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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Stax

In the mid-1970s, while most of the music world was focused on stadium concerts, the excesses of hard and glam rock and inevitable indulgences like half-hour drum solos, one unknown Memphis quartet was quietly predicting the future. Fronted by Alex Chilton who'd been the teenaged singer on the Box Tops 1967 hit, "The Letter," and including songwriter/guitarist Chris Bell, bassist Andy Hummel, and drummer Jody Stephens, Big Star (named for a local supermarket chain), was steeped in the Beatles and contemporaries of Badfinger and The Raspberries. During its short life, the band recorded three ahead-of-their-time albums in the early 70s that are now worshipped as THE unassailable grails of power pop. Even more far-reaching, the band's three albums are also the place where R.E.M., The dBs, The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, and many others first got the idea for the jangly, tuneful, proudly Anglophilic guitar pop that eventually became a large part of Alternative Rock. Opening with Chris Bell's unexpectedly Robert Plant-esque vocal on the opening track, "Feel," this collection of Bell/Chilton originals progresses through sparkling tracks like the hilariously-titled, Byrdsian romp, "The Ballad of El Goodo," rockers like "Don't Lie To Me," the anthemic "When My Baby's Beside Me," and the joyous, bouncy single "In The Street," sung by Bell and later re-recorded by Cheap Trick as the theme song of television's That 70's Show. All are lean, clean, joyous blasts of melody built on tight ensemble playing rather than vocalist melodrama or solo instrumental glory. What gives #1 Record a never to be repeated edge in the slim Big Star catalog, is the presence of two strong vocalists in Chilton and Bell, who trade leads and harmonize together. The gossamer, beseeching "Give Me Another Chance" rises on their ravishing, John and Paul-like entwining. The defining twist in the Big Star fable is that because the distribution was fumbled, #1 Record barely made it into the stores, a lost cult record from the day it was released. Given an appropriately shimmering, tingle-inducing production thanks to the recording and mixing expertise of both Bell, but in particular Ardent Studio owner John Fry (most apparent in the crystalline acoustic guitar tones in "Watch The Sunrise"), these 12 miraculous confections are given added detail and punch in the sparkling new all-analog remastering. Guitar pop music has rarely if ever been this consequential. The still-radiant, all-consuming pop genius here remains sublime. © Robert Baird/Qobuz
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Rock - Released September 14, 2009 | Rhino

As the object of intense devotion for so many fans, it's fitting that Big Star receive a box set designed for the intensely devoted: four discs containing every song the band cut in the '70s, often present in slightly alternate mixes or versions in addition to the originals, a clutch of solo songs from both Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, as well as a handful of pre-Big Star cuts by Icewater and Rock City, all topped off with a live disc culled from a three-set stint at Memphis' Lafayette's Music Room in January of 1973, not long after Bell left the band. Excepting subsequent reunions in the '90s and 2000s, no corner of the band's career remains untouched on Keep an Eye on the Sky and rarities are abundant, with 55 of its 98 tracks previously unreleased. This is a staggering statistic but it's also misleading, for 20 of those cuts are from the live disc and the rest are either alternate mixes, alternate versions, or demos -- there are no unheard songs, aside from an excerpt of Rock City's "The Preacher." Of these, only a handful are markedly different either in their lyrics or attack, with all finding the songs and even arrangements essentially intact, even in their demo form. Consequently, Keep an Eye on the Sky contains fewer revelations than it initially appears, which isn't to say it lacks any: the earliest demos for 3rd are by and large lighter in tone than the album (although there's no way "Holocaust" ever could seem cheery), a testament to how much a song can change during the recording process. In a way, all of Big Star's career is a testament to the recording process. They were a creature of the studio, not stage, having free rein at Ardent Studios, where they stayed up into the next morning tinkering at the same set of songs. This resulted in the crisp, sterling sound of #1 Record and the deliberately looser Radio City, as well as the sliding, sprawling mess of 3rd, but it didn't result in outtakes -- it resulted in alternate mixes and instrumental scraps, the stuff that enthralls fetishists, sometimes justifiably so. Those are the listeners who will find Keep an Eye on the Sky most rewarding, but anybody who has loved the band will find something to cherish here, whether it's the crackerjack live show -- which provides roaring covers of the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Hot Burrito #2," T. Rex's "Baby Strange," and Todd Rundgren's "Slut" (later revived 20 years later on their reunion concert), as well as a startlingly effective take on "The India Song" -- or merely the context of the set, which tells the story of America's greatest cult band this side of the Velvet Underground in a complete and affecting fashion. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Pop - Released May 27, 2016 | Ardent Music

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Rock - Released January 1, 2014 | Stax

Largely lacking co-leader Chris Bell, Big Star's second album also lacked something of the pop sweetness (especially the harmonies) of #1 Record. What it possessed was Alex Chilton's urgency (sometimes desperation) on songs that made his case as a genuine rock & roll eccentric. If #1 Record had a certain pop perfection that brought everything together, Radio City was the sound of everything falling apart, which proved at least as compelling. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 16, 2017 | Stax

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Rock - Released October 14, 2016 | Omnivore Recordings

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Rock - Released July 15, 2016 | Volcano - Legacy

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Pop - Released January 1, 2009 | Fantasy Records

A two-fer combining Big Star's first and second albums, #1 Record/Radio City remains a definitive document of early-'70s American power pop and a virtual blueprint for much of the finest alternative rock that came after it. The lone Big Star record to merit the full participation of founder Chris Bell, the brightly produced #1 Record splits the songwriting credits evenly between him and Alex Chilton (in the tradition of Lennon-McCartney). But from the beginning, the group is tearing apart at the seams: Bell and Chilton's relationship seems less a working partnership than a battle of wills, and each possesses his own distinctive vision. The purist, Bell crafts electrifying and melodic classic pop like "Feel" and "In the Street," while Chilton, the malcontent, pens luminous, melancholy ballads like "The Ballad of El Goodo" and "Thirteen." Ultimately, their tension makes #1 Record brilliant. However, Radio City shifts gears dramatically: Bell is largely absent (though he guests, uncredited, on a few tracks, including the wonderful "Back of a Car"), allowing Chilton's darker impulses free reign. From the raucous opener "O My Soul" onward, the new Big Star is noisier, edgier, and even more potent. Erratic mixing, spotty production, shaky performances -- by all rights, Radio City should be a failure, yet Chilton is at his best when poised on the brink of disaster, and the songs hang together seemingly on faith and conviction alone. Each track recalls pop's glory days, from the Kinks-ish snarl of "Mod Lang" to the Byrds-like guitar glow that adorns "Way Out West." The much-celebrated "September Gurls" is indeed a classic -- everything right and good about pop music distilled down to three minutes of pure genius. © Jason Ankeny /TiVo
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Rock - Released June 25, 2013 | Omnivore Recordings

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Rock - Released January 12, 2018 | Omnivore Recordings

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 27, 2016 | Ardent Music

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Rock - Released November 4, 2014 | Omnivore Recordings

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Rock - Released September 14, 1993 | Volcano

With the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow standing in with Alex Chilton, on Jody Stephens' recommendation, for the uninterested Andy Hummel and the deceased Chris Bell, the foursome run through a collection mostly drawn from #1 Record and Radio City. Chilton's in good voice throughout, the blend of sweetness and melancholia of the band's original days present and fine as ever. As a band, the quartet doesn't let the legacy down a whit, from "Don't Lie to Me" and its full passion to the bemused regret of "September Gurls." Everyone else gets at least one vocal turn as well, a nice way of signaling the group effort that went into the show. Stephens handles "Way Out West" and "For You," Auer sings Bell's solo single "I Am the Cosmos," while Stringfellow takes over on no less than three songs, "Back of a Car," "Daisy Glaze," and a smashing rip on "Feel." A few interesting surprises are thrown in along the way, though anyone familiar with Chilton's way around unexpected covers in performance won't be too taken off-guard. T. Rex's "Baby Strange" gets a straightforward take, glam sass fully intact and suiting the band perfectly, while Todd Rundgren's "Slut" closes out the set with a final appropriate blast. Not the end of the world, just a great show from a legendary group. © Ned Raggett /TiVo
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Rock - Released November 14, 2006 | Norton Records

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Rock - Released April 19, 2017 | Norton Records Inc.

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Pop - Released July 9, 2013 | Ardent Music

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released July 3, 2017 | The Vth Season

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released July 29, 2016 | The Vth Season

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released April 21, 2017 | The Vth Season