The Best of Big Star

The story of Big Star is invariably the story of Alex Chilton.

Chilton first came into public prominence with The Box Tops, a teen sensation with hit songs like The Letter and Soul Deep.

However, as producer Dan Penn controlled the band's creative output, Chilton felt stifled and consequently left The Box Tops at the end of the 1960s.

After a short stint in New York, Chilton returned home to Memphis where he hooked up with Ice Water, a neo-Beatles group led by guitarist Chris Bell and supplemented by bass player Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens.

The quartet secured a deal with Ardent Records and mid-way through the recording of their debut record would change their name to Big Star, after the local supermarket chain.

Consisting mainly of Chilton-Bell compositions, #1 Record remains one of the finest debut albums as the band merged the influence of British invasion pop (e.g. Beatles, The Who, The Kinks) with a West Coast harmonic sensibility (Beach Boys, The Byrds). The result: songs that stood against the grain of early 1970s hard rock: songs that spoke to the heart and soul.

Whether rocking the beat with Feel and Don't Lie To Me or touching the heart with Thirteen and The Ballad of El Goodo, Big Star, like The Nazz; The Raspberries & Badfinger, spawned an attitude and approach that had its basis in the best sixties pop but was forward looking.

Alas, unlike their peers, although #1 Record received plaudits aplenty, it was a commercial failure. Due in part to distributors Stax Records inability to market the album and the band's reluctance to do any promotional tours. Disillusioned, Bell quit.

The remaining members soldiered on to record one of the powerpop albums of all time - Radio City. Carrying on where #1 Record left off, Radio City developed the Big Star concept with songs like O My Soul, What's Going Ahn, Daisy Glaze, Back of A Car, Mod Lang and September Gurls.

History would repeat itself with Radio City as the album was condemned to commercial obscurity despite impressing the critics again. Hummel would leave the band soon after the album's release and although songs were recorded for that third Big Star album, the band threw in the towel and the recordings abandoned.

This album gathers arguably the best songs from those two classic LPs (though it should be noted that both complete albums are available on one single CD) and it is one unforgettable track after another.

For established Big Star junkies, there is not much to recommend Big Beat (there are no alternative versions, no new materials, no outtakes etc) but if you have never heard Big Star before, this is a perfect place to start. Essential. (10)