Tuesday, January 11, 2011

#66 Big Star-#1 Record


Artist: Big Star
Album: #1 Record
Label: Ardent
Year: 1972

Big Star's first record is glorious. Alex Chilton, a veteran of the late-60s pop music scene with his group The Box Tops formed this band with co-songwriter Chris Bell. The first album by the group was a commercial dud, but began the saga of one of the finest American bands of all-time. I don't know what I can say that hasn't been constantly said in the last however many years, as the band's status continues to climb and their greatness if finally appreciated, but I will say the elements that make the album great: the harmonies, the guitar playing, the production---they all still hold up today brilliantly.
The first four songs on the record perfectly set the tone. "Feel" introduces gorgeous guitar interplay, sweeping vocal harmonies, and even Memphis horns. The lyrics are also markedly different from the band's other two records. On #1 Record, there is a simplicity and youthfulness to the lyrics that is abandoned for greater maturity on Radio City and 3rd/Sister Lovers. "Feel" is an incredibly simple song about a simple feeling of heartbreak. When that first girl is making you crazy in your life, what man doesn't feel like they are being "driven to ruin"? "In The Street" and "Thirteen" expand on these ideas, as the former is a celebration of pre-college goofing off, and the latter expresses that first need for independence. While "The Ballad Of El Goodo" might not have the same lyrical themes, it introduces Jesus into their vocabulary, something that was very important to Christopher Bell, and would still make its way into the lyrics as long as the band existed.
Those first four songs set the tone for a beautiful album. "Don't Lie To Me", though certainly a bit rough, perfectly illustrates a simple frustration one feels with the opposite sex. "My Life Is Right" continues the themes about Jesus as well. And then the album ends with a group of toned down, acoustic songs. Normally, I would complain that four songs with such similarities in tone, instrumentation, and feel, are lumped together at the end of the album rather than spread out equally, but on the first Big Star record it works, and that certainly has something to do with the quality of the songs. In a lot of ways, it's like the band at the end of the record is already a mature version of the band at the beginning. The songs find joy in the simple things. The slide guitar that appears in these songs as well is gorgeous and accents the songs well.
Much ado is made about the legend of Big Star, their tumultuous existence, their lack of success and of course, their massive influence. But none of it would matter if the songs weren't so brilliant, gorgeous, and relateable. The first Big Star record is still a treat that hasn't aged a bit.

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