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Big Star
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  • #1 Record,
  • Radio City,
  • Third/Sister Lovers,
  • In Space,








  • Adrian's Album Reviews |

    Big Star

    #1 Record( 1972 )
    Feel / The Ballad Of El Goodo / In The Street / Thirteen / Don't Lie To Me / The India Song / When My Baby's Beside Me / My Life Is Right / Give Me Another Chance / Try Again / Watch The Sunrise / St 100/6

    Sometimes it's good not knowing something about a band. Oh, I know who Alex Chilton is, I know he used to be in a group called 'The Box Tops' and I know about the legacy of Big Star. Power pop, but in the case of Big Star, a particular fusion of The Beatles, The Byrds and a few other, more hard rocking groups. Big Star of '#1 Record' vintage alternately switch between gorgeous folk rock songs and harder rocking songs that feature guitar solos. The latter type of song seems a lot more seventies than the prime evocation of 1966 that the other other type of song demonstrates. Still, Big Star arrived. Nobody noticed, due to terrible distribution - and '#1 Record' seemingly sunk without a trace. Fast forward in time to the UK music scene of the mid nineties, more accurately, the scottish music scene of the mid nineties. It seemed that every new guitar band had a Big Star influence in there somewhere. So clearly, somebody through the years paid close attention to the sounds and songs Big Star create here. Led by a song-writing team comprising of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, Big Star produce two songs in particular that really reach deep into my soul. The first is the song the original Byrds line-up should have created or recorded to open their early seventies 'comeback' album. 'The Ballad Of El Goodo' is a perfect mesh of Byrds sensibilites and more strongly pronounced pop sensibilites than even The Byrds ever demonstrated. "There aint no one going, to turn me round..." then the harmonies kick in. The guitars have ample chime and ring about them - and the song is so beautiful. Imagine this as the 1973 Byrds comeback single. It would have gone to number one everywhere in the world. As it was, Big Star themselves didn't even see fit to release this song as single.

    The other song here that gets deeply into my soul is the acoustic, folky and absolutely gorgeously heart-wrenching romance of 'Thirteen'. A song so good Scottish indie group Teenage Fanclub saw fit to name an entire album after it. Elsewhere however, elsewhere. Well, we've got the charming sixties hippy evocation that is 'The India Song' - pure nonsense, but Big Star DO create, or re-create, the appropriate atmosphere and it still sounds fresh. The songs 'inbetween' are more rocking, guitar solos, etc. More strained, gritty vocals - but the opening 'Feel' and third song 'In The Street' still manage to remind this listener of the very best Byrds songs. But, with an added something. I mean, 'In The Street' has those ringing guitars but it also has a groovy bass line and rock guitars. Proper rock guitars. It's got a bit of everything, damn fine construction and actual song-writing too. The team of Chilton and Bell clearly had something going for themselves. 'Give Me Another Chance' is pure singer/songwriter, a little Lennon, or at least, a little Harrison. Definitely Beatles. Another good song on an album full of them. You won't find a single track here even slightly below par in either writing of performance. Everything is full of feeling. Big Star seemingly don't invent anything, all the elements of their sound were tried and trusted elements very famous groups had used before. But.... Big Star melded those elements. Nobody else did - so Big Star are still hugely influential. They are still Big Star, long after ceasing to exist. The template for the Big Star sound, the classic Big Star sound, is here, on '#1 Record'.

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    Jamie!, jeffbuckley94@yahoo.com
    I love this album! If Big Star had stayed on top, although maybe they would've never bin acclaimed in their time, we cud've been sayin "THE Beatles of the 70s." In my opinion the best acoustic track ever, "Thirteen!". If i had to pick a top 20 songs list, this would be right up there. The first track is definative of the Big Star sound, "Feel" This album has everything, the production is lush, the meld of acoustic and electric guitars is truly outstanding (Check out "The Ballad Of El Goodo!).The last track "ST 100/6" is a blatent filler, weve already had "Her Majesty" off Abbey Rd, this is jus a cool little outtake."Watch The Sunrise" - an absolute classic. Big Star really did have God on their side when they made this album, there is no other word for this album but CLASSIC!

    John, County Kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    9/10. Recently on the All Music website, I read a highly impressive review of this gem, although the slightly masked suggestion that a band as amazing as Big Star may have possibly been the blueprint for EMO, is perhaps a little unfair on these guys, and hopefully won't put too many people off what is an amazing album. BTW, I'm not taking a cheap shot at the All Music website, as I haappen to like it quite a lot.

    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    Classic album alright . Every tracks is on the money . You can hear the influence on teenage fanclub,REM,primal scream and the stone roses in these tracks . The music moves from britrock apeing to soulful acoustic ballads with real poise and grace . All the songs seem to hint at the trials of growing up and falling in and out of love . "Thirteen" being the prettiest vehicle for teenage sex ever . And "india song" is twee and lovely, it fits perfectly in the sequence. If there is a criticism its chris bells vocals on the rockier tracks , its sounds strained and whiny . Chilton was the better vocalist and songwriter and unfortunately these 2 very different characters couldnt work together for long . "give me another chance" is bells finest song on the album , its just hearmelting . What a shame for the gifted bell , he died in a carcrash while working waiting tables .


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    Radio City( 1973 )
    O My Soul / Life Is White / Way Out West / What's Going Ahn / You Get What You Deserve / Mod Lang / Back Of A Car / Daisy Glaze / She's A Mover / September Gurls / Morpha Too / I'm In Love With A Girl

    Slickness is the incorrect word to use, but following the departure of co-writer Chris Bell, Alex Chilton sees fit to send his Big Star fellows into a fairly raw territory. Not without feeling and soul, however. No, not without those things, but never again would the harmonies shine. Oh, of course, 'September Gurls' is gorgeous, but the harmonies are kind of ramshackle, succeeding despite themselves. The songs here are mostly very good, buried mid-way through, a seemingly unremarkable song like 'Daisy Glaze' eventually chimes and reveals itself to be repeat playable and posessing something it simply doesn't reveal upon a first listen. Yeah, the sound of the record is partly to blame. Instant thrills are less, but lasting listenability is increased. Other bands pay note, especially bands releasing albums in the noughties. Ridiculous name for a decade I know, but at least it's a name. What will the next decade be called? The teenies?? The 'rock music is falling flat on its face in the wake of pop idol and nobody caring decade?'. That last one might be more accurate than you think. There are people, in their twenties, in my beloved UK, who either haven't heard any songs by The Who, for example, or simply don't care to. They'd rather listen to cheesy dance pop. So, what the hell chance do Big Star have?? Well, the hip indie brigade, especially if you're a hip scottish indie brigade, have clutched Big Star to their collective bosoms, and won't hear anything against them. They are the legendary Big Star. Why am I rambling? Because, good as this album is, it isn't great, by any means.

    Let's take, oooh, 'She's A Mover'. It doesn't move, at all. It doesn't groove. It's lazy, shambolic and just about together. Big Star try a guitar solo, the song never fully takes off. 'Radio City' is the story of good and bad. The good, the sheer glory, is of course 'September Gurls'. A song that proves the touch hadn't deserted Alex Chilton in terms of being a spiffing song-writier, at least. Ah, other favourites? 'Back Of A Car' works, a nice touch, a nice melody. Despite the sound of this album, raw, loose, hardly together - it nearly always does manage to work well enough, because the songs are good enough. They succeed, the attention is forced upon the actual writing and melodies. It's just as well, really. Oh, the closing song makes me shiver. A very simple song that harks back to the folky stuff on the first album. It's sweet and a great closing track.

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    Readers Comments

    Ty Chandler tychandler@hotmail.com
    This is better than a 7 1/2!!! Actually, most Big Star fans I know say this one is the best. I know its hip to consider Third the best, but cmon. The songs are the strongest across the board on Radio City. #1 is way too acoustic on side two. Radio City mixes it up more. My opinion.

    Gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    im in agreement with adrian , i think the 1st album is superior . Whats missing ? Well chris bell obviously ,but the songs here seem to ramble off in any direction at times and the 1st 3 tracks dont really stand out particularly - the playing is more rock orientated generally and very samey sounding . "whats going ahn" is a downbeat moody ballad that hits home strong and "you get what you deserve" has half a melody creeping through but The 2nd half of the album fares better from "back of a car" onwards - "shes a movers" a fun glam stomp, "september girls" is a stone cold classic , and its all good from here with more than a touch of the blissed out narco feel chilton would explore more fully on big stars 3rd . You should be able to buy both albums on the one cd at a reasonable price anyway - so avoid cash in compilations and fully immerse yourselves in the world of big star 7/10


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    Third/Sister Lovers 9 ( 19?? )
    Kizza Me / Thank You Friends / Big Black Car / Jesus Christ / Femme Fatale / O, Dana / Holocaust / Kanga-Roo / Stroke It Noel / For You / You Can't Have Me / Nightime / Blue Moon / Take Care / Nature Boy / Till the End of the Day / Dream Lover / Downs / Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On

    I must admit, I don't quite know what to make of this. An album unreleased during its day - it eventually saw release a good few years later. An album that's had differing tracklistings. An album that saw Alex Chilton become Big Star. The BIG star. Only he didn't of course. Big Star lay in obscurity only to become hugely influential many years later. Anyway, the first thing that struck me upon listening to this album was that Roger McGuinn can't Rock 'n' Roll! Alex and his obvious debt to the music of The Byrds? Married to raw, electric guitar dominated music? Lyrics that are interesting in places but 'Kizza Me' contains so many cliches, it probably shouldn't work at all. That it does probably says something. I'm not sure what, but there you are. The second track is stellar, very good Big Star. The third song is mournful and quite beautiful. Suddenly a listener is getting interested in this thing, this 'Third/Sister Lovers'. This album is a mess of ideas. 'Jesus Christ' isn't executed well, very sloppy, very sloppy. The sleighbells and things lend the impression this is an attempt at an xmas song. In the time of Glam Rock and the best Xmas songs of all time ( bar Phil Spector ) Alex's attempt comes across strangely. The cover of the beautiful Velvet Underground song 'Femme Fatale' has me bowing down, however. Alex Chilton? He may have been far gone - drugs, alcohol. He may have done very little after these recordings. But there is most definitely something here.

    Well, it's a brilliant set of songs. The singer seemingly ready to give up living, the backing band lacksadasical, etc, etc. Strings and violins in places to lend beauty, most effectively all through 'Stroke It Noel'. It succeeds despite itself, much like the album as a whole. I mean, of course there is filler here. Through the second third of the album, piano ballads, string assisted material. A singer that sounds about ready to give in. Still, take 'Nature Boy'. That's not a recording of a happy man. It's piano, so very sad...... It's a feeling. Mostly, the lyrics aren't the point of this record. It isn't a record with a story or a point to it, just a collection of dark emotions, with a triumph over adversity occasionaly breaking through. The cover of The Kinks song 'Til The End Of The Day' probably says it all. Rough and ready, capturing an essence of something by just being whatever you can be, rather than any element of pretending whatsoever. True stuff, the real stuff. So many desolate, beautiful things here. It shouldn't work, it can't be explained. Feeling, feeling. Stop trying and just be yourself.

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    Readers Comments

    gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    Classic album . It sounds unlike anything else , in fact theres something a bit "wrong" about the feel of a lot of the songs , like they could fall apart any minute . But like a drunkard homeward bound they always make it in the end . "kangaroo" "holocaust" "big black car" "take care" deserve special mention for being the most beautifully damaged songs of their era . "femme fatale" is given a country flavour which suits reeds song "jesus christ" sounds like the most bizarre xmas song ever but its so catchy . the added bonus tracks (the original finished after take care) are a nice touch, nat king coles "nature boy" being my favourite . All in a good review and a correct rating 9/10


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    In Space 8 ( 2005 )
    Dony / Lady Sweet / Best Chance We've Ever Had / Turn My Back On The Sun / Love Revolution / February's Quest / Mine Exclusively / A Whole New Thing / Aria Largo / Hung Up With Summer / Do You Wanna Make It / Makeover

    Alex Chilton and the original Big Star drummer reunite with a bunch of other fellows including the known Ken Stringfellow to produce a brand new Big Star album. After so many years, was this a particularly good idea? It's risking a lot, those three Big Star albums, so revered, after all. Well, the wonderful news is that this project lives upto the Big Star name. It doesn't feel legendary, it doesn't feel like a piece of history. So, in that respect, it loses something over the originals. It sounds somewhat out of time, the same kind of sounds permeate this record as did the three classic Big Star releases. Well, the sound here includes a couple or three of fairly modern sounding tracks. One or two songs reaching for the 'Sister Lovers' ramshackle vibe. Elsewhere, which happens to be the vast majority of the album, we kind of get a cross between the first two Big Star albums. True, nothing here is as great as a 'September Gurls', but then, what did you expect exactly? I'll write a summary write now, and i'm still in the first paragraph. This can't have that edge the original Big Star had, because time has yet to pass. Because of the situation and the history, this will likely be seen as little more than a footnote in Big Star history. For me however, the fact is this album is very enjoyable to listen to. That's it. I'll start with the bizarre, however. 'Love Revolution' has modern funky bass-lines, it kind of sounds like a track from Josh Rouse's '1972' album only with Roger McGuinn on vocals. Very strange, very grin-inducing actually. Certainly not what I was expecting from the new Big Star. I like the trumpets that appear during the song the best. I like the very slight feel of jamaica, crossed with Beck, crossed with Public Enemy. Crossed with Roger McGuinn and James Brown. That's not meant to indicate this is some kind of legendary amazing classic tune, by the way. It certainly isn't. It's just a piece of fun summery fluff that makes this listener grin.

    Looking for a more classic sounding slice of Big Star? The very opening track has all the elements you could possibly wish for. It has the Big Star guitar sound, very good soulful vocals. It's rock n roll and also contains a few moments of noteworthy harmony vocal work. 'Big Sweet' again sounds like Josh Rouse in happy mode. If you're not familiar with Josh Rouse, he's some modern singer-songwriter, pretty decent fellow who recently at least, has produced genuinely good pop-guitar music. Oh, oh. 'Lady Sweet' has good harmonies as well. I like my harmony vocals. Long time readers of this site will know i'm a sucker for them. The mere two minute long 'Turn My Back On The Sun' sounds like one of the very best ever songs by britpop act, 'Travis'. Kind of strange, isn't it? Big Star reminding you of all the acts they inspired in the first place, then beating them at their own game. Works for me! Those wanting more guitar, more rock n roll, can look at the likes of 'A Whole New Thing'. Mis-titled, because it's nothing more than an old fashioned sounding rock n roll workout. That's it. I like it, though. It's clean, the arrangement is simple and you can hear each and every instrument. In the ramshackle stakes, we have 'Hung Up With Summer', a post-sixties comedown vibe, certainly. Finally, i'll mention the closing 'Makeover' which truly does sound like a late-sixties garage band having a whale of a time. Complaints? Not many, really. It's not an album with a whole load of depth and may or may not stand the test of time. What it will do is provide a listener with a good amount of enjoyment. That's more than enough, surely? Good stuff, guys.

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    Readers Comments

    Joost Amsterdam
    I for one never have understood why big star's third album get so much credit, i think that one and two are superior, the same goes for in space, Auer and Stringfellow 's contributions are average but Chilton is clearly taken de piss.. i found this album so annoying that after 4 listens i gave it away for someone to use as a beermat if she did'nt like it so my points are.....2 minus for the cover. i am usually not this bitter and shall take my medication more regulary ;-)

    Kevin Cramsey Reading, PA
    I agree with much of the review, but you neglected to even mention what I believe are the two best tracks, "Best Chance We've Ever Had" and "February's Quiet." More than anything else on the album, they recall the classic Big Star sound. They sound like Chilton/Bell songs. Surprisingly, I don't believe Chilton wrote either one. Jody Stephens has managed to mimmick the old Chilton, which is good because Chilton's songs here sound more like they belong on his solo albums. Chilton has one good song, "Dony," the lead off track. All in all, this is a pretty good effort, a little out of time, but that's to be expected, since Big Star is a 70s band.


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    this page last updated 25/08/08


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