Big Star – #1 Record…Desert Island Albums

This is my third round choice from Hanspostcard’s album draft…100 albums in 100 days.
2020 ALBUM DRAFT-ROUND 3 PICK 6- BADFINGER20 SELECTS- BIG STAR- #1 RECORD

“Big Star is like a letter that was mailed in 1971 but didn’t arrive until 1985.”
Musician Robyn Hitchcock 

I never travel far, without a little Big Star
The Replacements

“We’ve sort of flirted with greatness, but we’ve yet to make a record as good as Revolver or Highway 61 Revisited or Exile on Main Street or Big Star’s Third.”
Peter Buck

The band didn’t chart a record when they were active. I still hold their music up along with The Who, Beatles. and Kinks…they never had the sales but they did have a giant influence. They released this album as their debut in August of 1972.  I had to stop myself from writing an open love letter (I may have failed) about this band. Was it the mystique of them? Was it the coolness factor of liking a band that not many people knew? No and no. It’s about the music. Mystique and coolness wear off and all you are left with is the music…We are fortunate to have 3 albums by Big Star to enjoy.

In the early eighties, I heard stories from an older brother of a friend about Big Star out of Memphis…but their records were hard to come by.  I loved what little I heard and it got lost in the shuffle but it planted a seed for later. 

By the mid-80s I heard more of their songs. In 1986 The Bangles released “September Gurls” and I knew it sounded familiar…and the DJ said it was a Big Star song…then came the song, Alex Chilton, by The Replacements and  I’m ashamed to say it wasn’t until the early nineties, I finally had Big Star’s music along with the Raspberries and Badfinger. My power-pop fandom kicked into high gear and I have never left that genre.

Big Star was the best band never heard. Such a great band but a long frustrating story. They made three albums that were among the best of the decade that were not heard until much later. They signed with Ardent which was a subsidiary of Stax Records.

A power-pop band on the soul Stax label doesn’t sound like a good idea now and it wasn’t then. Stax was failing at that time and could not distribute the records to the stores. Kids loved the music on the radio only to go to a record store with no Big Star records. Rolling Stone gave them rave reviews…but that doesn’t help if the album is not out there to purchase. They were through by 1974 after recording their 3rd album.

When their albums were finally discovered by eighties bands, they influenced many artists such as REM, The Replacements, Cars, Cheap Trick, Sloan, Matthew Sweet, KISS, Wilco, Gin Blossoms, and many more. They influenced alternative rock of the 80s and 90s and continue to this day.

Listening to this album with each song you think…Oh, that could have been a single. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell wrote most of the songs and wanted to emulate Lennon/McCartney and they did a great job but with an obvious American slant to make it their own. After the commercial failure of this album, Chris Bell quit but the other three continued for one more album and then bass player Andy Hummel quit after the second album, and Chilton and drummer Jody Stephens recorded the third.

I could have gone with ANY three of their albums. I picked this one because of Chris Bell. The songs are a bit more polished on this one than the other two but it fits the songs they present. Chris Bell added a lot to Big Star and after hearing his solo song I Am The Cosmos you see how much. Radio City, their second album, with Chilton in charge many consider their best and their third album, Third/Sister Lovers is not as commercially accessible but I still love it. All three are in Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time.

I’ll go over four songs.

The Ballad Of El Goodo  A song about Vietnam conscientious objector…but it is much more than that. It is one of the most perfect pop/rock songs recorded to my ears. This would make it in my own top 10 songs of all time. The tone of the guitars, harmonies and the perfectly constructed chorus keeps calling me back listen after listen. This is when pop music becomes more.

In The Street is a song that everyone will know. It was used as the theme of That Seventies Show. Cheap Trick covered it for the show. I was not a teenager in the early seventies but with this song, I am there front and center. Steal your car and bring it down, Pick me up, we’ll drive around, Wish we had, A joint so bad.

Thirteen is a song that Chilton finds that spot between the innocence of childhood and the first teenage year where they meet and intertwine with confusion. Won’t you tell your dad, “get off my back” Tell him what we said ’bout “Paint It Black”

When My Baby’s Beside Me has a great guitar riff to open it up. This is power pop at it’s best. A nice rocker that should have been blaring out of AM radios in the 70’s.

I’m not going over every song (but I could easily) because reading this won’t do it…you have to listen if you haven’t already. You will not regret it. Not just these songs but the complete album.

It’s a mixture of songs on the album…rockers, mid-tempo songs, and ballads. Even the weaker song called The India Song is very listenable. My favorites besides the ones I listed are  Watch the Sunrise, Don’t Lie To Me, Feel, and Give Me Another Chance.

I now have rounded out my albums on my island. The variety of The White Album, The rock of Who’s Next, and the ringing power-pop beauty of Big Star…swim or use a boat and come over to my island and we will listen…the Pina Coladas and High Tides (hey it’s an island) are flowing… let’s drink to BIG STAR.

On a side note. If you want to learn more there is a good documentary out about them called: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

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

  • Chris Bell – guitar, vocals
  • Alex Chilton – guitar, vocals
  • Andy Hummel – bass guitar, vocals
  • Jody Stephens – drums

 

 

 

My 10 Favorite Powerpop Songs

As you may have guessed by now I’m an extreme fan of power pop. This list was hard to write…I kept changing most of it… but I knew the top choice and worked from there.

I just gave my self ten choices or I would have gone on and on. A lot of artists and their songs were left off…such as Todd Rundgren, The Cars, Sloan, The Lemon Twigs, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Shivvers, The Jayhawks,  and too many more to mention.

10. The Ride – Twisterella– 1992 – I found this a few months back and have been listening to it ever since.

9. The Records – Starry Eyes– 1979 – Great song. Starry Eyes would end up being The Record’s best-known song. Robert John “Mutt” Lange produced their debut album for The Records.

8. The La’s – There She Goes– 1990 – A very good power pop song that has no verses…It just repeats the chorus four different ways four different times…but that doesn’t matter.

7. Cheap Trick – Voices– 1980 – One of my top Cheap Trick songs. Robin Zanders voice sounds great in this Beatlesque song.

6. The Who –Pictures of Lily– 1967 –  When this song came out Pete Townshend coined the name “power pop” and this song is about the childhood…lusts…of a boy.

5. Raspberries – Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)– 1974 – An epic song by the Raspberries. Not their most popular…that would be “Go All The Way” but this encapsulates everything power pop is about. Bruce Springsteen on Overnight Sensation: It’s one of the best little pop symphonies you’ll ever hear.

4. Big Star – The Ballad of El Goodo – 1972 – The tone of the guitars, harmonies and the perfect constructed chorus keeps me coming back listen after listen.

3. Badfinger –No Matter What– 1971 – The only band to make this list twice. Why? because this song defines the crunchy power pop of bands like Cheap Trick to come.

 2. Tom Petty – American Girl– 1977 – The Rickenbacker, the hook, and a Byrds sounding track.

 

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  1. Badfinger – Baby Blue – 1972 – The number one song was the easiest decision of the list. The rest were changed a few times…this one for me is a no-brainer. This song is the perfect power pop song…strong vocals, Crunchy Brit  guitar, great hook,  and great melody

Big Star – When My Baby ‘s Beside Me —-Powerpop Friday

Great riff by Alex Chilton and full of the hooks that Big Star is known for. This song was the A-side to In The Street released in 1972. Both songs are on Big Star’s album #1 Record.

With the exception of some smart critics, at the time of their existence, Big Star was all but ignored. Big Star played a one-off promotional show for the Memphis Rock Writer’s Convention at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis in May of 1973. It cemented them into legendary status due to the writers who witnessed it and carried the message of Big Star out in their writing. Chris Bell had left the band by the time this live show was recorded.

The song is credited to Alex Chilton and Chris Bell.

When My Baby’s Beside Me

Don’t need to talk to my doctor
Don’t need to talk to my shrink
Don’t need to hide behind no locked door
I don’t need to think

‘Cause when my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

Read all my books and talked about
Listen to my radio
Been in school and dropped right out
Tryin’ to find out what I didn’t know

But when my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

Don’t need to talk to my doctor
Don’t need to talk to my shrink
Don’t need to hide behind no locked door
I don’t need to think

‘Cause when my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know
When my baby’s beside me, I don’t worry
When my baby’s beside me, all I know

Big Star – September Gurls —Powerpop Friday

A great Big Star song and one of their most popular. It was one of the best pop songs that didn’t chart. September Gurls was rated #180 by Rolling Stone in the magazine’s top 500 songs of all time.

Released as a single, it did not chart despite receiving excellent reviews, due mainly to poor marketing and distribution. It was on their second studio album Radio City. The song was later covered by The Bangles on their album Different Light.

From Songfacts

This paean to “September Gurls” was penned by vocalist Alex Chilton for Big Star’s second album Radio City

Alex Chilton once said of his songwriting: “I really loved the mid-’60s British pop music, all two and a half minutes long, really appealing songs. So I’ve always aspired to that same format, that’s what I like.”

The Bangles covered this on their 1988 album, Different Light.

Alex Chilton died of a heart attack on March 17, 2010, aged 59. He had experienced shortness of breath and chills while cutting the lawn but did not seek medical attention, in part because he had no health insurance.

September Girls

September girls do so much 
I was your Butch and you were touched 
I loved you, well, never mind 
I’ve been crying all the time 
December boy’s got it bad 
December boy’s got it bad 

September girls, I don’t know why 
How can I deny what’s inside 
Even though I’ll keep away 
They we’ll love all our days 
December boy’s got it bad 
December boy’s got it bad 

When I get to bed, late at night 
That’s the time she makes things right 
Ooh when she makes love to me 

September girls do so much 
I was your Butch and you were touched 
I loved you, well, never mind 
I’ve been crying all the time 
December boy’s got it bad 
December boy’s got it bad 
December boy’s got it bad, woo ooo

 

Powerpop Friday – Big Star – In The Street

Most people today know this song as the theme to That 70s Show. They never used Big Star’s version for some reason. Todd Griffin covered it the first season and by the second season, Cheap Trick’s version was used. Big Star’s drummer Jody Stephens said, “I don’t know if the general population even knows that Big Star had anything to do with it.” …that is unfortunately true. The general population doesn’t know Big Star which is a crime.

The song was on their great debut album named #1 Record which was released in August of 1972. Billboard went as far as to say, “Every cut could be a single”On the picture above it says “Distributed by Stax Records”…unfortunately it WASN’T… They did a tour and no one could find the album because many record stores didn’t have it. Stax was not equipped to distribute rock records.

By the second album, this was going to be resolved. Columbia was gonna distribute Stax, and then they would have got Big Star into big-box retail outlets. But what happened was Clive Davis, who’s huge in the music world, was the one who brokered that deal… and then he was fired. So the whole thing fell apart after that. America lost out on one of the best bands it ever produced. I would recommend to anyone the documentary on Big Star called…Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me

The song has a great riff and wonderful teenage seventies lyrics.

 

From Songfacts

Stephens played in a band called Golden Smog with Jeff Tweedy, and when Tweedy’s band Wilco came to Memphis, Jody sat in with the group. “We played ‘In The Street’ together – I sat in on drums and Glenn Kotche played the cowbell part and John Stirratt sang lead,” he recounts. “My wife was in the audience and she said when we started playing ‘In The Street,’ somebody sitting in back of her said, ‘Why are they playing That ’70s Show song?'”

In what he described as “ironic” in a 2000 Rolling Stone interview, Alex Chilton received $70 in royalty payments every time That ’70s Show was broadcast.

Cheap Trick’s cover features the lyrics “We’re all all right,” an allusion to their 1978 hit “Surrender” from the album Heaven Tonight. Perhaps a chirpy re-interpretation to suit a primetime network sitcom, the inclusion undermines the ambiguity of the original, which evokes adolescent boredom without either romanticizing or condemning it.

This ambiguity is perfectly encapsulated in the lyric, “wish we had a joint so bad” (also absent from the theme tune, although pot smoking was a recurring theme on the show), the double meaning of which can be read as meaning the protagonist’s craving to get high or for a place to go with his friends. There is certainly a theme of being disposed that runs throughout the deceptively simple lyrics, which is juxtaposed with the major key Power-Pop music.

Chilton has said that along with “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” “In The Street” is the best song he ever wrote

In The Street

Hanging out, down the street
The same old thing we did last week
Not a thing to do
But talk to you

Steal your car, and bring it down
Pick me up, we’ll drive around
Wish we had
A joint so bad

Pass the street light
Out past midnight

Hanging out, down the street
The same old thing we did last week
Not a thing to do
But talk to you

Big Star – Thirteen

Big Star was the best band never heard. Not a bad song on the first album. The song was originally featured on the 1972 album #1 Record. It was released as a single by Big Star with “Watch The Sunrise” as the B-Side, on Ardent Records, but was mislabeled as “Don’t Lie To Me”. Chris Bell and Alex Chilton were the two main songwriters.

Bell and Chilton wanted to emulate the Lennon/McCartney formula as much as they could, so they shared credit on many of the songs on #1 Record even though there was, in fact, little writing collaboration between the two. “Thirteen,” was entirely Chilton’s creation

Alex Chilton said about this song: “I don’t know where it came from but I made up this wild bit of guitar in 15 minutes. You don’t hear many 20-year-olds doing that.”

From Songfacts

Frontman Alex Chilton wrote this acoustic ballad about two kids in love with Rock & Roll and each other. He explained to Rolling Stone that it’s simple musically as “I was still learning to play and stuff.”

The couplet “Won’t you tell your dad to get off my back/Tell him what we said about ‘Paint It Black,'” refers to the Rolling Stones song “of that title.”

This was ranked #396 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs. They described it as, “one of rock’s most beautiful celebrations of adolescence.”

Artists who have covered this include Evan Dando, Garbage, Elliot Smith, Wilco and Kathryn Williams.

Thirteen

Won’t you let me walk you home from school
Won’t you let me meet you at the pool
Maybe Friday I can
Get tickets for the dance
And I’ll take you

Won’t you tell your dad, get off my back
Tell him what we said ’bout ‘Paint It Black’
Rock ‘n Roll is here to stay
Come inside where it’s okay
And I’ll shake you

Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of
Would you be an outlaw for my love
If it’s so, well, let me know
If it’s no, well, I can go
I won’t make you

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…

Great Power Pop Bands that never got their due…

 

Seems like these bands were either too pop for rock radio or to rock for pop radio…The bands that come to mind are…

Badfinger – The most tragic story of any band in Rock History….although out of this list they did have the most hits… No Matter What, Day After Day Come and Get It and Baby Blue …one of my personal favorites out of many Midnight Caller…and Name of the Game…also  I would have loved to see what Pete Ham could have done later on if he would have lived…. This is the one that many people didn’t know that they wrote. Without You

Big Star – Great songs with great melodies that never caught on that influenced many bands to come after. September Gurls , Thirteen , Ballad of El Goodo In The Street these are just a few. This band should have been massive.

The Raspberries– Great hooks and they had a masterpiece that went unnoticed… Overnight Sensation…One of my favorite songs of all time. Their biggest hit was  Go All The Way. All their songs have great hooks with Carmen’s voice.

The Knack – Good Girls Don’t and of course My Sharona. 

The JayhawksI’m Gonna Make You Love Me , Blue

The Replacements

Who else?

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