I am so excited I am bouncing up and down in my chair and making my co-workers very suspicious. Big Star, the brilliant, beautiful and seemingly cursed founders of the power-pop genre, are releasing a box set.
Four discs worth of unreleased demos, alternate takes, rarities, and live cuts are on tap for cult-rock act Big Star this fall when Rhino releases "Keep An Eye On The Sky" on September 15. The 98 tracks cull from 1968 – 1975, and include pre-Big Star bands Rock City and Icewater, solo work from Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, and unreleased material from the "#1 Record," "Radio City" and "Third/Sister Lover" sessions.
While Big Star struggled with success commercially, their early 70's, power-pop sound is often cited as directly influencing bands like Cheap Trick, R.E.M. and the Replacements. Big Star's music is undergoing a resurgence, with a film is reportedly in the works - based on Rob Jovanovic's biography, "Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band" - and songs have been used in several TV shows, including the Cheap Trick version of "In The Street" as the theme song to "That ‘70s Show."
Big Star struggled with success commercially, all right. Their first two records were critically adulated pop masterpieces that failed to make their way onto the shelves of any record stores. Alex Chilton grew so depressed over it that he purposely sabotaged their next record because he knew that no matter how good it was no one would be able to find it. The unfinished album Third may be their best. Public opinion has caught up with Big Star -- they're widely recognized as being up their with the Velvet Underground as the era's most influential American band, but boy was it not there to begin with:
While Big Star gigs were that of a rare thing, the fourth disc culls live material from three nights the band performed in January 1973. They were booked as the opening act for soul pioneers Archie Bell & The Drells at the Lafayette Music Room in Memphis. Stephens recalls those performances being rather difficult. "Not exactly our crowd," Stephens says. "After our performances you can hear one person clap. Not a lot of energy coming back from the audience. The good thing about that particular recording is that there were mics set up in the room. It wasn't a board feed, where those can be kind of dry."
For many (myself included), the original Big Star 4 singer/4 writer lineup of guitarists Alex Chilton and Chris Bell with bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens is the band that maybe could've been as great as the Beatles had they not self-destructed. Give a listen to "Thank You Friends", and perhaps you'll agree (you have to fast forward to about 0:20 for the song to start).