Big Star – #1 Record
Business is never “fair”, in the Merriam-Webster sense of “free from self-interest, prejudice, or favouritism” (hell, is anything?), and the music industry has made zero effort to be an exception. Talent and hard work matter, as do luck, timing, and all those other things that led us to watch VHS instead of Beta, listen on iPods instead of Zunes, and run Windows instead of Linux on our computers. But a world where Macklemore is winning Grammies over Kendrick Lamar is obviously one seriously effed up place.
Which brings us to Big Star, and “#1 Record”. With every listen, I love this album a little bit more, and yet somehow only 10,000 people laid down their cash – and it absolutely was cash – to own a copy of it in 1972. It isn’t a lost gem – it earned great reviews out of the gate – but the label bungled the release and that was that. There was no social media to allow the band to take control of promotion, no hordes of Pitchfork-loving nerds to make YouTube cover versions and TikTok skits for favoured tracks. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered – Chris Bell would’ve probably still quit the band, since depression, Christianity and resentment wouldn’t have been “cured” by wealth and fame – but a world where Big Star topped the charts would’ve been a more interesting place than the endless prog rock I’ve been slogging through.
Possibly the original power pop band, admired by REM and The Replacements (check out “Alex Chilton”, their tribute to the band’s frontman), there are echoes in their music of acts I would come to love over the years: Squeeze, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Matthew Sweet, Fountains of Wayne, and, especially, Sloan and Guster. Fans of “That 70s Show” (such people exist, right? It was on the air forever.) will recognize “In the Street”, and the poignant tale of young love, “Thirteen”, has been widely covered. Other favourites include the surprisingly spiritual “The Ballad of El Goodo” with its lovely harmonies and jangly guitars, and “The India Song”, which seems almost from a different band. It isn’t perfect – too much of side two sounds alike – but side one is flawless, and this has been my go-to listen for two weeks now. Summer 1972 should’ve been filled with “Feel” or “When My Baby’s Beside Me” blasting from open car windows. I’m doing what I can to make up for it in 2021.
(Originally posted on Facebook, July 15, 2021)