Sometimes one feels like collaring the rock yoof of today and blaring, “You! Stop listening to that cack. It’s not special. Listen to ‘Back Of A Car’ by Big Star. That’s special.”
Driving around London listening to Big Star Story in the front of my car, it was as clear as ever that, higgledy-piggledy as their oeuvre is, the group were so much more than a rock critic’s conceit/conspiracy. The cult hero’s cult hero Alex Chilton may be; the music itself never deserved to be marginalised.
Fortunately, the cult lives on, with micro-masterworks such as “Car”, “Thirteen” and “In The Street” enchanting new generations who prefer their power pop laced with danger and tragedy. (I was standing outside Stamford Bridge, of all places, in a Big Star T-shirt t’other day when I was accosted with a loudly burped “Alex Chilton! Yeah!” Maybe I’ll try my Jimmy Webb T-shirt next week.)
The pity is that Big Star Story is neither fish nor fowl. It’s not a true introduction, nor do the 18 tracks constitute a chronological anthology, darting as they do between different eras and albums. Worse still, the compilation fails to flag up the fact that several of the recordings are lives, with few clues as to their exact provenance or that Chris Bell’s hauntingly great solo outings “I Am The Cosmos” and “You And Your Sister” (that Siamese twin to “Thirteen”, with Chilton sweetly harmonising) are post-Star. Shoddy stuff, Ryko.
From a quality-control standpoint, the flat-footed boogie of “Don’t Lie To Me” could have made way for the supercharged garage Stax of “O’My Soul”, the version of Bolan’s “Baby Strange” for either “Daisy Glaze” or “What’s Goin’ Ahn” or “Life Is White” (ah, those uncategorisable Radio City gems). And why “Jesus Christ” and “Thank You Friends” from Third/Sister Lovers and no sign of the spectral “Big Black Car”? The pointless “Hot Thing” instead of “Kangaroo”? I think not.
If you’re a Big Star neophyte, you’re better advised to invest in the three principal studio albums (#1 Record, Radio City, Third/Sister Lovers) and Bell’s I Am The Cosmos, approaching anything else (e.g. Chilton’s solo works) with caution.
Maybe we just get what we deserve.