#1 Record/Radio City
Once in a blue moon, a great artist sneaks under the radar screen of both MTV and the general public, but still influences a younger generation of musicians. Alex Chilton’s second project, Big Star, falls into the category. After his initial success as the 16-year-old vocalist on The Box Tops’ “The Letter,” he joined up with Chris Bell (vocals and guitar), Andy Hummel (bass), and Jody Stephens (drums) to form Big Star. The band was highly unstable, infested as it was with drugs and early ’70s rock and roll excess, yet produced three albums, each with great music and saddled with distribution nightmares stemming from a battle between Columbia and Stax. The band couldn’t get records in stores, and even with critical acclaim, they went nowhere.
The CD in hand contains their first two LPs, #1 Record and Radio City, along with a pair of single edits that never were released. The music has an optimistic early ’70s sound with Kinks-like guitar works and interesting harmonies that take equal impetus from English music halls, California surf, and melodic folk. “Feel” and “In the Street” sound like bona fide hits, except they never showed up on a Hot 100 anywhere. Internal division over touring drove Chris Bell out of the band after #1 Record, and the remaining trio produced a second album that carried on the same sound, although with fewer potential hits. Again, distribution problems meant this disc never even made the cutout racks, much less the used record shops that educated my generation of collectors. The sound remains surprisingly fresh, and songs like “Daisy Glaze” or “Back of a Car” could have been recorded anytime in the past five years.
While this reissue might find its audience with musical historians and bands seeking a sense of the past, it’s completely listenable to today’s ear, even if there are moments on it that make you think you’re in a small time warp. Somehow, most people missed this disc, and I was unaware of it until the folks at Concord sent a copy. Don’t fall into the same crack, give it a listen and see what we’ve all been missing.