In 1972, the American band Big Star released #1 Record. Though the album sold few copies due to poor distribution by Stax Records, it is one of the quintessential rock albums. The first song on the album, Feel, sets the tone for rest of the album, with a Led Zeppelin feel and Beatlesque chord changes. Innocence and nostalgia for the 1960s permeates the album, yet everything is infected with 1970s sensibilities. The guitars manage to shimmer and groove at the same time. The songs are poignant and well-defined, pinning down individual feelings and sensations with precision.
There is also this sadness that runs deep through Big Star’s discography but I can’t use any words to explain the sadness. In a lot of ways Big Star’s commitment to aesthetic beauty reminds me of early R.E.M, however Big Star chooses simple, innocent lyrics over obscure lyrics. Some of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard are here. A throwback to times when rock music was made mostly for teenagers, Thirteen is one of the most beautiful slow songs ever written. The well-crafted song is like an impressionistic painting, with the transitions between sections creating several moods. After listening to Big Star, I started thinking about the transitions between parts of songs. Alex Chilton, the legendary guitarist singer, is the primary creative force behind Big Star’s music. Throwing away the pop perfectionism after leaving Big Star, Chilton became one of the mythic figures of rock and roll. He made normalcy, low production values and laziness become virtues. But with Big Star Alex held it together to create a pop album in a lineage that includes The Byrd’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers and the Beatle’s Abbey Road. Big Star is an expression of what rock means to me. It’s just this direct uncomplicated, lethargic, immediate, hedonistic security. I love just those simple boy-girl pop songs because they are ascetic in their commitment to one idea. Listen to Big Star.