s guitar pop bands there are out there that sound exactly like this?? Along with the post-Slanted era Pavement, you can hear Big Star's sound in bands like Teenage Fanclub, R.E.M., Game Theory, Let's Active, The dBs, and The Bangles. Well, okay, maybe not the Bangles, but they DID cover "September Gurls" on their Different Light LP, so I guess that does count as a little bit of influentialness. Neil Young (probably subconsciously) ripped a line off "Thirteen" for "My My Hey Hey". And of course there's the Replacements and their song "Alex Chilton", which just about defines. the term "influential."

Anyway, this album rules. It should have really been a number one record! But no, people were too busy listening to Tapestry, Four Way Street, and Jesus Christ Superstar to care. Were people really that stupid to ignore such a great album like this?

And what an album! There's the "And there ain't no one going to turn me round"s and BA DA BA BUM BUM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM CRASHes of "The Ballad of El Goodo". "In The Street" is the first part of the "car" trilogy (there's one on each album, and they all mark the emotional spirit of the band at the time) where everything is full of happiness, optimism, and hanging out down the street. "Thirteen" is just plain beautiful as well, as are "Watch The Sunrise" and "When My Baby's Beside Me". And the oddly-named closer, "ST 100/6" (???) finishes off the album with a GREAT guitar melody! And I'm glad they didn't turn it into an actual song because then it would have gotten monotonous like "Give Me Another Chance" or "Try Again" (the two songs on the album I don't much care for). But because they kept it under a minute, it's BEAUTIFUL! If a song ever seems too short, just rewind it and play it again. This one gets a nine. (Ranga John)
When I first heard Big Star's first two records (found on the one cd - how's that for nifty!), #1 Record was much more easy to listen to than Radio City and therefore likeable, but now I've had it for ages, I prefer the second one, but that doesn't take anything away from this fine album.

'The India Song' kinda sucks - I wouldn't really know though 'cos I don't listen to it often enough, some of the songs are simple pop ditties, but they're all damn good - special mention to 'The Ballad of El Goodo', 'Give me Another Chance' and 'Watch the Sunrise', 'Thirteen' is also pretty great.

Nothing different to say about this album than Prindle and 1000 other reviewers have already said.

It's criminal however, that it isn't as listened to and revered as other albums which to my ears are pieces of crap.

Nine thingies from me.... (Adam Bruneau)
Another band is hoisted up to the stature of greatness in the name of indie rock elitism. And it's not that Big Star is a crappy band - far from it! The drummer can drum, the singer can sing, the guitars have an AMAZINGLY sweet jangly tone to them, and they rock out like your average 70's rock band. But that's just the problem. After years and years of hearing the hype of this band I expected nothing short of a full album of terrific rock songs and innovative recording techniques. But I don't know. About 80 per cent of these songs sound very samey to me and aren't that memorable at all. To answer Mark's question about whether or not they'd be as highly regarded if they were a mainstream band....I would think not at all. Big Star was just another 70's rock band, albeit with an interesting sound and a softer, poppier side, but it's still just mediocre 70's rock. Having said that, "Feel" is an amazing song and "In The Street" is the best Byrds rock song ever. And "India Song" really reminds me of that Flaming Lips tune with a similar name.... (Roland Fratzl)
"In The Street" was an awesome choice as the theme to That 70's Show! They could have picked a thousand better known songs from the era, but to their credit they didn't pick something obvious and predictable, and it's a jem! I had never heard of Big Star before, hell, even my brother hadn't ever heard of them before, and he grew up in that era and is a 70's music and pop culture authority! What I wanna know is, why did they get Cheap Trick to cover the song and now exclusively use their version of it as the show's theme? It's not bad, but it doesn't seem to have quite the same energy as the original. Also, ever notice that part in the middle of AC/DC's "Shoot To Thrill" where a very brief riff sounds the same as the beginning to the main "In The Street" riff??

By the way, the show rules! I'm real worried about it eventually turning into That 80's Show though, because we all know what happened to good bands and artists once the 80's rolled around!
I really like big stars #1 record. It is one of the most purely pretty albums I have ever heard, but never too sissyish; this aint power pop, this is effeminate folk/jangle pop, buy it if you like the Beatles and CSNY. a really high 9. (Mike K.)
I'll have to pretty much agree that the band wouldn't quite be thought of as legendary if this album and Radio City both lived up to their names and spawned radio standards or whatever. That said, both albums still very much stand the test of time today, because excellent guitar pop is still excellent guitar pop. Almost everything here sounds like something that really should have been a radio standard of some kind, especially "in the street" and "the ballad of el goodo". I don't much care for "when my baby's beside me", "don't lie to me" or "india song" though, and the first two of those three songs were actually apparently the singles from the album. Which kind of helps explain part of the reason it didn't sell too well, neither of them are particularly bad songs, they just don't stand out in the enviroment of the rest of the album, and probably wouldn't stand out much on rock radio circa 1972. Also, while all the ballads on this album have great melodies, I hate how most of them are all piled up there on the second side, because after you hear so many slow songs right in a row like that, it gets to the point where another ballad would have to be the best song ever written to grab your attention. So to sum up, this one is great, but the next album is better, and that reissue that features both albums on the same cd is god's gift to shoving two amazing but pretty short concurrent albums into each other, not unlike All The Stuff And More Vol. 1 by the Ramones.
Big Star is a band I seeked out purely because of the hype. My first exposure to them was through the Replacements. First, there was the song "Alex Chilton", then I heard their awesome cover of "September Gurls". I had to hear the original stuff and so off to the record store I went and back I came with the first two Big Star albums on one CD. Very handy. So how'd they hold up?

Well, I'd probably place "Radio City" in my top ten somewhere. "#1 Record", while good, isn't one of my favorites. First, let me speak of it's virtues. The first four songs are all classics. "Feel" is a great upbeat pop song (where, ironically enough, the key lyric is "I feel like I'm dying"). "The Ballad of El Goodo" is even better. Low key intro and verses and booming, poppy chorus that drills it's way into your head and stays there. How could radio pick up on this? A travesty. The fact that it took "In the Street" about 25 years to get popular is even more of a travesty. It's pure, straight on rock and roll. Like someone else said, the perfect song to mindlessly drive around to. "Thirteen" is the exact opposite of "In the Street". Consisting of just a guy and his guitar, it takes us back to a time where complicated, painful things like relationships were much less complicated, but no less painful. In short, a really goddamn good song.

The rest isn't on the same level. I like "When My Baby's Beside Me", "My Life is Right", and "Watch the Sunrise". "The India Song" was okay in a quirky kinda way the first time I heard it, but I just can't bring myself to keep listening to it. The rest of the songs I really don't care much for. The main problem was that the band didn't stick to the rocker/ballad/rocker/ballad formula they laid down in the first half of the album. After "My Life is Right", the energy is gone and there's nothing but ballads for the rest of the record. That would be fine if the songs were great, but for the most part, they all sorta sound the same. Only "Watch the Sunrise" stands out because of it's beauty and it's slightly faster tempo.

It's probably only deserving of a 7, but considering the quality of the best songs on the record, I can't bare to give it any less than an 8.
Eh... I dunno. A few of these songs are the goods, and "El Goodo" is one of the greatest things I've ever heard in my life, but most of it is kinda blah. Over-cheery, proto-Cheap Trick stuff. I will say that it does a great job of brewing up an "early 70's small town stoner" vibe; only the movie "Dazed & Confused" did a better job of that.

Poor, overlooked Chris Bell. His only solo record ("I Am The Cosmos", released posthumously in 1992) is the schnig, if a little uneven. That title track is so fucking powerful; it doesn't SOUND like pain, it IS pain. Highly recommended.

Add your thoughts?

* Radio City - Ardent 1974. *
Rating = 10

Man, does this album sound like Pavement. If you ever thought Pavement were doing something new (which hopefully you weren't fool enough to do), you gotta check thishit out. The vocals are higher-pitched, but the roughshod scraggly guitars playing slightly countryish, slightly rockish, slightly bluesish, VERY memorable riffs make it obvious that Crooked Rain Crooked Rain was a song-for-song complete ripoff of this album.

Oh, okay, that last bit was a josh on my part, but if you like Pavement, you should be really big on the Stars, especially this record. Slow songs that don't bore - just really handy-dandy guitar pop tunes played loosely and lovelyly. Oh drat, could that word lend itself any LESS to the art of the adverb?

One of the main guys in the group, Chris Bell, quit before they recorded this one, which might be why this one seems more like the Sticky Fingers to the last record's Between The Buttons, aside from the last couple tunes, which sound holy MACKAREL like '65 Beatles. Another point of interest is how much Big Star's songwriting resembles the stuff Cheap Trick would be writing a few years later. What makes this a point of interest is that Cheap Trick later did a cover of "In The Street" for That '70s Show! I used to watch that show, back when I had a TV. Is it still any good? What about The X-Files? Is it just as dumb without Mulder as it was with Mulder?

I don't think this album is perfect, but it IS great and a 10 is as good as any other number I might use to refer to it. Critics usually mention "Back Of A Car" and "September Gurls" by name, so there, I mentioned them by name. Now I'm a real critic. Somebody send me a jazz reissue to rave about.

Reader Comments (Ranga John)
This easily gets my ten.

To my ears 'September Gurls' is the best 'pop' song ever written, better than anything written by any of the sixties groups or anyone since.

I love nearly all the songs on this album. 'Daisy Glaze', 'You Get What You Deserve' & 'What's Going Ahn' should have inspired countless throngs on teenagers the way that 'Yesterday' or 'A Hard Day's Night' did - maybe Big Star weren't good looking enough.

'Back of a Car' and 'Mod Lang' don't tickle my fancy as the other songs on the album - but they're still good nonetheless.

As said - Ten.... (Evan Streb)
Sounds like Pavement?? Methinks not... Big Star weren't screaming "I'LL TRY AND I'LL TRY AND I'LL TRY" fifty thousand times, nor were they torturing you with one minute blasts of feedback sludge like "Recorder Grot" and "Internal K-Dart." Seriously, why would anybody want to listen to that? (but "Summer Babe," "Fame Throwa," "Trigger Cut," and "In The Mouth of a Desert" rule!!) (haven't heard any of the other albums yet, but I'm looking...).

Now onto Radio City. It's CLASSIC!! I actually think "O My Soul" and "Back of a Car" are better songs than anything the Beatles ever did. And that INCLUDES masterpieces like "Mr Moonlight," "Hold Me Tight," and "Cry Baby Cry." The way in "O My Soul" when they reach that middle eight with the really fast guitar solo that seems to speed up and then they go crashing back into the "Never you mind..." bridge is just the greatest. And man oh man do "O My Soul" and "Back of a Car" have some cool drums in them. And most everybody knows how awesome the last three songs are. Sometime ago Ardent re-released #1Record and Radio City on a single double-album CD. THAT gets the ten, except for "Mod Lang" and "Don't Lie to Me" which are lame attempts to "rock out". It's really sad that such a poppy band would be so left out in the cold (even though the chorus to "Back of a Car" has the exact same melody as the chorus to Semisonic's "Closing Time"). Even MORESO than the Replacements. And great liner notes too. The story of the band.

By the way Mark I forgot to mention this earlier, your slamming of pop music in the #1 Record review has got to be one of the coolest things I've ever read on your site. Ten records for THAT...
Dude, all I hear about this album is that it's great pop music- but get this- it rocks hard. and is sometimes harder to take. geez, the mix is scary. better drums than...well, almost anything else. but scary!!! since #1 record is easier, less edgy listening, i like it better initially, but i bet i'll be playing this one a lot in the coming months.
Big Star may be overrated in the influence stakes, and it is true that it is trendy to throw their name around as an influence. But Radio city is an awesome display of at times swampy at times pure pop. September girls is a classic, but dont forget "Im in love with a girl" - a ballad Lou Barlow circa 1987 would have been proud of.

As for the Pavement sound, some of the sharper moments remind me of them, but you cannot go past Lou Reed and the Velet Underground, plus a twist of Ziggy Stardust to see what records mr Malkmus got stuck into at high school.

RIP both Pavement AND Big Star.
I like radio city even more then #1 record (what a stupid cliche) but not by much, now THIS is power pop and all really great power pop! it kinda reminds me of what the replacements and R.E.M sound like, only with really 70ish production, another really high 9 (the reissue that has both #1 record and radio city gets my ten)

Chris Jordan
Big Star seem to be regarded in retrospect as some kind of psychotic guitar-pop band. Wrong!!!!

Radio City, Side 2. Possibly the greatest 20 minutes of pure, unadulterated ROCK music ever to disapear without trace into the remainder bins. Big Star were 10 years too late and 10 years to soon.

Daisy Glaze......when that keening guitar comes in after the slow, long intro of the GREAT moments in rock 'n' roll....

If the rest of the album was 40 minutes of white noise, Daisy Glaze would make it one of THE seminal albums. As it is, there are also " September Gurls", "Back Of A Car", "Mod Lang".....just give it a listen. The sound of a band falling apart, and being savagely rivetted together by the pure power of will of Jody Stephen's drums during "She's A Mover"....

Sure, they were not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves. The Byrds, The Beatles... we all know the litany. But hey, if you're going to be influenced, have the good grace to be influenced by the best! (Jon)
For the love of God, don't forget "You Get What You Deserve." That gets this the ten all by itself. Perfect squashed-clean guitar tones, looming big-brother drums and those fleighty little vocals...! The whole atmosphere of this is so pop-happy and undeniably fun that no one could really hate it. I think "Back Of A Car is a little too dopey, though. In fact, some of these(especially the last track) sound suspiciously like Barrett compositions! Just imagine him singing his weird melodies ove rit.
Well, this is more like it. Despite the fact # 1 Record had some fine songs that everyone should be forced to hear, Radio City is Big Star's real masterstroke. Considering the mostly negative things I've been hearing about Alex Chilton's solo career, it's probably his masterstroke to. I'll definately concur with Prindle's ten.

What I love about Radio City is that the pop sense of the previous record is still there, but is backed up with more balls. Even the poppiest stuff here ("September Gurls") has a rock edge and that's really appreciated. It also helps that the ballads don't make up two-thirds of the record. You don't have to love powerpop to appreciate this. You just need a healthy appreciation for good guitar driven music.

From the opening hard rock chords of "O My Soul", you know you're in for something more harder edged. There's harder rocking songs such as "Life is white", "Mod Lang", and "She's A Mover". There's more melodic pieces such as "Way Out West", "You get what you deserve", and "Back of a Car". The ballads are all of special note, which is nice after the many bland ones on # 1 Record. "What's Going Ahn" is really pretty and heartfelt (junior high slow dance material...really...). "Daisy Glaze" starts off slow and melodic, then lifts up into bouncy, rock/pop territory. The closer, "I'm in love with a girl", is especially nice. Essentially the happier cousin of "Thirteen", it stands as the only happy song after a whole record full of tortured romanticism. Also, I can't help but sing along to the goddamn thing, even when I'm completely miserable.

Then there's "September Gurls". The best song the boys at Big Star ever wrote. It captures the angst of a tentative relationship perfectly. No more needs to be said.

Also, no more needs to be said on how great the record is. If you don't have it, buy it. Especially if you dig R.E.M., The Replacements, or are into 90s powerpop bands like the Teenage Fanclub and the Posies.
Eh, I've always found Big Star pretty overrated. Like you said in your intro, you could say that they're no more than the sum of their influences (but then you could just say that I'm stealing your words and get pissed off at me). More importantly though, I noticed a Cheap Trick comparison. Now there's a band you need to review. Any chance?
This album is incredible.

The songs are fantastic enough, but what moves this up from merely great into mind-blower territory are Alex Chilton's performances and the production, which are both uniformly amazing.

Chilton's guitar work is inspiring on this album, and pretty much set the course for a scary amount of power-pop guitar playing that followed. His vocal performances, simply, are beyond reproach.

I admit I am raving about this album right now, and probably giving it a better rep than it actually deserves, but I plead weakness in the knees for that astoundingly gorgeous guitar tone. To this day, it's one of the greatest guitar tones I have ever heard, and I would argue it's one of the greatest guitar sounds ever laid to tape.

There are no bad songs here, and the only cuts that are a little below the standards the rest of the album sets are "She's a Mover" (definitely enjoyable, but a little indistinct and fillerish, albeit filler most bands would shit themselves for) and "Morpha Too" (Chilton strains for the high notes here, and the piece as a whole feels a bit thrown together and off the cuff - in an unmemorable way).

The highlights are "O My Soul," "Life Is White," "What's Goin' Ahn," "Back Of A Car," "Daisy Glaze," "September Gurls" and "I'm In Love With A Girl." Even the songs that aren't quite as good as these have moments that elevate them beyond being good songs (e.g., the jawdropping chorus to "Way Out West").

"Radio City" is a 10, no question.
Hm, I actually enjoy "#1 Record" more than this one. While I love "Way Out West," "Back of a Car," and "September Gurls" as much as the next red-blooded, American male, it's the overall tone that bothers me. Alex Chilton is a great pop song writer (underline "pop" in your head) who tends to screw up when he tackles genres that have no place for pop. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but when Chilton tries to rock out, be soulful, or play some untamed 70's hard rock, the results sound incredibly forced; sometimes these results still sound pretty great ("O My Soul," "Life is White") despite the contrived tone, and other times they're songs I could enjoy never hearing again (the sloppy, uninteresting "Mod Lang" and "She's a Mover" come to mind). Maybe what bothers me the most about this record's low points is my impression that Chilton is really forcing the band to play this way, and it's just not their style. Chris Bell was a sober ying to Chilton's dominating, raging yang (don't you love my metaphors?!), and when Bell left due to Chilton's case of Mark E. Smith, the result, to me, wasn't as good. If I want messy, gritty, awesome 70's hard rock I'll listen to Aerosmith or take out the Led-- not listen to freaking Big Star.

On the same note, I saw Alex Chilton live a few months ago and it was one of the worst concert experiences ever; if I didn't know the guitarist/singer was Alex Chilton, I would have taken them to be a recently-reunited-after-200-years group I wouldn't hire to play a dive bar out in the sticks. Seriously, they were that bad. Alex Chilton couldn't play his guitar for shit (his solos were sloppy excursions of atonal nonsense) and the band screwed up constantly. It reminded me of a quote of Chilton's where he said something like "I'm not a musician, I'm a performer." Indeed, watching this guy try to be soulful on stage and rock out was pathetic; not because of his age, mind you, but because it wasn't natural. Write some great pop songs, leave the awesome solos to musicians, and if you can't sing, then have someone else sing, Alex. I wouldn't be so upset, but that concert was freaking expensive!

Add your thoughts?

Live - Rykodisc 1992
Rating = 7

When underappreciated Bee Gee "Rats Gib" puts out a live album, that's a time to rejoice and I don't just mean people with eggs (women). Recorded live in a Long Island radio station in 1974, this recording captures Big Star at a point when they arguably weren't even Big Star anymore (both Chris Bell and the original bassist had quit). But whom cares? Children by the million wait for Alex Chilton to come runnin' because we're in love with that song. Which song? APLENTY, that's which song precisely! He was a great pop/rock songwriter back in the early 20s; that much is clear to all the flappers who

He was a great pop/rock songwriter back in his early 20s; that much is clear to anyone who has given the first two Big Star albums the attention they deserve as anachronistic '60s pop albums released when America was wife swapping and snorting cocaine off of Emerson Lake and Palmer. Unfortunately, when performing live, Alex's voice refused to hit the high notes. Which kinda, you know, RUINS most of the beautiful songs. They're still musically lovely though! His guitar strings do a fine job of living up to expectation.

This live tape cassette features four songs from the first record, nine from the second, one boring Loudon Wainwright cover and a 3-minute interview demonstrating Alex's really weird twangy Memphis accent. Four of the songs are performed solo acoustic, and his voice does fine in those so it must be the struggle of being heard above the noisy din of the rackety electrical amplifiers that leads to his horrific wasteful vocal destruction of "In The Street," "Daisy Glaze," "O My Soul" and brethren of that ilk. Now SING with me!!! Be kind to your four-hoof-ed friends! For an elk may be somebody's brethren! Be kind to thejl;kas

Three interesting things to note: (a) Alex states that #1 Record by this point had become impossible to find in stores, (b) the drummer sings "Way Out West," and has quite the weak voice, and (c) "Back Of A Car" is a song so catchy, I could shit myself.

So if you're having constipation issues, try shitting in the back of a car. Everybody loves a "Shit Car"!

The preceding has been a paid advertisement by General Motors' "Shit Car" Division.

Add your thoughts?

Third/Sister Lovers - Rykodisc 1978.
Rating = 7

Odd bird of a record. Stig Bar's looseness topped with mellotrons and violins and stuff. Supposedly Alex didn't give a shit what people thought of the record and it kinda shows. These songs are much less instantly accessible than the stuff he wrote for the last two records. Most of them are still really good though! Just a little stranger, slower, herkier-jerkier and more oddly produced than the "oh yeah, i get that!" Beatles and Stonesisms of the previous couplet. Maybe these are Electric Prune-isms? Whatever 'tis, this is darn near avant-garde guitar pop in its crankly noisefilled barber shopism.

Say - Alex Chilton has a bee-u-ti-fle voicebox, which you'd never guess judging from the hoarse, gruff approach he used for the Box Tops way back in the '10s. Now he sounds like Roger McGuinn! For more on Roger McGuinn, check out my Byrds reviews!

"Blue Moon" sounds too much like "Pachelbel's Canon" though. Why are there so many songs that sound like "Pachelbel's Canon"? I HATE that about music! And what's the Velvet Underground cover? Hasn't everybody realized yet that the Velvet Underground were never any good at all, even a little bit? Nor were Renaissance, Peter Gabriel or Rod Stewart? In fact, the world would be a better place if all of those talentless shit artists were tied up in a sack and thrown into the East River to claw each other's eyeballs out as they drown to death like they fucking deserve to, the worthless pieces of shit!

Nah, just kiddin'. ;7)

Reader Comments (Ranga John)
I don't get these harrowed masterpiece albums that critics suck cock over.

Neil Young's Tonight's the Night and Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers are both hailed for their shambolicness - but to my ears they just sound ordinary.

Why listen to the unproduced, out of tune and unrehearsed sounds of 'Jesus Christ' or 'Mellow My Mind' (from TTN), when one can listen to the aural bliss of 'September Gurls' or 'Powderfinger'?

I just don't get the albums, maybe I will someday, but at the moment I don't. Scrath that - I *get* the albums, I don't get the praise for them, maybe critics praise them (not you Mark!) because they want to sound educated.

This gets a four... (Scott Shanley)
this album is mind blowing. someday you'll put it in and realize that it is the only album that will do. radio city was a masterpiece, sisterlovers is a disasterpiece. I give it an 11. It's one of the those that requires much more work from the listener, like the stones exileon main st. or neil young's tonight's the night; these albums expand in your mind for years. radio city was a total stroke of genius but this was something different altogether. 11.
To answer Ranga John's question, I like to listen to the "shambolic" (I don't think that is a real word, but it certainly should be) music of Sister Lovers or Tonights the Night or the Meat Puppets, etc, etc, because I find something very beautiful in fragility. The songs on Sister Lovers sound as though they could fall apart at any second, and sometimes even do for a few seconds. But they always manage to barely hold together and continue. If the songs were crappy to begin with, I might not like it, but for the most part, they would be beautiful songs if they were recorded like the first two albums. To my ears, the "unproduced, out of tune and unrehearsed sounds" enhance the beauty of the album. It is similar to the way the Venus de Milo is more beautiful because her arms were ripped off. It is a bittersweet beauty, that reminds me of the fragility of everything in life.

To offset the pretension and seriousness of this: POOP POOP POOP (Evan Streb)
One depressing as hell album. Every single song you can just tell Chilton is about to go to pieces. Listen to the way he sings the choruses of "Kizza Me" and the bitterly ironic "Thank You Friends." And he goes even further by purposely ruining each song's pop potential. THAT'S why the songs sound so shitty, because Alex Chilton had had enough of playing the pop music industry game so he deliberately tampered with these songs to make them "uncommercial." A landmark alternative recording. "Jesus Christ" has a supercool carnivalesque opening that transforms into a power pop riff in the blink of an eye. "O Dana" starts with the line "I'd rather shoot a woman than a man," "Stroke It Noel" sounds like it could fall apart at any second (great strings melody though!!), "Downs" features a basketball for a snare drum, and the two dirge-like ballads "Kanga Roo" and "Holocaust" (my favorite Big Star song ever) are just plain spooky. The equally dirge-like "Big Black Car", with its melancholy lyric insisting that "It's all right," fits the car trilogy perfectly. The Velvet Underground cover is better than the original (thanks to it being sung by someone that actually, you know, has a decent voice!!), "Till The End Of The Day" could be sung by The Shaggs and it would still rule, and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On"??? It, it really sucks to be honest with you.

That said, most of the melodies on here are really really great, despite Alex's deliberate attempts to sabotage them. This gets a nine.

P.S. Mark, for the love of God, STOP KNOCKING RADIOHEAD!!!!!!!!!!! Trust me, in today's pop music world, they are one of the good guys. (Joe H.)
I think this might be my favorite Big Star album overall. The first 2 were more sunny 70's pop/rock (which don't get me wrong is awesome stuff too), but this album sounds pretty damn ahead of it's time for being recorded in 1974. This stuff sounds like what bands were doing in the 80's, 90's and sometimes some bands from today. A song like "Kanga-Roo" reminds me of indie bands from Sonic Youth to Flaming Lips. Reminds me of Flaming Lips a lot though. Most of it is depressing as hell though, but it's beautiful stuff. The upbeat stuff is really great too, like "Thank You Friends" and "Kissa Me", which resembles some stuff by John Lennon, though probably more erratic sounding.

The 2nd side sounds weaker, but "Blue Moon", and "Nightime" are beautiful songs and "You Cant Have Me" sounds a HELL of a lot like The Who to me. The great sounding Who. Some songs i find to be lesser like "Stroke It Noel" or "O, Dana" but the whole album is a very interesting listen and sure experimental for it's time. "Holocaust" in particular is one of the most depressing songs i've ever heard, but for that reason i find it to be quite beautiful. The vulnerability in Alex's voice and the lonelyness of the piano chords and dark echo gets to me all the time. The Velvet Underground cover might not of been needed, but i really like it because it was way before covering VU was the trendy thing to do, and plus "Femme Fetal" is actually a gorgeous song buried under VU's underproduced version. Alex sounds more appropriate singing this than Nico in my opinion.

Some of the bonus tracks are cool too, like the weird percussive "Downs", and "Nature Boy" which has more nice piano. I'll give it a 9/10. Not a perfect album, but one of my favorites of the 70s regardless. (Jack Clements)
Great music, and yes, probably loved by asshole critics because they were almost universally ignored. Try slumming around the bars on the fringes of the French Quarter (New Orleans). You stand a pretty good chance of running into Mr. Alex Chilton himself. For the price of a few drinks he will tell you exactly how unimportant Big Stars influence really was.
There's a reason why this overlooked album consistently is named by critics as a masterpiece. Quite simply, it is a masterpiece and Mark's low rating on it belies the importance of an essential document highlighting a man's (Alex Chilton) last creative gasp before packing it all in. Literally.

So you've read the replies and many of them contain the phrase "I really don't understand why critics love this album" while declaring the only reason they ever picked up a Big Star album was because of a cock sucking critic. Let me be clear on this; the two reasons I ever ventured into my own Big Star territory was because of 1.) A Replacements song praising Alex Chilton/Big Star and 2.) Continual critical print proclaiming Big Star to be the shit. The irony here is the first Alex Chilton album I ever listened to after all of this high praise happened to be "Like Flies On Sherbert." For anyone ever familiar with that album, you'll understand why I avoided Big Star for several years afterwards. If "Third/Sister Lovers" is indeed the sound of Chilton giving up, "Sherbert" is the sound of him flinging his own excrement around.

But then I came across "High Priest" and, even though it didn't knock me over, it did mildly hint at some talent that I filed under "I'll check out Big Star some other day." In a strange twist of fate, I actually met Alex Chilton after he performed some Box Tops songs for an oldies fair circuit gig. I wanted to ask him "What the fuck were you thinking when you did 'Sherbert?'" but instead asked the moronic question "Do you still keep in touch with Westerberg?" He politely answered me and then left to go buy some pot. I felt stupid and soon afterwards purchased the combo "#1 Record/Radio City" released on John Fogerty's favorite record label in the world, Fantasy. As I'm not reviewing those records, let me fast forward to when I finally got around to "getting" "Third/Sister Lovers."

So getting there takes some work, empathy, and patience. It's not an album that you can actually survive listening to repeatedly. It's an album that seems to fit a specific mood, usually during bouts of clinical depression, and to make matters worse, Chilton apparently tried everything to sabotage the mix. What this means is that you aren't blessed with an album that sounds entirely right. But that's exactly where Chilton's head was and exactly the type of album he wanted to make. But what he didn't understand was that a very vocal minority of record buyers could understand his head-space and could somehow relate to his discourse.

"Holocaust" remains as probably the best song in the Big Star setlist. "Kanga-Roo" started as an intentional mindfuck, but subsequently influenced dozens of mindfuck bands that managed to sell more record copies in one year than Big Star managed in their entire existence. And fuck me if I don't find myself humming "Jesus Christ was born today" on every Christmas since I first heard it.

It's been said by several posters that there is an underlying beauty in this albums fragility. Indeed, the sound of fucking up, falling apart, and overall ambivalence has never sounded so stunning. And why do we continue to discuss it? Because there hasn't been an album this desperately beautiful since "Third/Sister Lovers" was originally released.
THIS is how I likes my Big Star... fucked up, strung out & suicidal. Those guitars sound like ghosts, and Chilton is about 10 seconds away from slitting his fucking wrists at all times. This is probably the most unnerving record I own.
This is far more interesting a listen than the first couple Big Star albums. I ain't knocking #1 or Radio City. They are excellent, crystalline slabs of powerful pop.

But this album is just out there on its own. It's a singular piece of music. I do not care much for the more rocking tunes on the album. I agree they do sound sorta rote and bland or generic, but the ballads really kill me. Big Black Car, Blue Moon, Take Care, Dream Lover. I don't ususally care much for "naked weepy fragile" songs, but these just sound so demented and real.

So, it's a 50/50 record, but the good half is so good it redeems the rest and makes it essential.
their best record. Big Black Car is amazing.

Add your thoughts?

In Space - Rykodisc 2005
Rating = 7

Since Alex Chilton got fiddlesticked by Hurricane Katrina, and now Hurricane Rita is in the process of murdering another 1,000 or so people, I figure today is the perfect time to review the Big Star reunion album, recorded by two original members of Big Star and two other guys.

It's good. Not great perhaps, but it's neat that after 50 or 60 reportedly weak solo albums, Alex was still able to reach back into the cobwebbed haunts of his cluttered mind and retrieve that once-so-strong Beatles influence.

And Byrds influence.

And Beach Boys.

And '60s soul funk.




Oh, and classical.

Yes, it's thi - oh hang on, Chuck Berry as well.

And I suppose a little Jimi Hendrix too, if you want to count that one song.

And yes, there does seem to be a bit of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in there.

In other words, by "In Space," they actually mean "In Alex Chilton's Record Collection," though unfortunately it's probably all wet no thanks to Led Zeppelin's irresponsible influence on the local levee system, a huge fan. Having said that, I'd rather lose my record collection than wind up a corpse draped over a fence, and I imagine the Replacements' "Alex Chilton" probably feels the same.

The guitar tones on In Space are straight out of the early '70s -- so much so that you may actually mistake some of these new creations as unreleased outtakes from that period. Even Chilton's voice retains some of its early beauty (though not in every song), and the record features TONS of warm, lovely vocal harmonies. The only problem - and really, this shouldn't come as a shock since the last Big Star album was three decades ago - is that its melodies are much less winningly innovative and memorable than those on the original records. Only a few of the songs (the wonderful dark-to-light ballad "Lady Sweet," cheery bubblegum "Turn My Back On The Sun," and melancholy minor-key "Hung Up With Summer" -- the former two of which were apparently written by the NEW band members and not Alex at all!) give me that "Holy Joe these guys are songwriting Genusess!" feeling that I got from the first two Big Star records. Still, the rest of the CD is at least FUN.

Why fun? Because it's so DIVERSE, you'll think it's a VERSE about somebody named "DI"! Alex's muse is all over the place, and a tremendous goodtime feeling shines through as he plows his way through Raspberries/Badfinger-type happy guitar strummers, mid-60s garage rock, Sebadoh-esque slacker confession, horn-laden soul novelty, Hendrixy funk blues jammin', Brownsville Station 50's boogie woogie and (gaspy!) a classical composition performed on '70s distorted electric guitars. Unfortunately, as cool as this idea sounds, it also means that several of the songs could easily be written off as 'genre exercises' (critics' cliche! Whee! Look at me! I'm doing my Jazz Fusion Sit-Ups! Let me know when you're off the Grind Gore Monkey Bars!), and one or two of them are so badly done they seem almost like parodies. For example, am I nuts or is Alex simply MAKING FUN of black people in "Love Revolution"? Not to mention that faux-funky "cool hip guy" spoken shit in "Makeover," which makes Jon Spencer sound like James Brown.

No, I mean literally. Whenever Jon Spencer hears that spoken shit, his voice suddenly takes on a much different timbre. Nobody has figured out the physics involved, though his incessant heroin gargling can't help.

Two cute musical references to note: The intro guitar lick to "Best Chance We've Ever Had" is pulled from The Beatles' "You Won't See Me," and the first lyric is "Wait!," the title of another Beatles song on the same record. That's the first. I know it appeared to be BOTH of the two references I mentioned, but I consider "Wait!" to be kind of a sub-reference of the first. So here is the official second reference. Please allow me deference. The first vocal of "Turn My Back On The Sun" is an homage to the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

I thought of a fantastic pick-up line last night. "If my balls were filled with ink, I'd write a sonnet all over your lower back." It's good because it immediately creates the impression that you are a deep, sensitive poet and artist.

Also, here's something I posted on a message board a couple days ago, but I'd like to hear your thoughts as well:

What do record critics mean when they say "Best Albums of All Time"? Like when they make a list in Rolling Stone. What are they saying? That the albums in their list are the most popular albums of all time? No, because then they'd include shit pop albums that sell a lot. So are they saying they're the most popular albums "among people who matter"? They're certainly not saying "The most expertly performed albums" or Joe Satriani and crap like that would make the lists. Most influential? Because an album is copied by people with less imagination, that makes it "one of the best albums of all-time"?

Also, a friendly reader who doesn't like the Beatles was making the point to me that he's more of a lyrics man and the Beatles' lyrics were 95% cliches, jokes and meaningless bullshit. And you know? He's RIGHT! Yet they are constantly called the "greatest pop band of all time."

So is it just popularity among the highest number of music critics that makes one go down in history as "great"?

Also, while we're on the topic of things I posted on a music message board, why do certain melodies sound "happy," others "sad," others "angry" and so on? Is it just that we've grown up correlating certain keys and sounds with the emotions that we've always heard them corresponding to? For example, happy music on a children's TV show, or scary music in a horror movie... Or is there something within the actual musical notes - the way the sound waves interact, hit our ears and register in our brains - that conjures up these feelings? You're the music scientist - you tell ME!

Reader Comments
"For example, am I nuts or is Alex simply MAKING FUN of black people in "Love Revolution"?"

You're nuts. He's making fun of modern hippie types with their horrible funky jam-rock, and their hideous, stinky festivals. If you've ever had the misfortune of stumbling onto one of those abominations, "Love Revolution" will either crack you up or make you run for cover.
Just writing in to say that you nailed the essence of this album on the head: this is not the sound of 70s Big Star. This is the sound of Alex Chilton's record collection, filtered through (shamelessly copied by?) Alex Chilton.

I've always admired Alex Chilton. Call him a miserable bastard if you want for his generally bitter attitude on stuff, but he always struck me as guy who just does whatever he wants, unconcerned about critics, fans, mainstream exposure, or even if the album itself is considered good by the vast majority of homosapiens.

This might as well be another Chilton solo record, but the fact that the Big Star name is attached to gives the music the exposure that another Chilton record wouldn't get. I hear college stations are actually playing it (mine doesn't). It's also good that Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were involved---hey, if loving the Posies wrong, then fuck being right.

I might actually like this better than the third one (which, while a very good record, is a smidge overrated). Favorites include Dony (reminds me of "Feel" off the first record), Take My Back On the Sun (Alex's homage/rip-off/answer to the Beach Boys), Whole New Thing (hilarious), Love Revolution (even more hilarious. Personally, I took it as a hippie parody more than anything else), and Hung Up On Summer.

The hipsters will knock it (and they have), but, as a great gentlemen once said, fuck 'em...this is the most fun shite in years.

Add your thoughts?

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