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Big Star’s seminal albums #1 Record and Radio City, which have been out of print as individual CDs in the U.S. for years, will be re-mastered from the original analog tape sources and reissued Sept. 2 by Memphis label Stax through Concord Music Group.
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The two albums will be available digitally in standard, mastered-for-iTunes and 24-bit high-resolution audio. Vinyl versions of the two albums are presently in print, available via Stax Records. Liner notes by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills will accompany the releases.
Big Star, considered by aficionados the founders of power pop, has been cited as an influence by many of the major alternative bands of the ’80s and ’90s, and continues to be a powerful presence in today’s musical landscape. Artists such as R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements (who famously penned the song “Alex Chilton”) and Wilco all enthusiastically tout the artistic impact of the group.
Mills recalls Big Star as “a band who had gotten it right, who made records that sounded like rock and roll bands should sound. A band who wrote all the songs, from flat-out rockers to achingly beautiful ballads that were still somehow rock songs.”
The Memphis band formed in 1971, with a lineup of singer/songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel. Heavily inspired by the British Invasion, Chilton and Bell drew on the Lennon/McCartney style of collaborative songwriting to create their debut — Chilton taking a visceral approach, often laying down guitar and vocal tracks in one take, while Bell added polish with overdubs and harmonies. Ardent Records founder John Fry engineered the album in his studio and released #1 Record on his Stax-distributed label in 1972 to sweeping critical success, if meager sales.
In the fall of 1973, following the departure of Chris Bell, the band regrouped and began work on album number two with Chilton at the helm and Fry once again behind the console. Chilton was able to use this opportunity to prove himself as an incredible songwriter on his own. Radio City garnered rave reviews and produced several cult favorites, including “September Gurls,” which has been covered by everyone from The Bangles to Superdrag.
The two milestone LPs made it onto Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list, while tracks from each album (“Thirteen” and “September Gurls”) are also among the magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Numerous artists (Elliott Smith, Beck and Jeff Buckley, to name a few) have recorded covers of the band’s songs. Big Star has been honored with a tribute record (Big Star Small World, 2006) a documentary (2012’s Nothing Can Hurt Me), a book (Holly George-Warren’s critically acclaimed A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton) and a touring live show, “Big Star’s Third,” which features the sole-surviving original member of the band, Stephens, on drums, guest vocalists, a chamber orchestra and a core band including Mike Mills, Chris Stamey of The dB’s, The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow and others. The ever-changing ensemble performs Big Star’s album Third/Sister Lovers, as well as favorites from the first two records.
Stephens says of the reissues, “Very glad to see these two coming out with the sonic approval of John Fry. Grateful for Chris, Andy and Alex and for Jon and Ken. The music’s journey continues.”
Fry adds, “All I can say is that these were the best projects I have ever worked with and the best artists and friends I have ever had the pleasure to know. I love the music and the cast of characters: Chris, Alex Andy and Jody. I think fans will be pleased by the sound and the packaging. They may have to turn the volume up a bit, since we did not want to remove the analog dynamic range. Sit back and enjoy the definitive digital versions of #1 Record and Radio City, two of my three favorite albums.”
The band’s enduring legacy can be attributed to many factors, but perhaps Mills summarizes it best: “Songwriting has always been, for me, the most vital gauge of a band’s quality, and these guys were clearly masters… [Big Star] gave you something satisfying to listen to, no matter how many times you heard them.”
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