Tuesday, March 11, 2008
No. 403: Radio City
Band: Big Star
Album: Radio City
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The logical step from the Byrds and Beatles to R.E.M. is Big Star. The Memphis power pop group took the region's soul and combined it with the hooks and guitar of the 1960s sound to make a fine second record. Slightly darker lyrically (but similarly bright in music), "Radio City" builds off the band's first album.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: This isn't the best Big Star record, as the band's debut is better.
Best song: "September Gurls" is fantastic, as is "I'm in Love With a Girl."
Worst song: "Life is White" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: While it's not "#1 Record," it is a great piece of rock and roll.
To add one more note to the "Times the author was ignorant about music" file: I had not heard of Big Star until I got to college. As I'm sure is evident, I thought I was king shit of fuck mountain going into college. I was the only person in my senior class who had both Superchunk and Pavement records (despite the fact that both had been gleaned from Mark, a man a year my senior and way more knowledged in music than I), so I figured I knew everything about rock and roll.
Anyway, Big Star and my college radio station are forever connected thanks to KCOU's reuniting the band in 1993 for our annual free spring concert. You can imagine my surprise in having never heard of this band on my entrance to college in the fall of 1999. Needless to say, I was schooled quickly.
As a fan of R.E.M., I liked Big Star upon first hearing them. Power pop isn't necessarily my bag -- it is often way too twee for my taste -- but Big Star has enough great songs for me to enjoy them.
"Radio City" isn't the band's best work, though. "#1 Record" is a better overall album, but "Radio City" has its moments. "Way Out West" has the classic jangle chords that define the band and Chris Bell's, um, odd vocals. "Back of a Car" is a classic love song that ably describes the teenage experience as well as being a great love song. "Daisy Glaze" is gorgeous, based around Alex Chilton's precious voice. "I'm in Love with a Girl" is similarly pretty, though in a much smaller way.
The highlight of the album, though, is "September Gurls." As Allmusic calls it the "quintessential power pop classic," and I'm not sure that's an incorrect statement. As I've mentioned before, some songs transcend artists and even the covers of "September Gurls" (specifically the Bangles or Matthew Sweet versions) are great songs. The song's R.E.M.-like juxtaposition of venomous lyric combined with jangle-pop guitars is so incredibly catchy and pretty.
Is "Radio City" perfect? By no means. A lot of the songs run together and many of the tracks are just plain bad. Still, a fine, underrated band and a fine, underrated record.