Posts Tagged ‘#1 Record’

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Originally released in 1972 and 1974, respectively, #1 Record and Radio City can still take your breath away with their bracing guitars, soaring melodies, emotionally-charged lyrics, and song structures that often zag when you’re expecting them to zig. Though the Fab Four are an audible influence on the albums, it’s generally more White Album–era Beatles being drawn upon than A Hard Day’s Night, along with such disparate elements as Led Zeppelin’s swaggering hard rock, Kinks leader Ray Davies’ brooding introspection, and the sweet soul music of Big Star’s Memphis hometown.

In rock and roll, there are moments when bands poised to break barriers and redefine an era are held back from their destiny because of logistics, promotional neglect, bandwidth, or all of the above. In the early 1970s there was no bigger victim of all three than the band Big Star. What began as a Memphis–based quartet soon became a power trio. They were a group who created a pop rock sound that would frame the musical future of bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements (It’s safe to say that Matthew Sweet’s 1991 hit record Girlfriend wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for Big Star). Even Paul Stanley of KISS has called them “an early influence.” Their moment was brief but lasting.

The Memphis band was formed in 1971 by singer-songwriters Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel. Working with Ardent Records’ founder and engineer John Fry, Chilton laid down guitar and vocal tracks — often in one take, while Bell added polish with overdubs and harmonies to songs like “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “Thirteen” and “In The Street.” #1 Record was released to wide critical acclaim, yet distribution issues severely limited the album’s availability in stores. It would sell fewer than 10,000 copies. Things didn’t improve with the two releases that followed and the band quickly dissolved.

Since then, awareness of their music has only grown, widening the band’s base and spreading their influence. The music they made was expansive, ambitious and anchored in their love for the British Invasion of the 1960s. The bands that lead that charge can regularly be heard within the seams and between the folds of Big Star’s infectious production. They were never focused on fame or fortune. Instead, Big Star was a creative hot shop with boundless imagination and a drive to make music that aligned strictly to their personal vision.

Now, Craft Recordings is about to reissue Big Star’s first two albums on 180-gram vinyl. It’s a Memphis based affair. Jeff Powell at Memphis’ Take Out Vinyl conducted an all-analogue mastering, and manufacturing is being handled locally at Memphis Record Pressing. This is fitting for a band that is now part of the cultural fabric of Memphis.

Jody Stephens, the last surviving member and the rhythmic heart of Big Star, about this rerelease and what he thinks matters most about the band’s enduring legacy. We continue to build an audience. People continue to be into the music and it gives us a platform to do the “Big Star’s Third Live” performances. [Live performances of Big Star’s 3rd album.] It also gives a platform for Those Pretty Wrongs with Luther Russell. We released a new album in September with Burger Records. We also did seven dates in England and two in Scotland and it was really enabled by having been in Big Star. It’s great to just to continue to play these songs, play them for this community and feel connected. I never attach physical sales or anything to it. It would be awesome if it sold a lot so that Concord (Craft Recordings) will keep doing this and continue to make the music available. That keeps us relevant and maintains our profile.

Big Star's 180-gram vinyl reissues of #1 Record and Radio City via Craft Recordings.

Craft Records is about to reissue Big Star’s acclaimed, first two albums on 180-gram vinyl.  Set for a January 24th, 202 release date, and available for pre-order now, #1 Record and Radio City feature all-analog mastering by Jeff Powell at Memphis’ Take Out Vinyl, and also manufactured locally—in Big Star’s hometown—at Memphis Record Pressing.

Though they both failed to strike commercial success at the time of their releases, 1972’s #1 Record and 1974’s Radio City are now considered to be milestones in the history of rock by critics and musicians alike. Heavily influenced by the British Invasion, yet markedly original—with their jangly pop, driving guitars, sweet harmonies, and wistful melancholia—Big Star offered a distinctly new sound when they first emerged in the early ‘70s, and are counted among the founders of power pop—a genre which wouldn’t truly take off until later in the decade. Nevertheless, Big Star would become an underground favorite, influencing some the biggest alt-rock artists of the ’80s, ’90s and beyond, including R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Wilco, and The Replacements (who famously penned the song “Alex Chilton” as an ode to the band’s frontman).

The Memphis band was formed in 1971 by singer/songwriters Alex Chilton (1950-2010) and Chris Bell (1951-1978), drummer Jody Stephens (b. 1952) and bassist Andy Hummel (1951-2010). Chilton and Bell drew on the Lennon/McCartney style of collaborative songwriting for their aptly titled debut, #1 Record. Working with Ardent Records’ founder and engineer John Fry, Chilton laid down guitar and vocal tracks—often in one take, while Bell added polish with overdubs and harmonies to songs like “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “Thirteen,” and “In The Street.” #1 Record was released to wide critical acclaim, yet distribution issues severely limited the album’s availability in stores. It would sell fewer than 10,000 copies.

Although Chris Bell departed the band shortly after the release of #1 Record, Big Star’s remaining members began work on a second album in the fall of 1973. Losing the creative input of Bell could have wreaked havoc on the band’s progress, but Chilton confidently took the helm, and his undeniable talents shone through—especially on tracks like “I’m in Love with a Girl,” “Back of a Car,” and cult favorite, “September Gurls.” Released in February of 1974, Radio City garnered praise from the press, but, unfortunately, critical acclaim did not translate to sales.

Disbanding in late 1974, Big Star could have easily fallen into the abyss of could-have-beens and one-hit-wonders, yet they have instead achieved near-mythic status in pop music history. The legacies of #1 Record and Radio City—as well as the band’s third LP, Third—have far exceeded their original commercial performances. All three of Big Star’s albums are included on Rolling Stone’s 2012 “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” lists, and tracks from the first two (“Thirteen” and “September Gurls”) are also among the magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Numerous artists (Elliott Smith, The Bangles, This Mortal Coil, Beck, and Jeff Buckley, to name a few) have recorded covers of the band’s songs.

Big Star has been honored with a tribute record (Big Star Small World, 2006), a documentary (2012’s Nothing Can Hurt Me) and a touring live show, “Big Star’s Third,” in which an all-star roster of guest vocalists and musicians join a core group (including R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, Chris Stamey of The dB’s, The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and sole surviving Big Star member, Jody Stephens) to perform Third, plus selections from #1 Record and Radio City. Most recently, the 2016 concert film and live album, Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s “Third” Live…And More, captures one such performance in Glendale, CA. Through their heartfelt renditions of the band’s songs, a cross-generational lineup of talent—Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Robyn Hitchcock, Dan Wilson, Jessica Pratt, and San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet among them—prove the enduring appeal of Big Star’s music.

#1 Record and Radio City (180-gram vinyl editions) will be available on Friday, January 24th, 2020

Big Star’s Third performing live from the Bumbershoot Music Lounge. Recorded August 31st, 2014.

Songs:
For You
Take Care
Nightime
Give Me Another Chance
Thirteen
Blue Moon
I Am The Cosmos
In The Street