Big Star – Best of (Stax)

The most palatable look at this cult band

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Big Star sold millions of albums and achieved the success they so badly deserved. Best of serves as the “greatest hits” that never was. While there have been several collections to compile this under-appreciated  band, this is the first to concentrate on their singles.

So many Big Star archival releases have been issued that it can be difficult to navigate where to begin. Best of offers an excellent window into the world of these power pop masters by focusing on their most melodic material.

The set smartly opens with the band’s most famous song, “In the Street,” which was used as the opening theme for That 70’s Show, performed by Cheap Trick. Here, the song is featured in its rare single version, which actually sounds like a completely different performance. You also get a single mix to “September Gurls,” which is sped up from the album version, and a greatly-trucated “O My Soul.”

Rockers like “Don’t Lie To Me” (also featured in a rare single mix), “Back of a Car,” and “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” along with ballads like “Thirteen,” and “I’m in Love With a Girl” should’ve been blaring out of millions of car radios in the early Seventies.  Some blame a lousy distribution deal, others suggest bad timing, but Big Star’s unique blend of ear candy never made it to those speakers.

Another strength of this collection is the clever selection of tracks from the mostly-dark Third record. An abbreviated version of “Jesus Christ” cuts off the goofy beginning and gets right to the meat of the song, while “Nighttime,” an absolutely gorgeous acoustic track, sounds perfectly at home with all these pop perfections. By eschewing the darker material like “Holocaust” and “Big Black Car,” the set presents a somewhat skewed history of the band.

In sheer song selection, this is the most-listenable Big Star collection ever assembled. This is also the only authorized collection to just concentrate on the band’s three proper albums – there’s no outtakes, no solo material, no live footage and no latter-day reunion material. This is just the music that influenced thousands of people the world over.

The interesting thing about this new Best of is that no explanation is needed. If they had included the darker material, you would’ve had to add an essay on what the hell happened. But here, the music truly stands on its own.

16 tracks – no filler. An excellent, delightfully digestible collection of some of Big Star’s  greatest songs.