Big Star Vinyl, CD & tapes by Big Star at Norman Records
If there ever was a band out of time it was Big Star - too late to be part of the 1960s pop and psychedelia scene that encompassed The Byrds and The Beatles, too early for the 1980s renaissance of guitar music from the likes of R.E.M and The Replacements.
Instead they ploughed a lonely 1970s furrow, achieving absolutely no success in their lifetime but becoming heralded in later years as hip younger artists discovered their treasure trove of work. Singer Alex Chilton had already achieved chart success as the rough-voiced teenage star of The Box Tops (notably with ‘The Letter’), but he soon grew tired of the pop treadmill and withdrew to Memphis. There, he hooked up with fellow pop obsessive Chris Bell and formed Big Star.
Theirs was a bright, jangling form of Brit Invasion pop with a distinctly Southern Soul / Stax influence. Their debut No 1 Record split the songwriting duties equally between Chilton and Bell and was a varied work ranging from glammy stompers ('Feel' and 'In the Street') to gorgeous reflective acoustic songs such as the eventually-to-become-classic 'Thirteen' and hazy closer 'ST100/6'.
It was met with critical acclaim but sold next to nothing, and so the band descended into squabbling and violence eventually emerging (without Bell) with another storming set of songs, Radio City. With Chilton taking (almost) sole charge the album was a shimmering pop beast; one part The Who, one part The Byrds - full of trebly, jangling guitars and Chilton’s romantic yearnings. These are the two records that influenced scores of artists to come, most notably Teenage Fanclub, The Posies and Game Theory. But there is one final (OK, not quite final) addition to the Big Star catalogue, their astounding third album Sister Lovers - a mess of disturbing, fractured songs that yielded moments of pop bliss but was made up of weird, experimental forms of song craft, the recording of which have long passed into legend with rumours of drug abuse and violence surrounding the sessions.
Having steadfastly refused to have much to do with the legacy of his former band, Chilton improbably reformed Big Star (augmented by members of The Posies) for a series of tours and a further album, In Space, in the early 2000s. But by this point the band had already cemented its reputation as a classic obscure-at-the-time band, with music that had a significant impact on what followed.