Thursday, April 3, 2008

No. 338: #1 Record


Band: Big Star
Album: #1 Record
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Big Star's debut record is a revelation of pop hooks and guitar riffage. It's full of songs you know or think you know, including a song made famous by a non-Big Star band (more on that in a bit).
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I fancy "#1 Record" more than "Radio City," so this one should be higher.
Best song: The first four tracks are unstoppable. "The Ballad of El Goodo," specifically, is a classic. "Give Me Another Chance" is also great.
Worst song: "Try Again" is the worst song.
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I'm not much of a fan of "American Idol" -- my old laundromat showed the series every time I was there last year, so I followed the show then among the sound of clothes dryers -- but some of my coworkers are avid viewers. Because of this periphery, I know that this season had the contestants do two weeks of slaughtering Beatles songs and last night, they did Dolly Parton songs. These "theme weeks" are kind of cool, even though those kids entirely fuck up classic songs.

How does this related to "#1 Record?" I think Big Star would be a fucking awesome theme week. Now, Big Star isn't a big enough act to do it. I could find 10 great Big Star songs, but I'm pretty sure everyone would only know "September Gurls," "In the Street" (though not by Big Star) and maybe "Thirteen." Still, I think Alex Chilton's voice (or Chris Bell's) is ripe for imitation and some of the contestants would do very well with the songs.

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The beginning of "#1 Record" misleads a listener a little. "Feel" is a raucous romp, for sure, but it's hardly the type of song Chilton and Bell were so adept at crafting. The song's hard edge is only echoed on "Don't Lie to Me" later on the record.

(That's not to say that both songs aren't absolutely brilliant, because they are.)

But, all is back to power pop with the perfect "The Ballad of El Goodo." The song's earnestness could only be pulled off by a band like Big Star, whose sense of irony is clear within the band's name and album title. Who else would be able, with a straight face, to sing "and at my side is God?" The song's protagonist is Rocky-esque in his determination, backed by an jangly, melancholy guitar line. It's one of the songs on the album that's been covered many times -- notably by Matthew Sweet on the "Big Star, Small World" record -- and always emerges perfectly.

"Thirteen" is similarly popular as a cover, with Elliott Smith, Garbage and Wilco being the most popular acts to do it. The song's point of view comes from an early teenager, singing the almost universal emotion of young love. As AllMusic says, it's Chilton's best performance:

The gentle guitar picking on "Thirteen" can be heard audibly quickening in tempo after the song's instrumental bridge. Whether by design or by accident, the effect is to add even more nervous tension to the third verse, wherein the narrator asks for a decision from the girl.


"Give Me Another Chance" is a close second, though. Among the great sad love songs, the hook fits among the album in terms of catchiness. It, like much of the album, has been far too overlooked within modern music-goers. In fact, the only song not overlooked by mainstream music fans is "In The Street," the theme song from "The 70s Show." Of course, the actual theme song is a cover done by Cheap Trick. I love Cheap Trick, but their version of the song is far inferior to the original. Again, it's a lyrical wonder, simple as hell, but evocative of anyone who has been in high school.

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"#1 Record" is a fantastic album. While it falls off toward the end, the first half is on par with any pop records. Catchy and emotional, the record is amazing.

1 comment:

Will said...

#438 you mean