Artist Spotlight: Big Star
by Justin Farrar | July 9, 2013
If you haven't already, definitely go see Nothing Can Hurt Me, the new documentary on Big Star (a band we wordy rock critics enjoy tagging "the ultimate American cult band not called The Velvet Underground"). After making a splash on the film festival circuit in the spring of this year, it can now be seen at select indie theaters and art-house cinemas around the country. Its hype is well-deserved, as it is excellent, though be forewarned: Nothing Can Hurt Me tells a sad and rather tragic story: failed expectations, brilliant records that never sold, personal depression, intra-band strife, lives cut far too short.
For those of you who haven't heard Big Star, they were an outfit from Memphis featuring two incredibly gifted singers and songwriters, Chris Bell and ex-Box Top Alex Chilton, backed by a ferocious (yet agile) rhythm section in bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens. Though this line-up would change through the years (Chris Bell, for instance, struck out on his own in 1972), the group's original trio of albums -- #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sisters Lovers -- contain some of the most unique rock music recorded in the 1970s. Their m/o can be best described as such: eccentric Southern boys making British-flavored power-pop. Yet even that, however evocative, doesn't begin to explain all the glorious nooks and crannies embedded in their music. There are touches of soul, funk, folk, even country. In this sense, Big Star created a sound that was resolutely American.
In addition to many of the band's greatest tunes, this playlist contains selections from I Am The Cosmos, Rykodisc's excellent anthology of the post-Big Star recordings Chris Bell made before dying in a car crash in 1978. But the playlist also features solo material from Chilton's Free Again: The 1970 Sessions and the 1978 album Like Flies On Sherbert; both of these titles represent what the mercurial artist was up to just before and after Big Star's initial run between 1971 and '74.