A local record shop recently closed. A week before they closed I received in the mail a letter reminding me I had an unused store credit. I went to store and decided I would spend my credit on some used CD's. I found three and had enough credit for one more. I looked thoroughly back and forth over their stock and found a CD by a band named Big Star. The name was familiar, but I couldn't place where or why I had heard of them. I thought there was a connection with Badfinger somehow, but I wasn't sure. Anyway, I used the store credit and five days later it is still the only one of the CD's I bought that day that I have listened to in my CD player and the best $4.50 I've spent in recent months.
The CD was titled "#1 Record / Radio City", it is collection of the only two LP's the band released while the band existed in the early 1970's. There were other albums released after they disbanded. I read the liner notes while I played this CD for the first time and there it was in print, a comparison to Badfinger (also there were comparisons to the Byrds and the Beatles). So now I was listening much more intensely. Only I didn't need to, I could tell from the second track, "The Ballad of El Goodo" that this recording was very much in the vein of Badfinger, with the high hovering angelic background vocals mixed with the melancholy message of the track.
Slowly, I'm starting to realize that I have read Big Star's name in power pop articles in the past, but never paid any mind to them because I didn't know anything they recorded. They had no pop AM radio hits for me to recall, such as the Raspberries. But while listening to the CD, I realized there actually was a track I knew, "September Gurls". This track was covered by the Bangles in the mid 1980's. I remembered playing that song in the record shop I worked in then. The version here is excellent and very much in sync to what a Badfinger fan would appreciate. Other tracks that were very impressive and reminiscent of Badfinger included, "When My Baby Besides Me", "Thirteen" , "My Life is Right" and most of the portion of the CD that consists of Big Star's debut album "#1 Record". The portion of the disc that was actually Big Star's second LP, "Radio City", is slightly harder edged. This may have been do to the departure of band member Chris Bell, who is credited with creating some of the gorgeous pop rock on "#1 Record".
If it sounds like I'm making a big deal about this CD it is because I am highly impressed with what I have listened to the past several days and I do believe it is very much in line to what a Badfinger fan would appreciate. I'm saying, if you have a couple of dollars to spare I highly recommend this CD. Note: The CD I bought is missing two tracks from the "#1 Record" ("In the Street" and "ST/100"), there was not enough disc space to put all 24 tracks on from both LP's when this CD was first released in the late 1980's. However, the CD has been redone in the 1990's and now includes all the tracks from both LP's. One of the tracks I haven't heard, "In the Street" was (is?) used for the theme song to the Fox Network's That 70's Show. I read this information on a Big Star website. CDNow has this CD available with a few Real Audio samples. Also, Phil Smee at Waldos designed the artwork and layout for the CD package (ring any bells for Badfinger fans?).
The two main people in the band where former Box Tops lead vocalist, Alex Chilton and the previously mentioned Chris Bell. The late 60's anglo-soul of the Box Tops is replaced by an early 70's anglo-pop very much in the Badfinger and Raspberries vein, but more in line with the former than the latter. I liked the Box Tops hits, but for the most part, the vocal stylings on this disc are closer to Badfinger's than the Box Tops hits (which is all I know to compare).
This band also has a tragic story to tell as well. Chris Bell, who I believe may have been the Pete Ham influence of the band, died in a car crash on December 27, 1978 in, or near Memphis, Tennessee. It was noted that he was struggling with depression from leaving the music business at that time in his life. I say Chris may have been the Pete influence, because the liner notes and other material I've read state that Alex was the rocker of the band and Chris wrote the beautiful ballads that really do balance Alex's work. I still can't figure out if Alex does all the singing or whether they split vocals. Perhaps there is a "big" Big Star fan amongst us Badfinger fans who can shed some light on this question. In the meantime, if you can swing it financially with all the Badfinger items to be available shortly, find a copy of this CD by Big Star. Badfinger fans will not be disappointed and in fact may rejoice that they have found another lost treasure in a band named Big Star.