#1 Record – Big Star – Ardent Records – 1972
Towards the end of 1971, four young men from Memphis — some established musicians already, some just starting out — came together to record their debut album. Known collectively as Big Star, they delivered a set of songs that were at once intensely intimate and emphatically exuberant. Their music depicted how it feels to have boundless energy with limited places to spend it, coupled with curious, angst-ridden minds in search of kindreds. It is music that encapsulates the essence youth, yet remains universal and relatable at any age. It’s music that is very much of its time, yet still sounds fresh today.
Their debut album, #1 Record, was released in the summer of 1972, and was followed by two more albums in the 1970s before the group disbanded, never reuniting until nearly two decades later. Big Star has since influenced some of today’s most enduring and celebrated artists; publications like Rolling Stone consistently rank the group’s albums among the greatest of all time, so the question must be asked: why is Big Star not a household name?
In this episode, we discuss #1 Record‘s origins, influences, and what kept it from commercial success. We also talk about why it is so personal to us, and why it’s the kind of music that, once found, cannot be forgotten.
Listen to #1 Record: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube
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Episode notes and postscript corrections
- Here’s a more thorough timeline of the formation and evolution of Big Star.
- We highly recommend the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. See our further watching links below to watch the trailer and where to find it online
- Here’s that Twitter thread on the rest of our favorite music docs that we mentioned. Check out ones you haven’t seen yet, or just rewatch some perennial faves.
- Big Star has been called one of the pioneers of “‘70s power pop,” and, a full definition of what exactly that sub-genre is (because, to be honest, we were a little “okay, clarification, please” when we read this) can be found here.
- “The Ballad of El Goodo” has been seen in some instances as a Vietnam War protest song, primarily due to these lyrics: “They’ll zip you up and dress you down and stand you in a row / But you know you don’t have to, you can just say no.”
- Yes, “In the Street” is the That ‘70s Show theme song.
- Yes, they actually used a Cheap Trick cover version.
- Again, no offense to any That ‘70s Show fans or anyone who worked on it, but we did not watch that show. So, sorry, this will be a relatively That ‘70s Show-free podcast.
- Studio banter is the key to our hearts.
- Chris Bell’s struggles with depression, anxiety, and sexuality have been speculated upon for years after his death, and “Try Again” can be seen as a window into his “tortured soul.”
- Big Star influenced a host of modern artists, from Elliott Smith and M. Ward to Wilco and REM. Follow us on Spotify — our master playlist has all the songs we referenced in this episode, along with some choice related music to draw out these comparisons.
- Feel free to get in touch with us! We have had some great conversations so far. We have an ever-evolving FAQ page here, but shoot us an email, like and message on Facebook, and follow on Twitter to get at us with your questions, comments, or just a “hello!”
Favorite track(s): Watch the Sunrise (Carly) | Feel (Carrie)
Least favorite track: The India Song (Carly) | The India Song (Carrie)
Chris Bell – vocals, guitar
Alex Chilton – vocals, guitar
Andy Hummel – vocals, bass guitar
Jody Stephens – drums
Terry Manning – electric piano, harmony vocals
Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s THIRD Live trailer | April 2017
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me trailer | 2012 | Currently available to stream on Amazon
Big Star: #1 Record/Radio City rerelease review | Pop Matters (October 2014)
The Ballad of Big Star | Grantland [ed. note: RIP, Grantland. We miss you.] (July 2013)
The 10 Best Big Star Songs | Stereogum (September 2012)
Depression, Quaaludes, and the Wildest TGI Fridays in America: The Real Story of Big Star | Noisey (March 2012)
You’ve Never Heard Big Star’s ‘#1 Record’?! | NPR (June 2011)
Big Star: The Unluckiest Band in America | NPR (February 2010)