Saturday, 11 June 2016

"No. 1 Record" by BIG STAR (2009 Universal/Concord 'Expanded Edition' CD – 2004 George Horn Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…Finest In The World…"

If you can't get your grubby paws on the April 2004 'Hybrid SACD' release of both 'No. 1 Record" and "Radio City" by BIG STAR (2LPs onto 1CD - see separate review) – a stunning audio treat on Stax/Fantasy/Universal SXSA-60025-6 (Barcode 025218732369) that also contains a standard CD layer – then opt for the Universal/Concord Music Group 2009 stand-alone CD reissues.

Each carries a very reasonable price tag, half-decent liner notes from the Editor of the superb Zig-Zag Magazine and uber-fan KRIS NEEDS (a six-leaf inlay) and best news of all - that same awesome audio done by GEORGE HORN at George Horn Mastering in California. They even sport a relevant bonus track.

If you're a newcomer - you've probably heard of their legend - or clapped your ears on one of their ballads that frequent so many Indie movies as badge of cool (like say Nick Drake or Patti Smith). Musically – it beggars belief even now that BIG STAR famously didn’t fare well at the box office – barely scraping above chart position No. 400 on initial release in 1972 and 1974. Their record company suffered distribution problems (Stax was on the wind-down) and even knowledgeable record stores found it hard to procure copies. Years after its release - it was still something of a hushed collectable. Like so many hard-luck stories of bands that 'should have been huge' - BIG STAR really were the very definition of 'criminally overlooked'. Here are the big details for the CD reissue of their wonderful debut album "No. 1 Record"...

USA released 14 September 2009 – "No. 1 Record" by BIG STAR on Universal/Fantasy/Concord Music Group, Inc. 0888072315730 (Barcode 888072315730) features 2004 Remastering, a Bonus Track and plays out as follows (40:01 minutes).

1. Feel
2. The Ballad Of El Goodo
3. In The Street
4. Thirteen
5. Don't Lie To Me
6. The India Song
7. When My Baby's Beside Me
8. My Life Is Right
9. Give Me Another Chance
10. Try Again
11. Watch The Sunrise
12. St 100/6
Tracks 1 to 12 are their debut album "No. 1 Record" - released June 1972 in the USA on Ardent Records ADS-2803.

13. In The Street (Single Mix)

NOTE: their second album "Radio City" followed in January 1974 on Ardent ADS-1501 – but neither LP received an original UK vinyl release at the time. However, they were both clumped together as a budget-priced double-album package on Stax SXSP 302 in July 1978 - their first official British release on record. There have been various CD reissues of the albums ever since - most notably by England's Ace Records on their subsidiary label Big Beat and Rhino's superb 2009 American 4CD Box Set "Keep An Eye On The Sky" which features outtakes and alternates from both of these recording sessions.

As I said before in my review of the 2004 'Hybrid SACD' reissue - the big news here is a beautifully sensitive GEORGE HORN remastering that has brought a warmth and delicacy to already gorgeous music.

Lead singer and Guitarist ALEX CHILTON had been in THE BOX TOPS and along with CHRIS BELL (Guitar and Vocals), ANDY HUMMEL (Bass and Vocals) and JODY STEPHENS (Drums) - they wrote all their own songs (mostly Bell-Chilton compositions except "The India Song" by Hummel and "My Life Is Right" by Chris Bell and Thomas Eubanks of 'Rock City') and made a glorious racket.

Back to the audio - the bass, acoustic guitars and sublime harmony vocals on "The Ballad Of El Goodo" for instance are thrilling to hear as is the sweetness of "Thirteen" - surely one of the loveliest Alex Chilton songs. The jangling power-pop guitars of "When My Baby Needs Me" sound fantastic and "Try Again" reminds me of a band I loved called SMITH-PERKINS-SMITH who made only one album (a self-titled debut) in 1972 on Island Records (yet to make its way onto CD) - a sort of CSYN alternative. In fact the musicality on display here brings in mind that other tragic band BADFINGER.

Their record company tried two 45s in the USA - "When My Baby's Beside Me" b/w "In The Street" on Ardent ADA-2902 in August 172 - and a belated "Watch The Sunrise" b/w "Don't Lie To Me" on Ardent ADA-2904 in April 1973 - but neither charted. Songs like "My Life Is Right" are upbeat jangly rockers that straddle Country Rock and Pop - while the ache in "Give Me Another Chance" is just plain beautiful and moving. And to this day both "Thirteen" and "Try Again" make me weak at my ageing knees...

BIG STAR were always a little bit special and hold a cult status to this day that grows with the passing of time - like NICK DRAKE, JUDEE SILL or JOHN MARTYN.

"...Won't you tell your Dad...get off my back...tell him what we said about 'paint it black'..." - Chilton sang on the beautiful acoustic adolescence song  "Thirteen".

You and me kid against the world...

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