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

 

 

 

REM – The One I Love

I remember this song well…it was a breakthrough song for REM. I knew some very intense REM fans and they were not happy that they were in the top 10. The cat was out of the bag and the band was not their secret anymore.

The moment that guitarist Peter Buck played that riff on his Rickenbacker 325 I knew I liked this song. It had the jangly sound that previous REM songs had but this one had a larger commercial appeal. This song broke them through to the masses.

The song peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100, #11 in Canada, #16 in the UK, and #6 in New Zealand in 1987.

It was on the album Document and it peaked at #10 in the Billboard Album Charts, #13 in Canada, #28 in the UK, and #17 in New Zealand.

Michael Stipe describes this song as about using people over and over. It sounds like a love song until the line, “A simple prop to occupy my time.”

Mike Mills (Bass Player): “Peter Buck came up with the riff on his porch. I remember Peter, showing me that riff and thinking it was pretty cool, and then the rest of the song flowed from there. We played the whole song as an instrumental until Michael (Stipe) came up with some vocals for it.”

 

From Songfacts

The lead vocal on the chorus contains just one word: “Fire,” which Michael Stipe draws out into a long wail. In the background, you can hear bass player Mike Mills singing, “She’s comin’ down on her own, now.”

This is not based on any real person or event. The band made up the lyrics while they were on a tour.

For a while, Stipe thought this was too brutal a song to record. He told Q magazine in 1992: “It’s probably better that they think it’s a love song at this point. That song just came up from somewhere and I recognized it as being really violent and awful. But it wasn’t directed at any one person. I would never write a song like that. Even if there was one person in the world thinking, This song is about me, I could never sing it or put it out… I didn’t want to record that, I thought it was too much. Too brutal. I think there’s enough of that ugliness around.”

This was R.E.M.’s first hit song. They had been recording since 1981 and growing a following.

Bush played this at Woodstock ’99 with a much harder sound. 

Robert Longo directed the music video for this song, which has images of tenement buildings, dancers and lonely couples, mixed with sweeping clouds, lighting bolts and bursts of flame. The director of photography was Alton Brown, who would go on to be a Food Network star with shows like Good Eats, Iron Chef America and Cutthroat Kitchen.

Speaking to Mojo in 2016, Stipe said that he wasn’t at all dismayed that so many people misinterpreted the sarcastic and spiteful lyrics as a straightforward love song. “I didn’t like the song to begin with,” he explained. “I felt it was too brutal. I thought the sentiment was too difficult to put out into the world. But people misunderstood it, so it was fine. Now it’s a love song, so that’s fine.”

The One I Love

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
Another prop has occupied my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

 

REM – What’s the Frequency Kenneth?

REM really let loose on their album Monster. I love the tone on Peter Bucks guitar and the loud in your face production. Peter Buck played the late Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jag-Stang, which he plays upside-down because Cobain was left-handed.

This song is about an incident that took place on October 4, 1986, when the CBS news anchor Dan Rather was attacked on a New York City sidewalk by a crazed man yelling “Kenneth, what is the frequency.” The man turned out to be William Tager, who was caught after he killed a stagehand outside of the Today show studios on August 31, 1994. Tager, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison, said he was convinced the media was beaming signals into his head, and he was on a mission to determine their frequencies.

Lead singer Michael Stipe says this is an attack on the media, who overanalyze things they don’t understand.

The song slows down at the end because of bassist Mike Mills. They noticed he was in pain, but everyone followed him and finished the track. After they were done, Mills was taken to the hospital and it was discovered he had appendicitis. They never got back to redo the song.

This song peaked at #21 in the Billboard 100 in 1994.

 

From Songfacts

When Michael Stipe wrote the lyrics, Tager had not yet been identified as Rather’s assailant. He wrote the song after becoming intrigued by the case and the media reaction to it, calling it “The premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century.”

Tager got out of jail in 2010.

After this song came out, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth” became a catchphrase and was a running joke on The David Letterman Show (for a short time, “Kenneth” also became a term used for a clueless person). Rather had a good sense of humor about it and later appeared on the show, singing this with R.E.M. backing him.

Peter Buck remembered the experience in the liner notes for In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003: “I like Dan Rather. He’s a fine newsman, an interesting person to talk to, and quite a bit nuttier than most of those media types (I consider that a good thing). That said, nothing in my rich and varied life prepared me for the experience of performing behind him as he ‘danced’ and ‘sang’ ‘What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?'”

There is a song by Game Theory on their 1987 album Lolita Nation called “Kenneth, What’s the Frequency?” It was produced by Mitch Easter, who was R.E.M.’s producer for Chronic TownMurmur, and Reckoning. Coincidence? 

Despite his painful ordeal, Mills notes this as “one of my favorite rockers in our canon, touching on pop culture and yet with balls” in Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011.

The line, “Richard said, ‘Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy,'” refers to Richard Linklater, director of Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993). More recently, he directed Waking Life (2001) and the acclaimed “Before” trilogy: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).

In the liner notes for the compilation album Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011, Stipe says he quoted the director “to aid in a fictional narrative that details a generational belly flop the size of Lake Michigan.”

This was the first single released from the album, which indicated the harder edge that R.E.M. took on Monster, their ninth album.

This single was the first piece of music to be released by R.E.M. that included a lyric sheet. The first R.E.M. album to include printed lyrics was Up, from 1999.

The music video, directed by Peter Care, shows the band performing this song under multicolored flashing lights and is notable for debuting new looks for Michael Stipe, who shaved his head, and Mike Mills, who grew out his hair and decked himself out in a rhinestone suit borrowed from Gram Parsons.

This was featured on Friends in the episode “The One with Two Parts: Part 2” and on Beavis and Butt-Head in “Wet Behind the Rears,” both in 1995. It was also used in the 1999 Martin Scorsese film Bringing Out the Dead, starring Nicolas Cage and Patricia Arquette.

What’s The Frequency Kenneth?

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I’d pegged you an idiot’s dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider’s screen

I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh

I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy”
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rearview mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth

You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand

You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
I never understood, don’t fuck with me, uh-huh

 

REM – Fall On Me

The song peaked at #94 in the Billboard 100 in 1986. The song was on Lifes Rich Pageant which peaked at 21 in 1986. A musician friend of mine invited me over to listen to this album. We must have played it 5 times through by night time.

Bill Berry (drummer) said the song was specifically about Acid Rain, which occurs when the burning of fossil fuels releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, causing rain to be acidic and threatening the environment.

Michael Stipe said about the song: “I was reading an article in Boston when I was on tour with the Golden Palominos, and Chris Stamey showed me this article about this guy that did an experiment from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, whereby he dropped a pound of feathers and a pound of iron to prove that there was… a difference in the… density? What did he prove? I don’t even know. They fall just as fast.”

From Songfacts

The video was filmed upside down in a rock quarry, and snippets of the environmentally concerned words flash on-screen throughout: “Buy” the sky, “Sell” the sky, etc. 

Before it ended up on the Lifes Rich Pageant album, R.E.M. performed a variation of this song on tour promoting their previous album, Fables of the Reconstruction. Peter Buck remembered in the liner notes for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011: “And pretty much every day Michael had different lyrics or a different melody; we changed the bridge a hundred times. On the Lifes Rich Pageant anniversary box set, there is a version that is kind of what we used to do on stage. Michael wrote new words and melodies during the making of the record, which all took a bit of getting used to since we were so used to the previous versions. But no question, the one on the record is so superior.”

We didn’t forget to add that possessive apostrophe to the album title. The band intentionally left it out, or so the story goes. “We all hate apostrophes,” Peter Buck proclaimed. “There’s never been a good rock album that had an apostrophe in the title.” Beatles fans may disagree – A Hard Day’s Night and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band both employ the punctuation mark. Maybe Buck’s oft-quoted comment is meant to be taken with a dose of irony, or maybe he’s just a Stones fan (that band shunned the apostrophe for Their Satanic Majesties Request).

Fall On Me

There’s a problem feathers iron
Bargain buildings, weights and pulleys
Feathers hit the ground before the weight can leave the air
Buy the sky and sell the sky and tell the sky and tell the sky

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

There’s the progress we have found (when the rain)
A way to talk around the problem (when the children reign)
Building towered foresight (keep your conscience in the dark)
Isn’t anything at all (melt the statues in the park)
Buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Don’t fall on me

Well, I could keep it above
But then it wouldn’t be sky anymore
So if I send it to you, you’ve got to promise to keep it whole

Buy the sky and sell the sky and lift your arms up to the sky
And ask the sky and ask the sky

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Fall on me, don’t fall on me (what is it up in the air for?) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (if it’s there for long) (it’s gonna fall)
Fall on me (it’s over, it’s over me) (it’s gonna fall)

Fall on me, don’t fall on me

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

This song came off of the great Document album. With some REM songs it takes a few listens for me but this one… the first time was enough to know I really liked it. It was recorded in the Sound Emporium in Nashville, Tennessee. The song peaked at #69 in 1988. The song was inspired by  Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan and you can tell.

Michael Stipe said: “The words come from everywhere. I’m extremely aware of everything around me, whether I am in a sleeping state, awake, dream-state or just in day to day life. There’s a part in ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ that came from a dream where I was at Lester Bangs’ birthday party and I was the only person there whose initials weren’t L.B. So there was Lenny Bruce, Leonid Brezhnev, Leonard Bernstein… So that ended up in the song along with a lot of stuff I’d seen when I was flipping TV channels. It’s a collection of streams of consciousness.”   

From Songfacts.

Stipe claims to have a lot of dreams about the end of the world, destroyed buildings and the like. His stream-of-consciousness writing style in this is very similar to the way a dream moves.

This started off as a song called “Bad Day,” and had lyrics decrying the politics of the Reagan administration. R.E.M. finally released “Bad Day” on their 2003 hits compilation album, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

When R.E.M. played this live, the audience reacted with a party vibe that threw off the band. They thought the apocalyptic lyrics would create a more subdued response.

Michael Stipe said that the lyrics were written to make people smile. The words he used tend to make your mouth smile when you speak them. >>

In the last verse, the line, “The other night I tripped at Knox” refers to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, where the band had a night of fun.

This appears in the movies Dream A Little DreamIndependence DayTommy Boy and Chicken Little>>

The government of the Soviet Union allowed this to appear on a 1990 Greenpeace album that was distributed there.

Billy Joel had a huge hit two years later when he used the rapid-vocal, stream of consciousness lyric style on “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”

This appeared in an episode of The Simpsons when Homer and Moe are fighting about Moe’s new bar. Homer opens his own bar in his garage and then lies to REM about why they are playing there. >>

Brett Anderson, lead singer of the all-girl band The Donnas, told Rolling Stone magazine that she is an “R.E.M. geek” and can recite all of the lyrics to the song.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs,
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Six o’clock, T.V. hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
I feel fine (I feel fine)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

The other night I drifted nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right, right

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)