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BIG STAR-THE ENIGMA


Tom

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I've read the threads refering to Big Star...and I gotta tell ya...this is a long time PET PEEVE of mine. Everytime this subject comes up...I get ticked off...so much that I started a new thread to vent!!

First...I am hugh 'Berries fan...saw them live in 1973 in Providence RI...and I'm also a fan of Big Star.

Here's the problem: Big Star made some very nice, melodic pop music. I enjoyed the first two albums (yes I actually purchased the records 30 years ago and have since purchased the CD with the first two albums on it).

Very nice, smooth, listenable pop. BUT BUT BUT....Big Star (BS) has NO I mean NO "power" to their melodies or music.

How in the world did BS become the standard bearer of "power pop"???

When ever the term "power pop" is used by musicologists or critics. BS name pops up first...followed by the 'Berries.

HUH??? Where is the power in BS's music/ Please someone help me. September Gurls is is a nice "pop" tune in a "Byrds" style....but power????

The 'Berries define power pop. BS never, never produced anything with the slashing, sexual ferocity of Tonight, Go All The Way or Ecstacy...All Through the Night...I Wanna be With you....

For reasons that I cannot fully fathom...Rolling Stone and music intelligencia have decided that Big Star is the Van Gogh of pop music. Undiscovered in their time...underappreciated. One critic called September Gurls " The most perfect Rock Song ever made" Huh?? Forget Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Beatles, Stones,Zeppelin, Springsteen.....Oh no Big Star made the ultimate masterpiece.

I invite all 'Berries lovers to listen to BS's first two albums. They are available on one CD.The third CD is a nightmarish, drug induced Chilton nightmare. Unless you suffer from a diagnosed mental illness...I'd skip this one.

The first two are very nice, pleasing pop. But don't expect the Byson's searing guitar of Eric's skyrocketing sexual yearnings.

Never has a marginally talented artist crafted a legend out of almost nothing like Chilton has. Again I liked BS's music in the 70's...but geeeezzz enough hyperbole!!!

The WHO defined Power Pop in the 60's...the'Berries redefined it in the 70's.

Okay...Rant off smile

Tom

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Tom,

Don't forget that it's the Rolling Stone bigwigs and such that control most of the annointing of "important acts" these days. The fact that the Raspberries failed to make RS's Top 500 albums is a serious stab in the back. Just wait and see how much fireworks start flying when they announce Big Star is heading into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Could happen. Shouldn't. But could.

Bernie

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By the way, I'm with you on that misused "power pop" branding. I don't hear two very important ingredients to power pop in Big Star's repertoire: 1. Power (the slashing Pete Townshend chords are just not there) and 2. Pop (and I mean hummable, magical, can't get that melody outta my head pop.) Both missing in various combinations of degree in just about all of Big Star's songs. But absolutely crystal clear and front and center in dozens of the Raspberries big hits and unheralded album tracks!

Bernie

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The term 'power pop' encompasses alot; it's not just slashing Townsend/Bryson-esque guitar chords overlayed on soaring harmonies and melodies wrapped up in a 3 minute and 45 second package (altho that's a good part of it!). Look at artists like Badfinger, Twilley, the Shoes, Rubinoos, et al...they are all of the 'power pop' genre, but each have a slightly different 'take' on it. In my view, "September Gurls" is one of the all time classic 'power pop' songs -- one simply can't argue that fact, at least convincingly as far as I'm concerned. Does it match the power and fury of, say, the gorgeous "Tonight"? Maybe not, but it doesn't have to. It's still a classic power pop song -- always will be (just like Badfinger's 'No Matter What'). Just ask Greg Shaw.

Bob Allen

Syracuse, NY

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Boy, I'm glad that this isn't an Alex Chilton Message Board, but I don't really *LOVE* "September Gurls." I know what everyone says about it, "Best pop song ever, blah blah..." Maybe it's the punkiness of the sound. I am not a big fan of punk/power pop. Maybe that's my problem with Big Star and conversely why the press embraces them so. IMHO the Rubinoos are much more like the Raspberries in that respect (except when Tommy Dunbar gets a bit too NUTS for my tastes and I hit the "NEXT TRACK" button), as is Badfinger. Cheap Trick went both ways (although I favor the less punky Trick as well.)

C'est la guerre.

Bernie

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Tom I totally agree with your assesments on Big Star. I bought the first two discs about 10 years ago, gave them each a fair listen, and then sold them back to the store. I did not understand the fuss at all. In my opinion Big Star is no where in the same Power Pop league as the 'berries or Badfinger.

As far as Rolling Stone's recent "Top 500 Albums of All-time" issue is concerned, if you check out the voters list at the end of the magazine, you'll see that the people that voted are musicians (current and older),record producers and writers - not only RS staff. Ten years ago as part of its 25th anniversary, RS issued their "Top 100 Albums Of the Last 25 Years" with the voting being done by RS staff. There was no Big Star (or the 'berries) on this list. Now 10 years later we get three Big Star albums on the "Top 500." Have the voters, i.e. music industry people become that infatuated with Big Star or has criteria changed that much in 10 years?

Marvin

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Thanks guys. Bernie your post confirms that the berries had the best album of the year in 74 so its a wonder to me why they didn't crack the top 500 list. Just goes to show that the BCS selection process for the national championship isn't the only screwed up rating process. These top "whatever" lists are nothing more than beauty contests in my opinion. Always subjective never objective.

Steve-O

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I could be wrong, but I think the lack of the Raspberries catalog on CD may be affecting their place in history. 1974 notwithstanding, they may soon be measured against other "one hit wonders" instead of on a par with more important acts. Can you think of any other GREAT bands that have NEVER seen ANY of their albums released on CD here in the U.S.?

Bernie

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Bernie and Steve I'm pretty certain that RS did not annoint "Starting Over" as the BEST album of '74, rather, it was awarded one of the "Top" albums of the year along with a host of other albums. RS would never have given an album by the 'berries the highest recognition as it would have been totally against the norm. I'll check back and let you know.

Marvin

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You may be right Marvin in that it wasn't their top,top album of 74 but I'm pretty sure it was their top album for the category the berries fell into. Either way to exclude it from the top 500 when it was one of their top picks for 74 is still mind boggling. It would seem to me when you start picking top albums, especially 500 of them, you start with the top picks, say of the last 40 years and go from there.

As always I appreciate your comments and insights. Have a happy new year.

Steve-O

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Steve every year RS picks a single "Album of the Year" and then a bunch of others as "Top Albums of the Year." In 1974 "Starting Over" was picked as one of RS's "Top Albums of the Year." As far as the album that got their #1 pick in 1974, I'm still looking into it but I'm guessing that it was "Band On the Run." One thing to remember is that it was the RS staff who picked "Starting Over" as one of the "Top Albums", whereas the "Top 500" list was compiled from votes submitted by industry types and other musicians. This voters list includes everyone from Trent Reznor to Yoko Ono to Don & Phil Everly to Quincy Jones.

Marvin

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Sad to hear Raspberries fans not digging Big Star. Both bands represent quintessential American pop/rock from 72-74 that was trying to recapture the spirit of 64-67 British Invasion and west coast pop. Both bands distinctly created phenomal music for a period sorely lacking such pop vision. Both bands cut roughly the same amount of material (Big Star: 38 songs/Raspberries: 39 songs) and had a creative arc of sorts. Big Star peaked with "Radio City" and The Berries (arguably) with "Starting Over." Bernie's statement about Big Star being "punk" is just incorrect. Even The Berries showed more venom on songs like "Ecstacy" and "I Don't Know What I Want"--bands like The Dead Boys and The Dictators cited them as inspiration. Big Star was a mix of Byrds, Kinks, and Beatles that sounded like folk-pop meets 1966 mod rock, all with a fresh lyrical perspective. Unlike The Berries, their lyrics were more abstract and they always had a sense of mystery which The Berries eschewed. The Raspberries were, however, the definitive power pop band with the singles "Go All The Way," "Tonight" and "I Wanna Be With You." Big Star did rise to such heights with "September Gurls," "In The Street" and "Back Of A Car" but the sense of urgency was different. Despite both bands focusing in on similar teenage topics, The Raspberries had an inherant positive attitude ("hold me tight/my love could live forever after tonight/if you believe in what we're doing is right/close your eyes and be still")-- Big Star were less up front about it and were confused ("sitting in the back of a car/music so loud can't tell a thing/thinking 'bout what to say/and i can't find the lines").

Big Star's music is more cerebral and self-conscious, and thusly, something which resonates deeper with modern critics who have trouble dealing with straight ahead stuff. The Raspberries are much more immediate and easy to figure out. Only on "Fresh" and "Starting Over" did they show signs of reaching into darker areas. Despite people's reservations about Big Star's "3rd" album, they proved they could explore depths equal to The Beatles at their most daring with songs like "Blue Moon," "Nightime," "Big Black Car," and "Holocaust." It definitely wasn't power pop, but it wasn't nearly as offensive as following Clive Davis' lead to imitate Barry Manilow.

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Very nice post Pierson. I will totally agree with your assessment that Big Star was more difficult to "get" than the 'berries. There's no doubt that the 'berries' music was pretty much straight-forward and hooked you right from the start, while Big Star's took time and repeated listenings. I will definitely have to give them another chance.

Marvin

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Thanks for the feedback.

I think that the discussion/debate is valid and I understand why people think Big Star/Alex Chilton are overrated and that Raspberries/Eric Carmen often times get a raw deal--Issue 937 of Rolling Stone (500 Greatest Albums Of All Time) being the most recent glaring example.

It is rediculous that "Starting Over," "Fresh" or their "Best of" was not included. The same injustice was served to The Dwight Twilley Band, whose "Sincerely" and "Twilley Don't Mind" albums are of prominent stature.

Also, I would like to note that after Big Star, Alex Chilton's solo material was of virtually no use and was far more dissapointing than Eric's. Despite Eric's slickness, there were alaways glimmers of the pop genius coming through his work. Chilton lost it completely and never looked back, despite "reforming" and doing reunion shows.

I think Bernie asked if there were any GREAT bands whose albums were not issued in the US on CD. I think the Raspberries stand tallest amongst such a disgrace. Of the "GREAT"s (i.e. Badfinger, Big Star, Dwight Twilley Band, Artful Dodger, Todd Rundgren) all of them had their albums reissued here. Artful Dodger is missing one or two and have no "Best of" available. Just recently the Lovin' Spoonful had their catalog reissued. The Hollies catalog was always issued in a cryptic nature and up until recently (with the new 6-CD box set) has not been given proper exposure.

Over the years Rhino, Varese Sarabande or Sundazed has usually taken care of such disservices (i.e. Flo & Eddie and The Turtles, Emitt Rhodes etc.) but has found it easier to handle the obscurities (i.e Hudson Bros, Sagittarius/Millennium, Montage, Dino Desi & Billy) rather than those with more than one top 40 hit like Bread, The Sweet or The Raspberries.

As far as UK bands are concerned, I'm not sure if all the Slade albums were reissued on CD. T. Rex, in one form or another has always gotten a good deal. Bands like Mud, Cockney Rebel, Pilot etc. are usually relegated to the Japanese labels or Eurupean market.

I know Bob Allen and I want to see Tin Tin's catalog on CD. (Their one top 20 hit, "Toast & Marmalade For Tea" is available on Rhino's "Have A Nice Day" series--Vol. 16). I would like to see Blue's 1973 self-titled debut (originally on RSO) released.

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I would like to see Blue's 1973 self-titled debut (originally on RSO) released.

Blue's first cd (and entire catalogue) is available on CD in the UK and are available as imports in the US. I recommend http://notlame.com/ I bought it last year. I didn't quite like as well as I remembered.

I love Big Star but do think the critics exaggerate their praises. I think the reason is simple; critics are snobs and being that Big Star had zero success with their inial releases it is hip to say how great they were. If they had even one hit record I think their reputation amongst critics would be very different.

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I think you are missing my point. Big Star is actually established and fairly well known today. But their initial reputation was created by profesional music critics. I remember searching record stores all over town in the mid '70s searching for "#1 Record" after reading a review that compared them to Badfinger. I never found a copy of "Radio City" in the stores when it was released. I eventually found it in a used record store a couple of years later. Not only was Big Star not successful when their albums were initially released, you couldn't even find their records in the stores they were so badly distributed. Although both albums got positive reviews when released, most of the buzz and mystique of the band was later after both of their albums had been released and sunk without a trace. It was the continued glorification from music critics that created the underground following that continued to the point where it's actually a respectable sized following. Their reputation is now cemented. Take it from a first generation Big Star fan, if it wasn't for a handful of musical snobs writing for the music press, nobody would even be aware of Big Star today. For that, we owe them our gratitude.

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