The fact that they don’t hand you a copy of #1 Record at your bar/bat mitzvah and say, “You wanna be a grown-up? You’re going to need this to get you through the next 20-plus years of your life,” is a damn shame. I still have my copy of The Jewish Book of Why? and while I appreciate it, #1 Record gets way more play. Sorry, Rabbi, I hope you understand.
At 13, I was old enough to have already obsessed over the Beatles for years. (They were actually the theme for my bar mitzvah, in case you were wondering, and my first concert was Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.) Objectively, the Beatles are the best band of all time, but as a kid, it’s hard to know if “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” had some deeper meaning to it or if it was just fun. Did they just come up with a silly story so they had an excuse to hit an anvil with a hammer in a song? Hammers are phallic, and violent, maybe there was some metaphor to it? I sure as hell didn’t know, but I loved it, and still do—now with an added appreciation for their pristine songwriting processes. I think my love for their bright, uptempo tunes set me up for a Big Star obsession.
Big Star aren’t exactly the kind of band that gets handed to you as a kid, and if they were, well, good for you, must be nicE.
I was in my early 20s when I first, consciously, listened to Big Star—later than most of their fans, but ready to finally dive in after hearing individual songs of theirs on mixtapes and soundtracks. I bought their first two albums with the understanding that Big Star are a band you always hear about without actually hearing them. They’ve always been there, for years, sometimes just in passing—like in the Replacements’ song “Alex Chilton.” Big Star aren’t exactly the kind of band that gets handed to you as a kid, and if they were, well, good for you, must be nice. For me, they were something I took a journey to get to. They were always on my mental “music to-do list,” I guess. When I did finally dive in, I could not have been prepared for the impact, and I’m sure most fans of the band could say the same. They might be the most unassuming, underestimated, underrated band of all time, and that’s a hill I’ll die on.
Let me start off by saying, I ain’t no music historian, as if that wasn’t clear already. My brain is good at absorbing a ton of information about the things I care about, but better at losing half of it, so my love for this album is purely based on feeling and connection. But here goes: Big Star, on their 1972 debut album #1 Record, were made up of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, both on guitar and vocals, Andy Hummel on bass and vocals, and the mighty Jody Stephens on drums. It was recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis and produced by the label’s founder, John Fry, and released through Stax. Fifty years later, it still sounds classic, probably because every musician pulls their weight and beyond. In fact, if you’re reading this, you probably feel the way everyone feels about Big Star after hearing them for the first or 50th time: “How the hell did they do this?” Dude, I wish I knew.