Articles Tagged: Big Star

Certain Songs #49: Big Star – “Thirteen”

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Album: #1 Record.

Year: 1972.

Won’t you let me walk you home from school?
Won’t you let me meet you at the pool?
Maybe Friday I can
Get tickets for the dance
And I’ll take you, ooh-oh

Unlike “In The Street,” which is chock full of verisimilitude and incident, I think that “Thirteen” is more a mystery. It’s basically a series of questions to Alex Chilton’s love object, but it’s unclear whether or not she ever answer those questions. Or that he ever even asked them of her face to face.

Won’t you tell your dad get off my back?
Tell him what we said ‘bout “Paint It Black”
Rock and roll is here to stay
Come inside where it’s okay
And I’ll shake you, ooh ooh

And really, what teenage girl is going to use the awesomeness of “Paint it Black” and the permanence of rock and roll as a reason for her father to hang out with a teenaged Alex Chilton? (I mean, honestly, using “The Letter” might be a way better strategy. “Dad, he’s going to get money from that song for a long time!”)

Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of?
Would you be an outlaw for my love?
If it’s so, well let me know
If it’s no, well I can go
I won’t make you, ooh ooh

So what ends up happening? We never find out.

And of course, the only reason that we’re even wondering about the words at all is because of how this song sounds, anchored by those amazing acoustic guitars.

One of the many things that makes #1 Record so special is the acoustic guitar sound.On “Thirteen” (and also “Watch The Sunrise”)  it feels like Alex Chilton and Chris Bell are sitting in your living room (or your car, or your bedroom, or wherever you happen to be when those songs come up) (which should be anywhere, because it’s Big Star), staring eye to eye, playing off of each other.

Add that guitar sound to the mysterious lyrics, Chiton’s tender singing, and the spacy backround vocals, and you get one of the more achingly gorgeous songs ever recorded. 

Fan-made video for “Thirteen”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #48: Big Star – “In The Street”

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Album: #1 Record.

Year: 1972.

The Power Pop Influence

That beautiful, totally new and instantly familiar guitar riff plays.

R.E.M. The Posies. Cheap Trick. The Bangles.

Hanging out, down the street
Same old thing we did last week
Not a thing to do but talk to you

The dbs. Nada Surf. Shoes. The Connells.

Steal your car, bring it down
Pick me up, we’ll drive a round
Wish we had a joint so bad.

Guitar solo #1.

The Replacements. The La’s. Fountains of Wayne. Gin Blossoms.

Bust a streetlight, out past midnight

Guitar solo #2.

Marshall Crenshaw. Let’s Active. The Miss Alans. Teenage Fanclub

Ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh

Ahh-ahh-ahh-ahhh

The Records. Magnapop. Game Theory. Matthew Sweet.

So on and so forth, until the end of time.

The Cutural Penetration

I don’t remember what I thought when I first watched That 70’s Show, and discovered that they were using “In The Street” as their theme song. By that time, I was probably happy that Alex Chilton (and Chris Bell’s estate) were making a few bucks.  Also, despite the awfulness of that original cover version (eventually rectified by Cheap Trick – whom I was also glad were making a few bucks), I think I was hoping that it led some folks into digging up the original.

I’d like to think that there are some Big Star fanatics out there that first heard any Big Star songs via That 70’s Show, which I actually enjoyed for awhile.

I enjoyed it not because it was funny, but because it got a few things dead on about being a teenager in the 1970s.  Sure, there was the usual experimentation w/ substances & people, but what resonated with me was how the kids just wandered into each other’s homes, and wandered around unsupervised and unstructured. Those were real things, at least in my experience, and I appreciated seeing them as a sitcom plot drivers.

However, what they got dead wrong was that a bunch of otherwise stoner suburban kids would be driving around singing “In The Street.” Not in our universe. Maybe in the Fringe red universe. But not in ours. It was a great song that the vast vast majority of teenagers would never have heard at the time. I know this for a fact.

Maybe if Cheap Trick had covered it in 1979, instead of 1999.

The Perfection

There are very few songs that have ever been written that capture the life-making combination of anticipation and ennui that come from hanging out with your friends and doing shit that you really shouldn’t be doing. “In The Street” is one of those songs.

One of the reasons I love it so much is that it feels real and lived-in, like a series of entries in a journal about the summer where you got that first taste of freedom. Except for the part about stealing a car, there isn’t a single word in this song that I didn’t experience as a teenager. It all rings true to me

And speaking of ringing true: there isn’t a single note in either of the jangling guitar solos; a moment in the Chris Bell / Alex Chilton harmonies; a beat in Jody Stephen’s slightly askew part (with cowbells!)  that doesn’t feel completely and utterly true. It’s perfect.

Perfect words. Perfect music. Perfect melody.

“In The Street” is a perfect song.

“In the Street” live on the “Tonight Show With Jay Leno”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Certain Songs #47: Big Star – “The Ballad of El Goodo”

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Album: #1 Record.

Year: 1972.

I’ve told the story before about how Kirk & I discovered a two-disc reissue of the unheard but not unknown Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City languishing in the Record Library in CSUF Speech Arts building, rushed back to our condo and put it on.

What sealed the Big Star deal for me — besides “September Gurls,” which was instant and eternal —  was the three songs in the middle of side one of #1 Record, which for decades have drawn me into listening to the whole album, which was a combination of incredibly weird and amazingly tuneful. Or maybe it was incredibly tuneful and amazingly weird.

Like, for example, “The Ballad of El Goodo,” which is chock-full of ringing 12-string guitar, heavenly backing vocals, perfectly placed drum fills and the chants of:

And there ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round
Ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round
Ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round
Aint no one going to turn me ‘round

and later in the song

Hold on 
Hold on
Hold on
Hold on

In 1984, this was like discovering The Velvet Underground for jangly guitars. Clearly an influence on so many things I loved, and yet not sounding like an influence at all — like say, The Who or The Beatles or even Dylan — but rather completely out of the time and place from where it supposedly came.

Also: I have always thought that maybe one of the best ways to illustrate the endearing idiosyncracies of Alex Chilton as a songwriter was in the lyrics to this song.  In the first verse, he sings:

I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds

And in the last verse, he sings:

I’ve been trying hard against strong odds

This is so weird! Every other songwriter ever when writing words about a personal struggle would put “strong odds” in the first verse, and as the song went on, up the ante, until he was facing the “unbelievable odds” at the end. If’d I’d ever gotten the chance to interview Alex Chilton, my first question would have been about this choice.

Which probably also would have been my last question, I’m sure.

Fan-made video for “The Ballad of El Goodo”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Singing For Alex Chilton

“Children by the millions sing for Alex Chilton when he comes round
They sing: I’m in love, what’s that song?
I’m in love with that song.”

— Paul Westerberg, 1987

I still remember precisely where I was when I first heard Big Star: the front room of the condo Kirk & I lived at during the exact center of the 1980s. At that point, Big Star was just a rumour, a murmur that had begun to percolate from the burgeoning indie scene. We, of course, were both DJs at CSUF’s radio station, KFSR, and Kirk was also the Music Director.

Being Music Director had a really nice perk: keys to the Music Library in the Speech Arts building. The Music Library held 1000s and 1000s of albums going back decades. A certain portion of those records had been deemed suitable for KFSR by the previous Music Directors, but that left a vast treasure of undiscovered music to dig through. So we did.

Of course, this really was like looking for gold in a silver mine (or trying to drink whiskey from a bottle of wine), and usually led to escapades like the great Heavy Metal Record Toss, which was competition to see who could fling a vinyl record the furthest from the stage of the CSUF Ampitheatre. I think that Tim won that one.

But occasionally, we’d find some amazing stuff for the radio station, and one time, we found Big Star.

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17 Musical Moments to Die For

Camper Van Beethoven play a house party in Fresno, CA in 1985.It has been four months since I’ve done one of these, a far cry from my original plan of doing one a month, and I can’t promise when the next one will be, or even if there will be a next one.

So, really quickly, the ground rules. These aren’t about artists, or albums, or even songs, but rather, moments: that piece of a song that draws you into it; that piece of a song that you wait to happen again; that piece of a song that is running in your head when you can’t sleep; that piece of a song that you find yourself humming at inopportune times.

That piece of a song that you can’t live without.

This is the ninth in a series: The first one had 25; the second one had 24; the third one had 23; the fourth one had 22; the fifth one had 21; and the sixth had 20; the seventh had 19 and the eighth had 18.

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