Such a great band but such a frustrating story. Robyn Hitchcock 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, Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet, and more. The last time I checked it was on Netflix…watch this documentary.
When these musicians and critics talk about Big Star…they talk about them like people talk about The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks. In this documentary you have Cheap Trick, REM, Mitch Easter, Robyn Hitchcock, and others talking about the band.
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 experimental 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 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, a couple of years back 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 great documentary about a great band that had the talent, but fate wasn’t on their side.
There is the often-used Peter Buck quote that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album went out and started a band…the same is true with this band.
My recommendation? Watch it…NOW
Billy Altman … Self – Writer
Jon Auer … Self
Lester Bangs … Self (archive footage)
Chris Bell … Self (archive footage)
David Bell … Self – Chris Bell’s Brother
Norman Blake … Self
The Box Tops … Themselves (archive footage)
Panther Burns … Themselves (archive footage)
Cheap Trick … Themselves
Stephanie Chernikowski … Self – Photographer
Alex Chilton … Self (archive footage)
Rick Clark … Self – Writer and Musician
Stephen Ira Cohen … Self – U.S. Congressman (archive footage) (as Steve Cohen)
The Cramps … Themselves (archive footage)
John Dando … Self – Band Manager, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Luther Dickinson … Self
Mary Lindsay Dickinson … Self
Steven Drozd … Self
Van Duren … Self – Musician
Mitch Easter … Self – Musician and Producer
Bruce Eaton … Self (voice) (archive footage)
William Eggleston … Self
Tav Falco … Self
John Fry … Self – Founder, Ardent Studios
John Hampton … Self – Engineer, Ardent Studios
Douglas Hart … Self – Bass, The Jesus and Mary Chain
Robyn Hitchcock … Self
Andy Hummel … Self (archive footage)
Ross Johnson … Self – Writer and Musician
Ira Kaplan … Self
Lenny Kaye … Self – Writer and Musician
John King … Self – Promotions, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Curt Kirkwood … Self
John Lightman … Self
Carole Manning … Self – Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Mike Mills … Self
The Replacements The Replacements … Themselves (archive footage)
Steve Rhea … Self – Promotions, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Will Rigby … Self – musician
Richard Rosebrough … Self – Engineer, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Kliph Scurlock … Self
Tom Sheehan … Self – Photographer
Chris Stamey … Self – Musician and Producer
Big Star … Themselves
Jody Stephens … Self
Sara Stewart … Self – Chris Bell’s Sister
Michael Stipe … Self
Ken Stringfellow … Self
Matthew Sweet … Self
Alexis Taylor … Self
Marge Thrasher … Self – Hostess of Straight Talk (archive footage)
Jon Tiven … Self
Pete Tomlinson … Self – Writer
Jaan Uhelszki … Self – Writer (as Jaan Uhelzski)
Terry Edwards … Conductor, London (uncredited)