Big Star (from the album The Best of Big Star available on Stax Records)
Success is difficult to define in musical terms, that is what makes it so elusive. There are hit records and superstars, songs that live forever and musicians who are both famous for their work and infamous for the lives. Big Star was a band whose influence was greater than their ability to make money, for either themselves or the record labels that signed them. As is often the case, the music made by Big Star was important to the band, to the ears of one A&R rep for a record label, and to young, soon-to-be, musicians, who began to hear their own music calling in the music. Once the songs move beyond that core, the tiny little light that shines above the intersection of fame and fortune can lead in many directions. In the case of Big Star, the Memphis, Tennessee-based band became peers of artists such as The Velvet Underground, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Moby Grape, Parliament/Funkadelic, Jesse Winchester, The Flatlanders, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, and many others; musicians with album releases that did not sell millions yet could take pride in the fact that nearly everyone that took their music from store to home would form a band of their own.
In celebration of its sixtieth anniversary, Stax Records has released The Best of Big Star, giving the music of the band a spot on a hometown label. Jody Stephens (drummer) is the only surviving member of the Big Star four-piece whose rhythm section was rounded out with Andy Hummel on bass. Alex Chilton was looking for a more challenging musical project after having hits as vocalist for The Box Tops and turning down an offer to lend his voice to Blood, Sweat, and Tears, feeling the music was too commercial. Alex turned to local Memphis singer/songwriter Chris Bell to form a duo. Chris Bell introduced Alex Chilton to his band, Icewater, who in turn asked Alex to join with some of its members once they heard his new songs and Big Star was born. The Best of Big Star collects tracks from all three of the Big Star recorded output, the two albums released while the band was active, #1 Record (1972) and Radio City (1974), as well as Third, released in the late 1970’s after Big Star had disbanded. The songs of Big Star are born in the heart of Rock’n’Roll storylines as they musically bless a garage rock rawness with the glitter of guitar jangle. “Back of a Car” shows how teenage decisions come accompanied by ‘music so loud, can’t tell a thing’ while “Feel” portrays the emotion from a current girlfriend as a death sentence, “Don’t Lie to Me” shouts out its demands over a rats nest jumble of guitar notes and “Nighttime” walks out into the dark on lush instrumentation. Big Star was championed as major influences by bands such as R.E.M. and The Replacements, who dedicated “Alex Chilton” to the group. They had cuts covered by The Bangles, who reworked Big Star’s “September Gurls”, and Cheap Trick on “In the Streets” with their version becoming the theme song for That 70’s Show. Both tracks are included in their original form on The Best of Big Star. Rock’n’Roll gold standards can be found in the music as The Best of Big Star offers “The Ballad of El Goodo” as inspiration, reads aloud a heartfelt letter backed by persistent strumming for “I’m in Love with a Girl”, and carves out a path for the future with guitar grooves leading “When My Baby’s Beside Me” as Big Star performs “Thirteen”, an Alex Chilton song written about his seeing The Beatles in 1964 and the prediction that ‘rock’n’roll is here to stay’.