Big Star


Band members                         Related acts

  line up 1 (1971-72)

- Chris Bell (RIP) -- vocals, guitar 

- Alex Chilton (RIP 2010)  -- vocals, guitar 

- Andy Hummel -- bass 

- Jody Stephens -- drums, percussion

 

  line up 2 (1974-75)

- Chris Bell (RIP) -- vocals, guitar 

- Alex Chilton (RIP 2010)  -- vocals, guitar 

NEW - John Lightman -- bass, vocals (replaced Andy Hummel)

- Jody Stephens -- drums, percussion 

 

  line up 3 (1993-2010)

NEW - Jon Auer -- guitar, vocals

- Alex Chilton (RIP 2010)  -- vocals, guitar

- Jody Stephens -- drums, percussion

NEW - Ken Stringfellow -- bass, vocals
   

 

 

- Chris Bell (solo efforts)

- The Box Tops (Alex Cilton)

- Alex Chilton (solo efforts)

- Golden Smog (Jody Stephens)

- The Posies (Jon Auer and Kim Stringfellow)

- Rock City (Chris Bell and Jody Stephens)

 

 

 


 

Genre: rock

Rating: ***** (5 stars)

Title:  #1 Record

Company: Ardent

Catalog: 

Year: 1972

Country/State: Memphis, Tennessee

Grade (cover/record): NM / NM

Comments: -- 

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not listed yet

Price: $70.00

 

Disgusted with The Box Top's unwillingness to record his own material (see separate entry), singer/guitarist Alex Chilton quit the band in the midst of a 1970 New York concert. After a two year hiatus he hooked up with singer/guitarist/writer Chris Bell in the Memphis-based Ice Water. Deciding on a musical collaboration, the two recruited bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens, forming Big Star (the name taken from a local grocery chain). 

Signed by Terry Manning's Ardent Records, the quartet debuted with 1972's "#1 Record". Produced by Manning with John Fry serving as executive producer, the LP reflected a collaborative effort, all four members contributing material. Ironically, with radio and the buying public fascinated with fusion and art-rock, Big Star seemed determined to avoid popular tastes, focusing their efforts on English 60's rock; complete with Beatles styled harmonies ("The Ballad of El Goode") and Byrds-styled Rickenbacker guitars ("In the Street"). Exemplified by material such as glistening "When My Baby's Beside Me", "My Life Is Right " and "Don't Lie To Me" the results were simply magical. Classic power-pop, literally every one of the 11 tracks would have sounded great on radio. Unfortunately, in spite of rave critical reviews, the small Stax-affiliated Ardent label ran into severe distribution problems which effectively limited sales. A must own addition to your collection and ours is offered at an affordable cost ...

Reportedly upset by the debut's poor sales, frustrated over musical direction and unhappy with Chilton's desire to tour, Bell split in favor of a solo career (see separate entry). Sadly, after the release of an instantly obscure single, his career went into hibernation. He was subsequently killed in a December, 1978 traffic accident. 

"#1 Record" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Feel (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 3:31
2.) The Ballad of El Goode (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 4:39
2.) In the Street (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 2:53
3.) Thirteen (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 2:36
4.) Don't Lie To Me (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 3:11
5.) The India Song (Andy Hummel) - 2:20

(side 2)

1.) When My Baby's Beside Me (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 3:20
2.) My Life Is Right (Chris Bell - Eubanks) - 3:07
3.) Give Me Another Chance (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 3:25
4.) Try Again (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 4:06
5.) Watch the Sunrise (Chris Bell - Alex Chilton) - 3:10

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  Radio City

Company: Ardent

Catalog: ADS-1501

Year: 1973

Country/State: Memphis, Tennessee

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: cut out notch at bottom; minor ring wear

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not listed yet

Price: $75.00

 

 

With Bell history, the band actually broke up, but a contractual obligation to perform at a rock writers convention led to a brief reunion between Chilton, Hummel and Stephens. Hired to perform at the convention, the audience response was so impressive that the trio decided to give it one more shot. Released in 1973, "Radio City" was far different from the debut.  Having co-written most of the debut with Bell, Chilton found himself forced to assume the writing burden. He responded admirably with a collection far rougher and tougher than the debut. Exemplified by tracks such as "Way Out West", "Back of a Car" and "You Get What You Deserve" Chilton underscored his growing dissatisfaction with his personal life and the music business. While we'll readily admit to missing the debut's glorious harmonies, propelled by Chilton's scratchy voice and jangle guitar, anyone hearing tracks such as "Mod Lang", "Daisy Glaze" and the classic "September Gurls" for the first time in the late-'90s would be amazed to discover that Chilton and company weren't contemporaries of The dbs, The Replacements, or Matthew Sweet. Attracting rave critical reviews, the collection was thoroughly ignored by radio and the buying public. Chilton, Stephens and bassist Johnny Lightner (replacing Hummel), hit the road, touring up and down the East Coast (having their equipment stolen in Boston). The effort was fruitless, Ardent's slow financial collapse and changing public tastes ensuring the album quickly ended up in cutout bins. (Anyone know why they chose to record the opener "O My Soul" in mono and the rest of the set in stereo?)

"Radio City" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) O My Soul (Alex Chilton) - 5:35
2.) Life Is White (Alex Chilton - Andy Hummel) - 3:18
3.) Way Out West (Andy Hummel) - 2:46
4.) What's Goin' Ahn (Alex Chilton - Andy Hummel) - 2:37
5.) You Get What You Deserve (Alex Chilton) - 3:05
6.) Mod Lang (Alex Chilton - Rosebrough) - 2:42

(side 2)

2.) Back of a Car (Alex Chilton - Andy Hummel) - 2:42
3.) Daisy Glaze (Alex Chilton - Andy Hummel - Jody Stephens) - 3:47
4.) She's a Mover (Alex Chilton) - 3:09
5.) September Gurls (Alex Chilton) - 2:46
6.) Morpha Too (Alex Chilton) - 1:28

 


Genre: rock

Rating: **** (4 stars)

Title:  3rd

Company: PVC 

Catalog: 7903

Country/State: Memphis, Tennessee

Year: 1978

Grade (cover/record): NM  /NM

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: not listed yet

Price: $50.00

 

 

Returning to Memphis, with assistance from guitarist Steve Cropper and other Memphis studio musicians the band recorded a third collection in 1974. Tentatively titled "Sister Lovers", in the wake of Ardent's collapse the tapes were shelved. Shortly afterwards the band collapsed, with Chilton embarking on an erratic solo career. In 1978 PVC acquired rights to the previously shelved album. Though billed as a Big Star effort, "3rd", effectively served as a Chilton solo effort - the artist responsible for 12 of the 14 tracks. Produced by Dickinson, and backed by an all-star cast of Memphis studio musicians, the set offered up a disorienting hodgepodge of musical styles and themes. Anyone expecting another set of sunny, Beatles-inspired pop was in for a major shock. Exemplified by tracks such as "O, Dana", "Take Care" and "Blue Moon" it was clear Chilton wasn't particularly happy with his life and surroundings. On the other hand, tracks such as "Stroke It Noel", "Kizza Me" and "You Can't Have Me" made it clear he could still rock with the best of the lot. Elsewhere, Chilton's cover of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fetale" and the lazy original "Big Black Car" were particularly good. (Perhaps a reflection of the fact the set was never really finalized for release, to our ears the distant, echo-enhanced production sounded as if it were recorded in a shower.) Pete Tomlinson's fawning, extended sleeve notes were worth reading. Sadly, later in the year Bell died in a car crash.

"3rd" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Stroke It Noel (Alex Chilton) - 2:04
2.) For You (Jody Stephens) - 2:45
3.) Kizza Me (Alex Chilton) - 2:45
4.) You Can't Have Me (Alex Chilton) - 3:11
5.) Nighttime (Alex Chilton) - 2:53
6.) Blue Moon (Alex Chilton) - 2:07
7.) Take Care (Alex Chilton) - 2:48

(side 2)

1.) Jesus Christ (Alex Chilton) - 2:38
2.) Femme Fatale (Lou Reed) - 3:32
3.) O, Dana (Alex Chilton) - 2:35
4.) Big Black Car (Alex Chilton - Chris Gage) - 3:37
5.) Holocaust (Alex Chilton) - 3:35
6.) Kanga Roo (Alex Chilton) - 3:47

 

 



Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Big Star's 3rd: Sister Lovers

Company: PVC

Catalog: PVC 8933

Year: 1978

Country/State: Memphis, Tennessee

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: minor edge wear

Available: 2

Catalog ID: not listed yes

Price: $50.00

Cost: $15.00

 

By the time 1974's "Big Star's 3rd" Sister Lovers" was recorded the band had essentially collapsed with Chilton and drummer Stephens being the only original surviving members (bassist Hummel went back to school to get an engineering degree).  In addition to their own personal and professional dysfunctional, Chilton and company weren't exactly helped by the fact that Stax/Ardent were in the throes of financial collapse.  Against that backdrop  It was somehow only fitting that when the sessions were completed, the master tapes ended up spending four years on the shelf before finally being released by the small Aura label in 1978.  (The album's subsequently seen a dizzying set of re-issues, including this 1985 effort.)  

 

Produced by Jim Dickenson, this may be the most fascinating Big Star release.  Musically the set's a complete mess with Chilton and company's personal and professional problems and frustrations erupting amidst a tidal wave of hate and discontent.  Want to hear what a mental meltdown or a fatal traffic accident sound like?  This is real close !!!  Having listened to this album dozens of times, it's simply unlike anything else in my collection.  Tracks such as 'Nighttime', 'Blue Moon' and 'Holocaust' give you the impression Chilton just didn't care any more.  The pop perfection that made earlier albums such a pleasure is all but absent.  In it's place you get a thoroughly rough and raw mix that will drive lots of people crazy.  Mind you, Chilton was simply too talented to turn in a totally crappy album (think he lost his melodic edge, then check out 'O, Dana'), but compared to the earlier sets this one is unnerving.  It's also fascinating in a truly bizarre fashion - like trying to take your eyes off a nasty traffic accident. That weird feeling is underscored by Dickinson's echoy production and Carl Marsh's fragile 'Eleanor Rigby' styled string arrangements that support songs such as ''Take Care'.  Elsewhere,  'Stroke It Noel' and 'for You' are the only rays of hope and sunshine to be found on the entire album. 

 

"Big Star's 3rd" Sister Lovers" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Stroke It Noel   (Alex Chilton) - 2:04

2.) For You   (Jody Stephens) - 2:41

3.) Kizza Me   (Alex Chilton) - 2:44

4.) You Can't Have Me   (Alex Chilton) - 3:11

5.) Nightime   (Alex Chilton) - 2:53

6.) Blue Moon   (Alex Chilton) - 2:05

7.) Take Care   (Alex Chilton) - 2:46

 

(side 2)

1.) Jesus Christ   (Alex Chilton) - 2:37

2.) Femme Fatale   (Lou Reed) - 3:26

3.) O, Dana   (Alex Chilton) - 2:34

4.) Big Black Car   (Alex Chilton) - 3:35

5.) Holocaust   (Alex Chilton) - 3:47

6.) Kanga Roo   (Alex Chilton) - 3:46

7.) Thank You Friends   (Alex Chilton) - 3:05

 

 

 


Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  In Space

Company: Rykodisc

Catalog: 4635 01151 7

Year: 2005

Country/State: Memphis, Tennessee

Grade (cover/record): NM / NM

Comments: gatefold sleeve

Available: SOLD

Catalog ID: SOLD 6266

Price: SOLD $50.00

 

Twelve years after Alex Chilton resurrected Big Star with original drummer Jody Stephens and former Posies members Jon Auer (guitar) and Kim Stringfellow (bass), the reformed band finally ventured into a studio to record new material.  As you can tell from my comments on the earlier Big Star catalog, I'm a massive fan so I was truly excited, if somewhat skitterish when it came to hearing 2005's "In Space".   Part of that trepidation stemmed from the fact most reunions/comebacks are disappointments, plus anyone whose ever heard Alex Chilton's solo catalog knows how erratic his post-Big Star catalog has been.  Yeah there were some great performances in there, but there were also some major stinkers in the pile.  So my initial feelings were of disappointment.  Fair, or not, I kept comparing the album to past glories.  After the passage of a couple of years,  having adjusting my expectations to a more realistic level, and having listened to this album a couple of dozen times, I'll tell you the album wasn't half bad (or perhaps a better description is that the album is half good).  I own the vinyl version and it basically breaks down into side one is excellent, while side two is erratic and nowhere near as impressive.  The end result was a curious mixture of Big Star-styled numbers ('Dony'), power-pop ('Best Chance'), and studio throwaways ('Do You Wanna Make It'). 

 

- With a mixture of rough hewn pop moves and some glistening harmony vocals, 'Dony' came close to capturing some of the old magic.    rating: **** stars

- Opening up with some tasty jangle rock guitar, 'Lady Sweet' offered up one of the album's most mainstream and commercial numbers, but to my ears the results sounded more like a Matthew Sweet outtake than a classic Big Star composition.  'Course I'm a big Matthew sweet fan, so that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.    rating: **** stars

- Sporting a wonderful melody and a fantastic guitar hook, 'Best Chance' came very close to channeling the old Big Star charm.  Hard to believe this one didn't attract some radio attention.   rating: **** stars

- 'Turn My back On the Sun' was a breezy pop number that borrowed heavily from 1960s sunshine pop bands and The Beach Boys.  A great track and one of my favorite performances ...  rating: **** stars

- 'Love Revolution' came off as an unsuccessful attempt to channel 1960s soul a-la Archie Bell and the Drells (think 'Tighten' Up').  Unfortunately there wasn't much to the song (the title track repeated over and over and over and some mildly funky horns) and about the best you could say was that it was pleasant ....  imagine a sub-par Tears for Fears track.    rating: *** stars

- A pretty, folk-rock number with some glistening guitar, 'February's Quiet' didn't make a great impression on me at first, but has become one of my favorite performances.  Another one that reminds me of prime Matthew Sweet.   rating: **** stars

- Side two started with another album highlight - a bouncy cover of The Olympics 'Mine Exclusively'.  The band nailed that '60s feel perfectly and the result was straight up fun rock and roll.   rating: **** stars

- Eight songs in and the album finally stumbles across it's first disappointment - the plodding and forgettable 'A Whole New Thing'.   This one just never kicked into gear and sounded like an outtake from a Chilton solo album.   rating: ** stars

- The lone instrumental, 'Aria, Largo' remains a complete puzzle to me.  Imagine a bunch of high school kids trying to mimic an early 1970s Focus song and you'll get a feel for this weird effort.  It was almost as if Chilton and company were trying to prove they were musically incompetent.   rating: ** stars

-  'Hung Up with Summer' was another track that took awhile to grow on me.  Initially it never seemed to catchy fire, but over time I've come to appreciate it's pseudo-acid tinged feel (and Stringfellow's cool lead guitar).   rating: *** stars

- 'Do You Wanna Make It' was another Chilton throwaway.  Nice guitar segments, but the rest of it was thoroughly forgettable.   rating: ** stars

- 'Makeover' sounded like an in-studio jam rather than a fully formed song.  There may have been a song in this mess somewhere, but I'm not sure where it was.    rating: ** stars

 

It certainly wasn't the place to start exploring the Big Star catalog and clearly wasn't the ultimate Big Star album, but it had more than enough highlights to make it worth checking out and the fact remains that's all she wrote.  Chilton's gone and there aren't going to be any more Big Star studio sets to compare it against.  Enjoy what he left behind.

 

"In Space" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Dony   (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 2:45

2.) Lady Sweet   (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 3:41

3.) Best Chance  (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 3:04

4.) Turn My Back On the Sun   (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 2:38

5.) Love Revolution   (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 5:51

6.) February's Quiet  (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 2:45

 

(side 2)

1.) Mine Exclusively   (Sherlie Matthews) - 2:32

2.) A Whole New Thing  (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 3:53

3.) Aria, Largo (instrumental)  (Muffat) - 2:31

4.) Hung Up with Summer  (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 3:03

5.) Do You Wanna Make It  (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 2:46

6.) Makeover  (John Auger - Ken Stringfellow - Alex Chilton - Jody Stephens) - 3:42

 



Genre: rock

Rating: *** (3 stars)

Title:  Big Star Fan Club

Company: Revival Wax

Catalog: ACC2-A/B

Year: 1986

Country/State: Memphis, Tennessee

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: 12" 45 rpm; 2,500 pressing

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 155

Price: $50.00

 

So technically this isn't a Big Star release since the five track, 12" EP includes a pair of Chris Bell solo efforts.  On the other hand, Alex Chilton reportedly played on one of the Bell tracks, so the Big Star label is close enough.  

Released in 1986 by the small Revival Wax imprint, you can't really label "Big Star Fan Club" a must-own effort, but for hardcore fans and even some casual admirers, its worth looking for (even though it isn't easy to find and carries a surprisingly hefty price tag).  Collecting five odds and ends, it makes for an interesting, if quick overview of the band's broad spectrum of talents.  Complete with chiming guitars and an instantly lovable melody, 'The Secret' captured the band at their power pop best, while the two Chris Bell songs showed what an overlooked talent he was.   Personal favorite - Bell's charming You and Your Sister'.

- Clearly recorded before a small club audience, 'Motel Blues' was a stark, blues number;  just Chilton accompanied by acoustic guitar.  Lyrically the "life's tough on the road" sentiments weren't anything particularly original, but Chilton sounded like he'd acquired quite a bit of experience in this realm, giving the song a grim and lonely edge. If you think the rock and roll life is all glamour, this might be a good tune to listen to a couple of times.   As mentioned above, the sound quality wasn't anything great and there's even a brief segment where the sound drops out completely.   rating: *** stars

- 'The Secret' was a glistening slice of power pop that should have brought the band commercial success.  Kicked along by some wonderful jangle rock guitars and joyous group harmonies, Big Star seldom sounded as good.       rating: **** stars

- 'Watch the Sunrise' was a beautiful Chilton ballad with some great strumming 12 string guitar.  Originally recorded on "# 1 Records", this one was billed as an alternate take, though I was simply too lazy to compare it to the original.       rating: **** stars

- I bought Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos" album and recall being extremely disappointed by the set.  I still own it, but have probably only listened to it three or four times.   Far more catchy and pop-oriented than I remembered, this version of the title track inspired me to pull the album out and give it another shot.       rating: **** stars

- Okay, Bell's voice was nowhere near as good as Chilton's but judging by the pretty and fragile acoustic ballad 'You and Your Sister' he was as good as Chilton when it came to crafting a sweet melody.  One of those songs that sneaks into your head and won't leave ...  rating: **** stars

 

As mentioned, true Big Star fans should seek this one out.

 

"Big Star Fan Club" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Motel Blues

2.) The Secret (alternate take)

3.) Watch the Sunrise (alternate take)

 

(side 2)

1.) I Am the Cosmos

2.) You and Your Sister

 

 

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