Focus On Big Star

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of its release, host Rich Tupica compiled a two-part show on Big Star’s “No. 1 Record.” Released in 1972, by Ardent and Stax Records, it’s influenced everyone from R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub to Beck and Wilco.

The first part, comprising only alternate takes from the LP, also includes 1972 radio interview clips with founders Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel – recorded days after the album was released. Part two of this show digs back into the roots of the Memphis band, playing only Big Star pre-cursors. Part two also features 1975 interview clips from Chris Bell, who left the band just after the LP was released.

Check it out here!

Also, can’t remember if I told you bastards or not, but I grew up on the same street as Chris Bell. Missed him by about ten years, though. They moved in ’65.

3 Replies to “Focus On Big Star”

  1. Same street would be long odds, but I don’t think of Memphis as very big, at least not within our demographic. If you’re a Memphian of power pop inclinations, you’re a middle to upper-middle-class whitey, usually from East Memphis. A couple were from midtown, but that hardly mattered. Everyone met sooner or later, because we all started gravitating towards midtown in our mid-to- late teens; that’s where the studios and music clubs were. But outside of that musical niche, east Memphis is like a small town. Talk to anyone who grew up there in the 60’s-80’s, and you’ll find a connection. Same for midtowners. An example would be your (Makerbot) dating the younger half-sister of my old bandmate. That connection would be there if you’d never picked up a guitar, just as would your proximity to the Bells. All that came just from living and going to school in East Memphis.

    Coincidentally, for the past 15 years I’ve lived a couple of blocks away from the house the Bells moved to in ’65.

    As for the podcast, one likeable thing about Alex is that he was secure and open about influences. He mentions Todd Rundgren, and there is a lot of Todd in his #1 Record songs (Listen to “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” then Nazz’s “Open My Eyes,” which is ground zero of American Power Pop. “Give Me Another Chance” could be a folked-up cover of a song from Something/Anything). It’s always annoying when musicians try to deny or cover up their influences.

    I’m guessing the decision to release “When My Baby’s Beside Me” as the first single must have rankled Bell and helped fuel his departure. The album was mostly his baby, but from early on Alex got the attention because he was already well-known. When I first heard of Big Star it was as “The Box Tops’ singer’s new band.” The first time I saw them, it was “let’s go see Alex Chilton’s band” (which it was by then, as Bell had recently quit). Several years passed before I learned of Bell’s prime role in the first album. I’d known he was in the band, but everyone just assumed it was the Alex show. Bell’s departure is often blamed on the commercial failure of the album, but I think he would have left anyway because of Alex. Success and the inevitable tour would have made things worse, because Alex, on top of being better-known, was also a more charismatic performer and a better solo singer, especially live. For all Bell’s talent, he was rather stiff live and his voice a bit nasal.

    Speaking of touring, you can spot their lack of management when Hummel says something like, “we’re gonna wait for the record to take off then schedule some shows.” If they’d had a real manager, he’d have booked them an opening slot on, I dunno, a Slade tour, and said “you fuckers be ready to go next week.” It came out in the spring, for chrissakes, perfect timing for a summer tour.

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