“Years ago, my heart was set to live, oh
But I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds
It gets so hard in times like now to hold on
My guns they’re waiting to be stuck by
At my side is God
And there ain’t no one goin’ turn me ’round
Ain’t no one goin’ turn me ’round.”
~Ballad of El Goodo, #1 Record.
Over the past week or so I’ve learned I cannot get enough of Big Star, the best band of the latter 20th century whose mass-market destiny was shot down by forces beyond their own control but whose talent never faded.
They were on my radar, in the background, back in the day for their authorship of “Thirteen” and its subsequent gorgeous covers, but learning about the band via Netflix doc has me floored, unable to grasp the fact that there was music this good being created that most listeners, as far as the masses were concerned, never heard.
Their story is an exceptionally tragic pairing of ego and industry, both in states of implosion. This sound is so perfectly encapsulating what would’ve been a hit … “Radio City” is as close to a perfect album as I have heard in some time. “Back of the Car”is the greatest teenage love song I never heard before, the harmonica counterpoint in “Life is White” is blues rock at its best, and the outro harmonies on “What’s Going Ahn” are ghostly, and haunting. This record has no dull moments.
But, their debut, “#1 Record” is so good, too, so rich and pure, full of contrasting melodies, sing-a-long hooks cloaked in a cynicism. I believe someone in the Netflix described it as close to a perfect record, and I am inclined to agree. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell follow in the footsteps of Lennon-McCartney, with the added benefit of free-wheeling rock ‘n’ roll of the 1970s informing their efforts. These songs have a softer edge than “Radio City,” which brings an edgier tone and a little more structure. Then we get to “Third/Sister Lovers,” and there we find this band exploring boundaries it only previously toed, as far as dynamics and range and scope. Each record of theirs is progressively wild, pressing boundaries, but still so centered on what it means to write rock songs of weight and consequence.
Discovering this band has re-centered me musically, in the way that I was shifted as a teenager when I discovered Zeppelin. Just because something was released decades ago doesn’t mean it can’t be appreciated in today’s environment – in fact, it deserves more of a spotlight if only to better compare against those who are trying to make moves and be the greats today. I think what gets me the most is that no matter how many listeners did or did not get to absorb and adore Big Star in their heyday, is how absolutely breathtaking their sound is decades later. True style, true talent, it does not fade with the trends of the times.
“I like love but I don’t know
All these girls, they come and go
Always nothing left to say
And I resigned everyone
Ever since I was young
I’m starting to understand
What’s going on and how it’s planned.”
~What’s Going Ahn, Radio City