The #1 Record (that never was)
Imagine a band that’s insanely great, with a songwriting team that could give Lennon/McCartney a run for their money. This band makes a lovingly recorded debut album full of well-crafted, beautiful pop songs that are, at their finest moments, ethereal. Their live show is so phenomenal that they blow the minds of a group of major ‘70s rock critics--all assembled in Memphis for the sole purpose of hearing them play a breakthrough concert. Destined for success, right?
Big Star is one of those extraordinary bands that inspired loads of (famous and not-so-famous) bands but still remains largely obscure. Nothing Can Hurt Me details their story and it is one of the few music documentaries that was well worth the wait. It sheds light on why the band failed to gain attention (a story of how to NOT succeed in business) while at the same time reveals why they’ve rightfully earned spots on many people’s Best Bands of All Time lists.
Haven’t heard Big Star? Give them a chance. Definitely listen to their first two records: #1 Record / Radio City. Watch the Nothing Can Hurt Me documentary and enjoy its accompanying original soundtrack. Seek out Third / Sisters Lovers (one of the most gorgeous melancholic records ever).
A Man Called Destruction
This year, A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man was published. Alex Chilton made it big as the 16 year old singer of the Box Tops, famous for their hit “The Letter.” Following Big Star, he made some solo records (Like Flies on Sherbert is fantastic and has a super cool cover) and produced records for The Cramps, The Panther Burns, and The Gories.
I am the Cosmos. I am the Wind.
One of the best things about Nothing Can Hurt Me was learning a bit more about Chris Bell, the other, more mysterious, half of the Big Star songwriting duo. His post-Big Star solo album, I Am the Cosmos is a brutal masterpiece. Every song is full of doom and despair; lovely and bewitching. It could be argued that Bell was the most responsible for the finest moments on Big Star’s debut--his unceasing quest for perfection was both his greatest joy and downfall. His sensitivity and propensity for depression seemed to make his daily life a continual struggle. He died at age 27. He gained brief notoriety when some of his songs were covered by This Mortal Coil (highlight: “You and Your Sister” by Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly) and by Scarlett Johansson and Pete Yorn ("I Am the Cosmos").
Karen Choy is the Youth Services Librarian in Half Moon Bay.