The Album Series 25 & 26 – “1# Record” and “Radio City” by Big Star!

Hello again!

It’s time for yet another Album Series, another AIRHeads release, and it’s another double entry. This time we dive deep into the works of the legendary cult band Big Star – one of the most mythical and influential bands in rock history, and pioneers of power pop.

As perfectly summarized by AllMusic:

Originally led by the singing and songwriting duo of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, the Memphis-based group fused the strongest elements of the British Invasion era — the melodic invention of the Beatles, the whiplash guitars of the Who, and the radiant harmonies of the Byrds — into a ramshackle but poignantly beautiful sound that recaptured the spirit of pop’s past even as it pointed the way toward the music’s future. 

Although creative tensions, haphazard distribution, and marketplace indifference conspired to ensure Big Star’s brief existence and commercial failure, the group’s three studio albums nevertheless remain unqualified classics — the polished but muscular studio sound of 1972’s “#1 Record“, the leaner and tougher guitar-based attack of 1974’s “Radio City“, and the hallucinatory swing between beauty and desperation of what would become known as Third. Their impact on subsequent generations of indie bands on both sides of the Atlantic is surpassed only by that of the Velvet Underground

So let’s dive into this:

Big Star’s first record – amusingly named “1# Record” – is the only album to include the full original lineup, including Chris Bell, and it showcases the Chilton/Bell partnership at its short peak, even sharing writing credits, Lennon/McCartney style. 

It’s basically banger after banger, and it includes most of the band’s signature songs – specifically the gorgeous Beatlesque “The Ballad of El Goodo” and the charming acoustic teen ballad “Thirteen”, and of course the band’s most recognizable tune “In the Street” – mostly known as the theme song for “That ’70s Show”. Elsewhere, we have the gorgeous morbid rocker opener “Feel”, written by Chris Bell, and too rocking deep cuts – “My Life is Right” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me”, both bright, rocking and positive tunes with gorgeous guitars and harmonies.

Moving on to our (and Big Star’s) second album. After Chris Bell has left the band, Big Star almost ceased to exist, but eventually Chilton took the lead and “Radio City” showcases the group as a power trio. It’s a weirder, more urgent and less “pretty” album than its predecessor, while still containing some absolute earworms and brilliant melodies, and some absolutely stunning guitar playing from Chilton (seriously he’s absolutely on fire here). 

Opening with “O My Soul”, previously released as a C3 custom by ws54 who did an excellent job on it, into “Life is White” (a brilliant song with the most unnerving harmonica) already sets the tone. There’s plenty of powerpop earworms – most famously the trademark tune “September Gurls” which is a classic of the genre, but also the gorgeous “Back of a Car”, the sinister but catchy “You Get What You Deserve” and the charming “Way Out West” (written by bass player Andy Hummel and sung by drummer Jody Stephens), which is a personal favorite of mine. Another favorite is the ballad “What’s Going Ahn”, which is beautiful and weirdly unnerving at once. All in all, this is a fantastic album with plenty of great tracks to play.

And finally, there’s “Third/Sister Lovers”. You can write an whole essay just about this sad album, which ranks among the most harrowing experiences in pop music; impassioned, erratic, and stark, it’s the slow, sinking sound of a band falling apart. But instead, I’ve chosen possibly the sweetest and loveliest song from it to round our pack – the lovely “For You”, written by drummer Jody Stephen, and includes quite a great orchestral arrangement, playable on keys. Along with the already released “Kizza Me” and “Thank You Friends”, this is a nice collection from “Third”.

Also, if you’re into Big Star make sure you don’t miss “I Am the Cosmos” – the title track of Chris Bell’s only solo album, and the unofficial 4th Big Star album. “I Am the Cosmos” is an absolutely gorgeous tune that’s considered one of the highlights of the Big Star related songs.

You can listen to our entire Big Star collection here:

That’s it for today! Hope you enjoy the songs, hope I did justice for this legendary band. See you next time!

This release is part of the Album Series. Previous entries include:

1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
2. Silver Jews – Tanglewood Numbers
3. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures
4. Summer Salt – Happy Camper
5. My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade
6. Beach Bunny – Honeymoon & Blame Game
7. Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Unlimited Love
9. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear
10. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest the Rats’ Nest
11. The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
12. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
13. George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
14. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci – Barafundle
15. Suede – Autofiction
16. Silver Jews – American Water
17. Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish
18. R.E.M. – Murmur
19. Coldplay – Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
20. Cream – Disraeli Gears
21. Tanya Donelly – Love Songs for Underdogs
22. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound
23/24. The Breeders – Pod/Last Splash

The Album Series is an ongoing collaborative project. If you would like to get involved, be sure to reach out to Yaniv297 for more information on how to participate.

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  1. Oh, lets gooo! Great albums, great song picks, can’t wait to belt the chorus of El Goodo at the top of my lungs because I can’t help myself. Thank you AIRHeads, you rule!

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