Big Star is a band that isn’t as easily recognizable today as they probably should be. They were a band who released their albums in the ’70s and played a mixture of rock and power pop, and they ultimately had to stop making music because record sales didn’t match the critical acclaim they received. It’s a typical story within the alternative music world, but Big Star is one of the better early examples of it, and Radio City gives you an idea about why many artists in the 80s and 90s listed Big Star as one of their main influences.
It should be noted that calling Big Star alternative isn’t really an accurate label as they play a very radio-friendly sound. Their discography is well-produced, harmonic and catchy, but they were never really played or easily recognizable during their playing days. This isn’t meant to be a bad quality as the radio used to actually be pretty good at playing the top music of the time, and Big Star’s quality was definitely worthy of being placed in that group. The nice thing is that it ultimately might have been a good thing for Big Star’s legacy that they didn’t get the recognition they deserved from the mainstream, because when alternative bands gained success and cited Big Star as an influence they became this huge band that everyone had to revisit in a situation similar to what happened to Velvet Underground, though admittedly more toned down than that. Everyone started to recognize that the album was great, that the guitar’s were cool and slightly experimental, and that Alex Chilton was one of the more relatable lead singers you could hear. The opening track of Radio City “O My Soul” sets the bar, with the lyrics “I can’t get a license to drive my car, but I don’t really need it if I’m a big star”.
Radio City meant a lot to the power pop scene with tracks like “O My Soul”, but many of the finer moments come in soft narrative songs like “I’m In Love With a Girl” and the band’s biggest hit “September Gurls” which has since been covered and referenced numerous times in music. Big Star never really got to the point where the band name was accurate, but the music was probably good enough for it to happen under other circumstances, and that’s why it’s difficult for them to receive the attention they deserved.
Track Picks: September Gurls, O My Soul, Back of a Car