Big Star’s two au­teurs re­veal the band’s past and fu­ture


CHRIS Bell and Alex Chilton only made one record to­gether – Big Star’s 1972 de­but, #1 Record – but 45 years later the pop ro­man­tic and the rock cynic are bound to­gether in that band’s mythol­ogy. They could barely get ar­rested in the 1970s, but since then they’ve de­fined a new kind of star­dom: the cult act, the also-rans redis­cov­ered as ge­niuses, the pa­tron saints of mu­si­cal lost causes. Their band’s out­put has been com­piled and reis­sued re­peat­edly, but this pair of com­pi­la­tions – one fo­cus­ing on Bell, the other on Chilton – man­age to find new in­sights into th­ese two very dif­fer­ent and often feisty cre­ative per­son­al­i­ties.

Look­ing For­ward: The Roots Of Big Star is os­ten­si­bly about Bell’s de­vel­op­ment be­fore meet­ing up with Chilton, but it’s more about the small Mem­phis scene that co­a­lesced around Ar­dent Stu­dios in the late 1960s, a loose cir­cle of friends and mu­si­cians who kept late hours tin­ker­ing with pop songs and sounds. As such, it’s a com­pelling doc­u­ment of young An­glophiles re­belling against lo­cal his­tory and em­brac­ing The Bea­tles and The Who over Elvis and Stax.

At times they’re pretty shame­less in ape­ing their Bri­tish In­va­sion heroes, but tracks by Ice­wa­ter (fea­tur­ing Bell) and Rock City (fea­tur­ing for­mer Stax en­gi­neer Terry Man­ning) rear­range those el­e­ments into bright new shapes. More cru­cially, this early ver­sion of the Big Star clas­sic “My Life Is Right” and even the in­stru­men­tal it­er­a­tion of “Oh My Soul” re­veal just how thor­oughly Bell had re­fined that pow­er­pop sound be­fore he even met Chilton.

By 1974, Big Star had col­lapsed and Chilton had fled Mem­phis for New York, where he found him­self on the mar­gins of the city’s bur­geon­ing punk scene. Take Me Home And Make Me Like It picks up with ses­sions for 1975’s Bach’s Bot­tom and 1977’s The Singer Not The Song (the lat­ter re­leased by the leg­endary Ork Records and an­thol­o­gised on the Nu­mero Group’s ex­cel­lent Ork Records: New York, New York in 2015). Like his old co­horts Jim Dickinson and Tav Falco, Chilton was ob­sessed with de­con­struct­ing lo­cal R&B, soul and pop forms and re­con­struct­ing them in messy new con­fig­u­ra­tions, which lends a per­verse charisma to what ought to be sham­bolic and te­dious per­for­mances.

Chilton emerges as a prickly fig­ure, a front­man putting lots of ef­fort into sound­ing half-assed. His take on The Bea­tles’ “I’m So Tired” ei­ther shows the ex­tent of Bell’s in­flu­ence on him or serves as a wicked dig at his for­mer band­mate. Both of th­ese re­leases are the very def­i­ni­tion of for-fans-only, and Take Me Home in par­tic­u­lar sounds like a bonus disc to a full al­bum reis­sue. But they re­veal new an­gles to the Big Star story and a new dy­namic be­tween its two an­tag­o­nis­tic pro­tag­o­nists.

Big Star in 1972, with Chris Bell (left) and Alex Chilton (right)

CHRIS BELL Look­ing For­ward: The Roots Of Big Star OMnIVORE 7/10

ALEx CHILTOn Take Me Home And Make Me Like It MUn­STER 7/10

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