May 23, 2011
Ever hear of a rock and roll band called Big Star? They were a band from Memphis that achieved great critical but not commercial success in the early 1970’s. The lead singer for Big Star was Alex Chilton, who had previously fronted The Box Tops during the mid to late 60’s. Chilton and The Box Tops had a number one hit, The Letter, when Chilton was only sixteen years old. Other hits by the Box Tops and Alex Chilton during this period included Soul Deep, Cry Like a Baby, and Neon Rainbow.
Chilton went on to form the band Big Star, named after a supermarket chain in the Memphis area. The name was also a satirical reference to the music industry. Big Star only made three albums during the 70’s, but even though critically acclaimed, these recordings had limited sales. The band’s record company did little to push distribution of the records since they were considered too un-commercial.
It is true that Big Star’s music was very different from The Box Tops with much darker themes. Today, however, Big Star’s music is considered very important and influential on subsequent generations of popular music. Albums like Third/Sister Lovers are considered a masterpiece, and are frequently found ranked highly on lists of the greatest pop recordings of all time.
During the 1980’s Big Star received renewed interest and had a major influence on alternative bands like R.E.M. In fact, the band has achieved cult status with many critics citing their historical significance and influence on modern rock. Indeed, one can hear the roots of alternative rock in Big Star’s music. Songs like Holocaust and Kangaroo can be compared to the music of Radiohead. For example, Dream Lover could easily pass for a Flaming Lips song.
In the early 90’s, there was a reuniting of Alex Chilton and Big Star when they performed at a spring music festival at the University of Missouri. A live recording of this concert entitled Columbia: Live at Missouri University is available on CD from the Mid-Continent Public Library. Big Star’s earlier albums, as well as the music of the Box Tops, are available to order through interlibrary loan from Mid-Continent’s WorldCat database.
Check out an interesting and important band in the history of rock.
North Oak Branch