Big Star: Radio City
“Radio City” is widely considered Big Star’s masterwork. It is an excellent album, and different from the debut, but I tend to prefer “#1 Record.” Chris Bell’s absence is profoundly felt. However, there is still the signature Big Star sound, and “Radio City” is much more of an artistic statement. This is also a much more dark and angst ridden work. The result is music that is still fun to listen to, but gives you more to mull over.
There is some familiarity as “O My Soul” blasts the album right open, rockin’ with tiny bit of country flair. The guitar twangs, the organ shimmers, Jody Stephens pounds the drums, and Chilton shouts. It’s a great rocker, and it’s obvious that Chris Bell was involved with this one before his departure. Fasten your seatbelts, were in for a good ride.
Once “Life Is White” stars, you realize that this is indeed a different album. The song comes on as sort of an untraditional blues. Harmonica is prevalent throughout, and adds a somewhat mourning quality. On the flip side, you get the feeling that it could become upbeat at any moment. The whole thing sounds as if it could fall apart at any moment, but is consistently held together by Andy Hummel’s bass. This aspect gives me a sense of wonderment that they were able to pull it off at all, and that is also what makes it so compelling.
There is definitely a sense of loss and lament running through “Radio City”. You can hear it with a combination of delicate beauty, and straight out rock on “Daisy Glaze,” anger on “You Get What You Deserve,” and country style on “Way Out West.”
There are uplifting moments as well. “Back of a Car” creates another nice little teenage snapshot much like “In the Street” did from the previous album. “September Girls” is cool rockin’ lament, and could be the best-known Big Star tune (before the airing of “That ’70s Show). It is the closest thing they have to a classic.
“Radio City” really is a fantastic piece of work. The fact that I prefer “#1 Record” does not mean that it is superior. The sophomore effort was a big leap forward. If you are thinking about choosing between the two, don’t. Get both. Thankfully the CD that combines both albums is more readily available anyway. What a bonus!
Alex Chilton – vocals, guitar
Andy Hummel – bass, vocals
Jody Stephens – drums, vocals
Chris Bell – not credited