Big Star – Playlist: The Very Best of (review)

Big Star – Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star (Zoo/Legacy) review

An odd, yet interesting alternate history of the fathers of Power Pop

For a band that didn’t sell many records, Big Star is everywhere.  First came the excellent documentary, Nothing Can Hurt Me, from 2013, which shed light on the triumphs and failures of this ill-fated, but much-loved group.  Now comes Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star.

This title is somewhat misleading.  This isn’t necessarily the “Very Best of” – less than half of the disc contains music from their original three albums of the 1970’s.  Yet, Playlist succeeds by concentrating on the band’s rebirth, which began in 1993.  And, in doing so, we get a more complete view of the entire band’s history.

The disc kicks off with the chugging rocker “Life is White,” from the band’s sophomore album, Radio City, before grabbing the funky, horn-infused “Feel” – the only cut from the group’s debut, #1 Record.  “September Gurls,” the closest thing the band ever had to a hit, is featured in a rehearsal from 1974, which shows just how potent the original band was live.  The disc takes two songs from 3rd, “Stroke it Noel,” and the noise-laden “Kanga-Roo”; fine documents of a band imploding right before your ears.

Because of their lack of commercial success, Big Star broke up in the mid-Seventies.  For years, leader Alex Chilton refused to acknowledge the band’s existence or play their music.  Then, in a surprising reversal, Chilton and original drummer Jody Stephens reconvened in 1993,  joined by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the the Posies.  The original CD which documented this reunion, Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93, is now out of print.  Thankfully, Playlist allows us to hear the rejuvenated band again.

The remainder of disc concentrates on this era of the group, grabbing rousing concert performances of some of their best-loved songs, including “In the Street,” which was used as the theme for Fox’s That 70’s Show, the all-out rocker “Don’t Lie to Me,” and the poignant “Thank You Friends.”  What these versions lack in polish, they make up in muscle in this live setting.  As an added treat, the band runs through “I Am the Cosmos,” the haunting track that guitarist Chris Bell recorded after leaving Big Star in the mid-Seventies.

Playlist closes with the Chuck Berry-inspired “A Whole New Thing,” from the reunited band’s studio album, 2005’s In Space.

If you’re looking for a single-disc introduction to the band, try the soundtrack to Nothing Can Hurt Me (read our review).  But, even if you already own their classic material,  Playlist: The Very Best of Big Star gives a fresh approach to this influential band.  —Tony Peters