Big Star – Life Is White

Love this driving song by Big Star. It was on Radio City, their second album. Some say it is a response to the Chris Bell song off the first album called My Life Is Right…or a message to his girlfriend Diane (Don’t like to see your face Don’t like to hear you talk at all) that he was splitting with at the time.

After the failure of their first album, singer/songwriter guitar player Chris Bell quit Big Star. Alex Chilton didn’t know if Big Star was going to make another album. He continued making demos because he could always do a solo album. The two other members, drummer Jody Stephens and bass player Andy Hummel wasn’t sure either what was going to happen. They had talked about ending the band.

Their record company Ardent was under the Stax umbrella. They sent out invitations to all of the major rock journalists of the day in 1973. They invited them to Memphis to see Ardent’s roster of bands but most of all Big Star. The rock writers loved Big Star. Many legendary writers were there including Lester Bangs.

Stax agreed to foot the bill, which amounted to $40,000 to fly in more than one hundred rock critics from across the U.S. and U.K., put them up at the Holiday Inn, wine and dine them, bus them to Memphis landmarks like Graceland, and, on the final night, knock them out with a showcase at Lafayette’s Music Room, featuring Skin Alley, Larry Raspberry and the High-Steppers, and Big Star.

As writers from California (Shaw, Gene Sculatti, and Cameron Crowe), the New York City area (Richard Meltzer, Andy Shernoff, Gary Kenton, Pete Tomlinson, Lenny Kaye, and Nick Tosches), upstate New York (Billy Altman), Austin (Chet Flippo), Detroit (most of Creem’s staff, including Lester Bangs and Jaan Uhelszki), and the U.K. (Simon Frith, Ben Edmonds, and Pete Frame) signed on, Big Star was persuaded to play the gig.

The writers sat through the other bands and by the time Big Star took the stage, around midnight, they were well lubricated. Big Star couldn’t have had a more receptive audience. Rock critics are not known to dance but they were all on the floor and some has since called the performance by Big Star magic. Some called it the greatest performance and sound they ever heard. That night is what convinced Big Star to stay together and finish their second album Radio City. They played most of the first album, some covers, and a few songs they had worked on including Life Is White.

What I question is…Stax would give money for things like this but could not distribute records?

Alex had the quote below while he was in Big Star. What he said foretold Big Star’s future. It would be years later before the album would sell anything and get noticed. They would make one more album…Big Star Third/Sister Lovers before ending it.

Alex Chilton: “The important thing is to make a good record,” “because if you make a good record, it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s going to sell from then on to some degree, even though it doesn’t sell anything when it comes out and is a big disappointment to everybody. If it’s really good, people are going to want it from then on, and that’s the important thing. It might take five or ten years for it to pay off—or it might take twenty years, and you might be dead when it pays off. If it’s good, it’s going to pay off for somebody, sometime.”

Life Is White

Don’t like to see your face
Don’t like to hear you talk at all
I could be with Ann
But I’d just get bored

Can’t even bring myself to call
And I don’t want to see you now
‘Cause I know what you lack
And I can’t go back to that

Whatever’s all the same
Now there’s nobody to know
And I can’t recall, recall your name
All I can say is so

And I don’t want to see you now
‘Cause I know what you lack
And I can’t go back to that

Your life is white
And I don’t think I like
You hanging around

Don’t like to see your face
Don’t like to hear you talk at all
I could be with Ann
But I’d just get bored

Can’t even bring myself to call
And I don’t want to see you now
‘Cause I know what you lack
And I can’t go back to that now

Big Star – O My Soul ….Power Pop Friday

This song is from their second album Radio City. Their other guitarist Chris Bell had left the band leaving Alex Chilton as the only guitarist. In this song Chilton’s guitar is pushed to the front and after about a 46 second intro the song is on it’s way.

It’s a bluesy, funky,  rocky, and soulful riff all built into one. Alex just takes off on the guitar with this one all through the song. The guitar has a tone that you don’t hear everyday. Whenever I’m playing guitar I go back to their albums to try to emulate a tone that Chilton found.

Alex Chilton was not the only one writing songs on the album. Bassist Andy Hummel wrote or co-wrote five of the albums’s 12 tracks. Jody Stephens pitched in and co-wrote one song with Chilton and Hummel.

Chilton remained the constant variable that made the band’s music soar. His September Gurls is among the band’s finest songs and one of the prototypical power pop songs.

Radio City is not as polished as their debut album but it’s just as good and many say better.

O My Soul

O my soul mama
I lose control
Go ahead and shake if you wanna
And I’ll never know
Wull come on
You know it’s alright
We’ve got all night
You’re driving me mad
And you shouldn’t do that
We’re going to get on up
And drink till we drop.
You’re really a nice girl
And I think you’re the most
And when we’re together
I feel like a boss

Trying to see you
I’d know off your doors
dying to see you
I’m down on the floor.

I can’t get a license
To drive my car
But I don’t really need it
If I’m a big star.
Never you mind
Go on and have a good time.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me Documentary

A friend of mine knows I’m a Big Star fan…he dropped this documentary of Big Star off for me to watch and I wasted no time.

Such a great band but a frustrating story. Someone in the documentary remarked, “Big Star is like a letter that was mailed in 1972 but didn’t arrive until 1985.” That is a great way to explain them. They made three of the best albums of the decade that were not heard until much later. When they were finally discovered they influenced many artists such as The Replacements, REM, Matthew Sweet, and more.

The first album got great reviews…you couldn’t ask for better. When the label called radio stations trying to get them to play it…the stations would say it’s not selling. When someone actually heard the songs on the radio they couldn’t find the record to buy it. This was basically the same story with all of the albums.

Distribution problems and just bad timing. Stax didn’t do a good job of distribution…they made a deal with Columbia before the second album to distribute the album…problem solved right? Nope, Clive Davis who made the deal was then fired at Columbia. The deal fell through and then Stax disintegrated.

Chris Bell who was key in creating the sound the band had quit after the first album. He came back but then quit again. Chris had depression problems and wanted badly to do something on his own. Alex Chilton continued and finished the second and third album with a new bass player on the third album.

After that, it follows Chris and Alex’s career to the end of both. It also covers  Jim Dickinson’s role on the third album. Family members, fans, and rock writers also share their love of Big Star and memories of the band members.

In May of 1973 Ardent Studios where Big Star recorded invited a 100 rock writers down to Memphis to hear Big Star live. They all loved Big Star and it went over great…but that wasn’t the band’s problem…it was the business side. What would have happened if they would have signed with a label more suited to them?

Before watching this documentary I didn’t realize Chris Bell was so instrumental in developing their sound. I knew it wasn’t the Alex Chilton band but Chris was invaluable and started the ball rolling. All 4 members did contribute writing and singing but Chilton and Bell were the Lennon and McCartney of the group.

It’s a good documentary about a great band that had the talent but not fate.

My recommendation? Get this and watch it…