I would assume that most every Bedazzled! reader is at least FAMILIAR with Big Star. If you aren't, I strongly suggest that you do not pass GO and immediately purchase the box set Keep An Eye On The Sky as well as the double disc reissue of Chris Bell's posthumous masterpiece I Am The Cosmos. These are some of the greatest sounding CD's out there (it takes A LOT for an analog diehard such as myself to admit that), but there's a real charm to these 45's, and it is my pleasure to share them here.
"When My Baby's Beside Me b/w In The Street" was the debut release, coinciding with the long player #1 Record. "When My Baby..." is a nifty, AM radio ready mono mix of the Alex Chilton sung mover; this was one of the few Big Star songs that Alex Chilton played regularly in his solo gigs. 'In The Street" however, is a completely different mix with a different vocal take altogether from Chris Bell, who reaches some absolutely nut-crunching high notes here.
These records mean the world to me, and the combination of a grizzled yet still-very-young music biz veteran Alex Chilton matched up with the tragic melodic genius of Chris Bell created some of the greatest music of the early '70's.
With the type of songwriting, vocal and instrumental prowess contained in this group, one would think that they would have indeed realized their name and climbed the ladder to success. Lambasted as being passe during the time of endless boogie, Big Star records sold poorly but were cherished by those who owned them, and along the way the cult grew and grew, eventually manifesting itself into what became the heart of guitar based power pop/ college rock/ indie pop/ whatever the hell you wanna call it music from the late 70's onwards.
Ardent (which was distributed by Stax) tried again with a second single from the first LP, pairing the aggressive "Don't Lie To Me" with the gorgeous, pastoral "Watch The Sunrise". Once again, the single sunk without a trace. Interestingly, my copy was mis-pressed and contains "Thirteen" (quite possibly the most enduring track of the album, and Alex Chilton's greatest ever performance) in place of "Lie". I don't hear any mix differences, but this track is just too good not to share here. "Watch The Sunrise" is certainly different, as it edits a chunk of guitar picking from the intro. The vocal also sounds a tad different to my ears as well.Rather ominously, the trail off wax on the "Lie To Me' side reads "SKULL TREE".
After the lack of success of the first LP, Chris Bell left the group, embarking on epic travel adventures in Europe and England which included time spent recording tracks that eventually made up the I Am The Cosmos LP, which was first released in 1992, some 14 years after his tragic death. Chris Bell suffered a lot in his personal life, exasperated by drug abuse, mental illness and the pain of closeted homosexuality. However, from his despair came some of the greatest, most transcendent music of the 1970's. Shortly before his death, the 45 of 'I Am The Cosmos b/w You And Your Sister' was released by Chris Stamey's Car label. "Cosmos" is a MASSIVE recording, and the druggy haze was recorded in Memphis, and overdubbed/ mixed by geoff Emerick at AIR Studios in London, fulfilling Chris' wish of recording with the Beatles engineer. The incredibly touching b-side finds a reuinion of the Big Star principles back at their home base in Memphis at Ardent studios. Alex Chilton's harmonies here are the stuff of goosebump inducing legend, and it never fails how many times I've heard this song that it moves me to tears. Once again, while the recent double disc CD reissue sounds amazing, listening to the original 45 is a truly incredible experience. Hopefully that translates to you thru these high quality transfers and scans! -Derek See
"In the latter months of 1969, somewhere between the moon landing and the start of the Vietnam draft, the concerts at Woodstock and Altamont, Alex Chilton decided to take back his life. During that annus mirabilis, while the world experienced a generationally sparked social, political, and cultural upheaval, the 18-year-old Chilton was in the midst of a revolution of his own."
"For the past year, Chilton had been strapped in a creative, professional, and personal straitjacket. He was the lead singer of a million-selling band, The Box Tops, but felt like little more than a puppet of the group’s producers. In the era of free love, he’d been pressured into a shotgun marriage and fatherhood. And he’d ultimately come to see himself as the pawn of an unscrupulous business machine, sent to grind it out on the road in a series of silly lip-synched TV performances and one-night stands while someone else cashed his checks. As he entered the studio that summer to make his first solo recordings, the man who would come to define the very spirit of musical independence was still bound in chains. At a time where liberation and self-expression were rallying cries, Alex Chilton was about to break free." via www.ardentstudios.com
The next performance of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers will be on Saturday, March 26, at Mason Hall in NYC. The NC core group from the Cat’s Cradle show, complete with the rhythm section of Jody Stephens, Mike Mills, Will Rigby, Charles Cleaver, and Mitch Easter and the expanded Lost in the Trees Orchestra, will be joined by Tift Merritt, Matthew Sweet, M. Ward, Norman Blake (Teenage Fan Club), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo) and others to be announced shortly. via bigstarthird.com
Video footage by William Eggleston from "Stranded in Canton," of Alex Chilton and Sid Selvidge playing "My Rival" in Memphis, TN, circal mid-1970's. Video property of the Eggleston Artistic Trust. www.egglestontrust.com
Big Star's Third is a fully orchestrated live performance of Big Star's third album Sister Lovers featuring members of R.E.M., Big Star, Let's Active, the dB's, Lost in the Trees and more. The show premieres December 9 and 10 at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. Tickets are $17 in advance, $20 day of show. Link.
I've been a big fan of Tommy Hoehn's ever since I bought his 45 of "Blow Yourself Up" on the seminal Memphis power-pop label Powerplay. I was very sad today to hear of his passing. Someone had left a comment on this blog awhile back that he was ill, but I didn't know for sure until I got the news today. Here are various folks including Tommy and me tackling Alex Chilton and Tommy's co-written power-pop classic "She Might Look My Way".
"Hoehn, known for his solo work and collaborations with Big Star
members Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, had been battling cancer for the
past year. The 55-year-old Hoehn died on Thursday night at Methodist