Big Star - No. 1 Record
Hence the formation of Big Star. Now it would be true to say that, at the time, Big Star was hardly a name which set the world alight. After all, the music is not exactly different from what was coming out around the same time. It is a combination of west coast rock with a heavy influence from bands like the Beatles. It is not hard to draw parallels with those other powerpoppers of the same age, Badfinger. The difference is that Big Star is more successful at what they do. There is a plethora of close vocal harmonies between the band members which work very well. Underpinning this are some good melodies and reasonable lyrics. Despite some impressive critical acclaim when it was released, it never got the recognition it deserved at the time and Big Star never really made much of an impact.
The album is clearly divided into two halves which probably is a reflection of the fact that, when this came out on vinyl, turning the disc over often resulted in a change of emphasis. The first half is much stronger on the rock while the second half is more mellow and features greater use of acoustic instruments and slower, wound-down vocals. "Feel" opens the album and is a strong enough track. However, it is left to the second track, the weirdly named "Ballad of El Goodo", where the band really gets into their stride with the harmonies coming to the fore and a melody which defines the market the band was aiming for - somewhere between commercial and innovative. Hardly surprising that they should end up with little commercial success.
The rockers continue with tracks such as "Don't Lie to Me" and "When My Baby's Beside Me", but perhaps a foretaste of what is to come is the track which splits these up on the album, "The India Song". That it seems totally out of place within this collection of such is immediately apparent and that is hardly surprising, given that it is the only track not written by the Chilton-Bell combo, but written by bassist Andy Hummel.
During the second half, the band gets more introspective and the harmonies grow less obvious. The melodies are quieter and the band almost seems to be attempting to shed the rock and roll pedigree they had set out to establish during the first half. Tracks such as "Give Me Another Chance", "Watch the Sunrise" and "Thirteen" offer a wistful and sometimes weary view of the world. Despite this change, the album remains a success simply because it sticks within its limitations and does not try to pretend it is anything it is not.
Listening to No. 1 Record is a reminder of how much simpler things seemed to be in the early seventies. There is a complete lack of pretension about this and there is no affectation in either the vocals or the music. It is very much a case of take-it-or-leave-it. Many bands, including R.E.M., have cited Big Star as an influence, and I suppose in some ways it is gratifying that a band which had so little success at the time should find more of it once they have gone and many of their members, Chilton included, have passed on.
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