Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live And More

November 29, 2017

 

 

 

Big Star was one of those bands whose influence was far greater than their commercial success. Formed in 1971 by Alex Chilton (1951-2010), Chris Bell (1951-1978), Andy Hummel (1951-2010), and Jody Stephens, they have influenced a generation of alternative rock and indie bands who have followed them. Known for their precise harmonies, jangling music, and incisive lyrics, they left behind a small but brilliant number of album releases.

Their legendary third album, which was basically just Chilton and drummer Stephens, sat on the shelf for a number of years before its release. It was a complicated work, complete with strings, and had never been totally reproduced live. Chilton’s death in 2010 set in motion a series of events that led to its recreation and this release, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live…And More.

Shortly after Chilton’s death, a number of musicians including Chris Stamey (The dB’s), Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (Posies), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mike Easler (Let’s Active), and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens performed a full-orchestrated version of the third album in Charlotte, North Carolina. They then took the show on the road. This culminated with a recorded concert at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California, in April of 2016. Added to the mix were Robin Hitchcock, Benmont Tench, and the Kronos String Quartet.

The concert included material from the bands entire career but its foundation is their third album. The music goes beyond the simplicity of many Big Star performances. The enlarged band and the presence of a string section help to explore the full musical vision of Alex Chilton. They are able to present the textures, layers, and sound that up until now were only present on the studio version. In many ways it is superior to the original music as it is both modernized and expanded.

Big Star, especially its early incarnation, shall not pass this way again. The music left behind, particularly from its third album, has now taken on new life courtesy of some friends and devotees. A must listen for fans and a good stand alone release for anyone who likes creative rock and roll.

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Radio Star By Big Star

December 8, 2014

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Big Star’s 1972 debut album, #1 Record, was one of the defining albums of its era. The problem was hardly anyone bought the album. Group co-founder Chris Bell became disenchanted with the lack of commercial success and left the band. Alex Chilton, along with bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens, forged ahead and despite the loss of Bell, managed to create an album almost as good.  That album, 1974’s Radio City, has now been reissued.

Radio City was a little edgier lyrically, plus found Chilton incorporating some British pop elements into the mix. The harmonies remain intact but it is Chilton’s guitar play that makes a difference. Now the sole guitar player, he proved that he was an upper echelon musician. His prowess is particularly demonstrated on “O My Soul.”

Tracks such as “Mod Lang,” “What’s Goin Ahn,” and “She’s A Mover” contain some of the better lyrics of Chilton’s career and when you combine them with bouncy melodies, it adds up to a good foundation for the album.

Bassist Andy Hummel’s contributions on the band’s first two albums have often been over looked. He provides the vocal for his own composition “Way Out West.” He was also a key to the group’s harmonies, which is very apparent on “What’s Goin Ahn.”

As with the reissue of their debut album, #1 Record, the sound quality has been greatly enhanced to the point where it has a very modern feel. The liner notes are again are by Mike Mills of R.E.M. which provides a hint of Big Star’s lasting influence on American music.

Radio City continued the band’s development of the power pop sound as it pushed it in some new directions. It may not have the consistency and cohesion of their first release, but it remains an excellent album four plus decades after its release.


#1 Record By Big Star

November 30, 2014

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If ever a band deserved commercial success, it was Big Star. Instead they were regulated to existing as the darlings of critics and recognized for being highly influential as one of the originators of the power pop sound.

Alex Chilton of Box Tops fame (guitar and vocals), Chris Bell (guitar and vocals), Andy Hummer (bass and vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums) formed Big Star during the early 1970’s. They released their first album #1 Record in 1972. The release was listed among Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest 500 Albums Of All Time and has now been reissued.

#1 Record was the brain child of Chilton and Bell. In the recording studio, Chilton would use a one take approach for the guitar and vocal tracks. He would then hand them over to Bell who would add the textures, polish them with overdubs, and then put together the harmonies. It all added up to an album that would influence power pop bands and their descendants for the next three decades.

“Thirteen” is just about the perfect pop song and Rolling Stone ranked it among the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The acoustic ballad is different from alot of their up-tempo material but its delicate nature makes it a stand-out.

“In The Street” has a slower tempo than the version that appeared as the theme song of That 70’s Show. The signature guitars, the tight harmonies, and the smooth delivery combine to give it layers of textures. “My Life is Right” and “Don’t Lie To Me” fuse pop and rock, while “Watch The Sunrise” is a return to a simpler approach.

I have heard this album on CD and vinyl in the past and the sound quality here is a huge upgrade. Each instrument is distinct and the vocal harmonies leap out of the speakers. You can even year the guitarist’s hands move over the instrument on the acoustic numbers. In addition the new liner notes are by Mike Mills of R.E.M.

Bell quickly became disenchanted with the album’s lack of success and left the band. He died in a car crash in 1978 at the age of 27. Chilton remained the center of Big Star until his death in 2010. Their brief time together resulted in one of the brilliant, if underappreciated albums of its era.