Big Star (band)

Big Star (band)

Infobox musical artist
Name = Big Star

Img_capt = Big Star, left to right: Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel, and Alex Chilton
Img_size = 200px
Background = group_or_band
Origin = Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Genre = Rock and roll
Power pop
Hard rock
Years_active = 1971-1974, 1993-present
Label =
Associated_acts =
Current_members = Jon Auer
Alex Chilton
Jody Stephens
Ken Stringfellow
Past_members = Chris Bell
Andy Hummel
John Lightman

Big Star is an American rock and roll band founded in the early 1970s. Critic Jason Ankeny describes Big Star as "the quintessential American power pop band [and] one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock & roll." [ [ allmusic ((( Big Star > Biography ))) ] ]

Initially co-led by Chris Bell and Alex Chilton in 1971, Big Star's music was lyrical, powerful, at times melancholy pop for the post-1960s generation. Their approach not only recalled the British Invasion groups, but also the spare, relaxed style of Stax Records as well as the edgy rockabilly of early Sun Records. In an era of singer-songwriters, jam bands, and heavy-metal groups, they played melodic, concisely-written pop songs -- and sold very few records, though that failure may be attributed to their record company's lackluster promotion and distribution.

Their reputation grew after their original break-up in 1974. A new line-up of Big Star (still featuring original members Chilton and Jody Stephens) formed in 1993, and released a new studio album in 2005.

Early history

Bell had previously worked on several of the songs in Big Star's early repertoire while in the groups Icewater and Rock City, whose personnel had also included Jody Stephens, Terry Manning, Thomas Eubanks, Steve Rhea, Hummel, Vance Alexander, Richard Rosebrough, and eventually Chilton. Recordings from the late 1960s and early 1970s by these groups are included on the "Rock City" and "Rockin' Memphis 1960s–1970s Vol. 1" albums released on Lucky Seven/Rounder Records in 2003.

Big Star was formed in 1971 in Memphis, Tennessee, by guitarist/vocalist Chris Bell, bassist Andy Hummel, and drummer Jody Stephens. Not long afterwards, guitarist/vocalist Alex Chilton, previously of The Box Tops, joined. All four at times contributed to the songwriting and lead vocals, with Chilton and Bell singing and writing the majority of the early songs as a team modeled after John Lennon and Paul McCartney's collaborative style. Chilton and Bell met at Memphis University School. Big Star's inspirations included The Beatles, The Byrds, The Kinks, The Zombies, Badfinger, The Who, Todd Rundgren, Moby Grape, The Beach Boys and Free.

Big Star were named after a Memphis supermarket, and did not receive their final name until recording sessions were underway for their debut, "#1 Record". This album was recorded by Ardent Studios head John Fry, with assistance from Terry Manning, who contributed occasional backing vocals and keyboards. "#1 Record", was released in 1972, but the band's Ardent Records label encountered problems with its Stax and Columbia Records distributors, resulting in poor sales.

Bell, struggling with severe depression and disappointed by the album's lack of commercial success, left the group in 1972 to pursue a solo career. Big Star soon disbanded for a brief period, but then reformed and released "Radio City" (1974), an album featuring two of Big Star's more famous songs, "September Gurls" and "Back of a Car." Although uncredited, Bell contributed to the writing of a few of the album's songs, including "O My Soul" and "Back of a Car," according to Fry (quoted by Clark, 1992) and Hummel (quoted by Jovanovic, 2004). In spite of critical acclaim, the album did not sell well; Hummel quit and was replaced by Jon Lightman for live concerts.

Chilton and Stephens recorded tracks with producer Jim Dickinson for a planned double album with an array of friends and guests including vocalist Lisa Aldridge, drummer Richard Rosebrough, Lee Baker of Mud Boy and the Neutrons, and Steve Cropper. Rosebrough had played on some of Chilton's post-Box Tops solo recordings in 1970 prior to Chilton's joining Big Star and also appeared on a couple of recordings on "Radio City" ("What's Goin' Ahn", "She's a Mover" and "Mod Lang," according to Stephens, quoted by Metz). After finishing the recordings, Big Star again disbanded in late 1974. The album was finally released four years later, on the PVC label, as "Third." "Third" (retitled "Third/Sister Lovers" for its 1992 CD release), combined a confessional approach with a distinct pop sensibility that recalled a variety of influences from the Left Banke to the Velvet Underground.

Original guitarist Chris Bell was killed in an automobile accident shortly after the delayed release of "Third" in 1978.

Later history and reunion

Chilton and Stephens reunited in 1993 with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the American pop band The Posies taking the place of Bell and Hummel at the University of Missouri. For an encore, the band performed Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl," reflecting Chilton's marked interest in early rock and roll. This appearance was followed by tours of Europe and Japan, as well as an appearance on "The Tonight Show."

Other retrospective Big Star releases include "Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93", a recording of the first reunion show; "Big Star Live", a 1974 radio broadcast from Long Island; and "Nobody Can Dance", a recording of the last Big Star show as a trio, performed at Overton Park in Memphis.

Members of Big Star returned to Ardent Studios in early 2004 to work on a new album, called "In Space". The album was released on September 27, 2005, on Rykodisc and featured songs cowritten by Chilton, Stephens, Auer, and Stringfellow,.

Big Star played a rare live show on October 20, 2007 at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium. San Francisco-based band Oranger, which includes Matt Harris of The Posies, performed as opening act.

On March 13, 2008, Big Star were confirmed to appear at Rhythm Festival in the UK. Before this they will play a London headlining show at Shepherds Bush Empire with Robyn Hitchcock.

Currently, the company Clearvision MPG is preparing a film on Big Star's history, based on Rob Jovanovic's book "Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band".


In the 1980s, critics began to cite Big Star's albums as among the finer recordings of the previous decade, and an important link between the classic guitar-pop of the '60s and the new-wave and alternative rock sounds of the '80s. Three of Big Star’s albums, [ "Radio City"] , [ "#1 Record"] , and ["Third/Sister Lovers"] are included in Rolling Stone magazine’s [ “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”] . Many alternative bands and artists of the '80s and '90s, including R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, Primal Scream, the Posies, Bill Lloyd and the dB's, cited Big Star as a major influence. Big Star's influence on acts such as Game Theory, Matthew Sweet, and Velvet Crush is unmistakable. [Harrington, Joe S. "Sonic Cool: The Life and Death of Rock 'n' Roll." Hal Leonard (2002), p. 337-38. ISBN 0-634-02861-8.]

The Replacements paid tribute to Big Star and Alex Chilton in their single "Alex Chilton," featured on their 1987 album "Pleased to Meet Me." The song includes the lyric "I never travel far without a little Big Star."

Big Star was introduced to a new generation of fans when "In the Street" was selected as a representative song of the 1970s decade by the producers of the sitcom "That '70s Show", who used it for the show's theme song in 1998. In 1999, Cheap Trick recorded a new version of the song, renamed "That '70s Song," for the show. "That '70s Song" and the original Big Star version of "September Gurls" were included in a 1999 album released by the television program's producers, "That '70s Show Presents That '70s Album: Rockin'." Numerous other Big Star songs appear in various episodes of "That '70s Show" including "Thirteen" which is played in both the season six episode "The Seeker", and during Donna's flashback in one of the final scenes of the series finale.

Covers and references

The Bangles included a cover of "September Gurls", right down to a note-for-note guitar solo, on their 1985 album "Different Light." This Mortal Coil recorded covers of "Holocaust" and "Kangaroo" on their album "It'll End in Tears". Fellow 4AD artist His Name is Alive covered "Blue Moon" on their 1993 release, "Mouth by Mouth".

Garbage's cover of "Thirteen appeared on the Japanese edition of their album Version 2.0.

Elliott Smith covered "Thirteen", both live and on record, and "Stroke It Noel" and "Nighttime" live.

Placebo covered "Holocaust" on their special edition version of "Sleeping with Ghosts". Son Volt also recorded a cover of "Holocaust" that appears on their "Son Volt - A Retrospective 1995-2000" CD.

Australian rock band You Am I recorded a version of "In The Street" as a b-side on their "Cathy's Clown" single, and titled an album "#4 Record" in direct reference to Big Star's "#1 Record"Fact|date=July 2008.

In 2003, the band Yo La Tengo released a cover of "Take Care" on their album "Summer Sun".

Hans Vandenburg covered Big Star's "I'm In Love With A Girl" on his 1994 solo set, "Commercial Break".

Dusty Murphy has covered September Gurls and Thirteen in concerts and released studio recordings of them on his acoustic EP "The Home Demos".

The song "Thirteen" is included on the Japanese import version of Wilco's 1996 album Being There (album).

The long-anticipated "Big Star, Small World", a tribute album, was released on May 23, 2006. The release includes covers by popular groups Gin Blossoms, Wilco, Afghan Whigs, Whiskeytown, and others.

In 2006, Okkervil River released a cover of "O, Dana" on their Australian Tour EP "Overboard and Down".

In 2006 the song "I'm In Love With A Girl" appeared in a Heineken television commercial.

The song "Thirteen" was featured on an episode of CBS's How I Met Your Mother, airing March 24, 2008. It was also featured in the final episode of That 70's Show. After Eric's return to Point Place, the song is played during a montage for Donna and Eric. "Thirteen" was also featured on a episode of Gilmore Girls and was included on the show's soundtrack "Our Little Corner of the World".

Magnapop featured a cover of Thirteen (listed as "13") on their eponymous 1992 debut LP.

Jeff Buckley often performed an extended live version of Kanga-Roo, released on some of his EPs posthumously packaged as The Grace EPs.


* Alex Chilton — guitars, vocals (1971-1974, 1993-present)
* Jody Stephens — drums, vocals (1971-1974, 1993-present)
* Chris Bell — guitars, vocals (1971-1972)
* Andy Hummel — bass, vocals (1971-1973)
* Jon Lightman — bass, backing vocals (1974)
* Jon Auer — guitar, vocals (1993-present)
* Ken Stringfellow — bass, vocals (1993-present)


Big Star albums

*"#1 Record" (Ardent/Stax, 1972)
*"Radio City" (Ardent/Stax, 1974)
*"Third/Sister Lovers" (PVC, 1978)
*"Live" (Rykodisc, 1992)
*"Nobody Can Dance" (Norton, 1999)
*"Columbia: Live at Missouri University" (Zoo/Volcano, 1993)
*"In Space" (Rykodisc, 2005)

Tribute albums

*"Not the Singer but the Songs" (Munster Records, 1991)
*"A Tribute to Big Star" (Lunasea, 2001)
* "Big Star, Small World" (Koch, 2006)


*Ankeny, Jason. [ "Big Star Biography."] Accessed Apr. 28, 2005.
*Auer, Jon (April 11, 2005). [ "New Posies and Big Star release...?"] "Big Star Book". Accessed Apr. 28, 2005.
*Boldman, Gina. [ "That '70s Show Presents That '70s Album: Rockin' " review."] "". Accessed Jun. 20, 2005.
* [ "Box Tops Biographies."] "Box Tops Official website". Accessed Jun. 19, 2005.
*Clark, Rick (1992). "Liner notes." "Big Star: #1 Record/Radio City double CD". Memphis: Ardent Records.
*Gordon, Robert (1995). "It Came From Memphis". New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-7434-1045-9.
*Gross, Jason (July 2001). [ "Big Star — Andy Hummel."] "Perfect Sound Forever". Accessed Jun. 19, 2005.
* [ "The Jokers."] "Box Tops Official website". Accessed Jun. 19, 2005.
*Jovanovic, Rob (2004). "Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band". London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 0-00-714908-5.
* [ "The Jynx."] "Box Tops official website". Accessed Jun. 19, 2005.
*Manning, Terry (2003). "Liner notes." "Rock City". Nassau: Lucky Seven Records.
*Metz, Adam. [ Jody Stephens interview] . Accessed Jan. 29, 2006.
*Ritchie, Paul (April 1996). [ "Alex Chilton: Live in Glasgow."] "Ready Steady Go!" Accessed May 12, 2005.
*Ritchie, Paul (August 5, 1998). [ "Teenage Fanclub."] "Ready Steady Go!". Accessed May 12, 2005.
* [ "Rock City" and "Rockin' Memphis" album descriptions."] "Lucky Seven Records website". Accessed Jun. 30, 2005.
*Rosen, Craig (August 16, 1999). [ "Cheap Trick Does Big Star For 'That '70s Show.'"] "Cheap Trick News on Yahoo! Music". Accessed May 12, 2005.
*Stern, Theresa (December 22, 1996). [ "Interview: Jody Stephens."] "Perfect Sound Forever." Accessed Jun. 19, 2005.
*Confirmed for Rhythm Festival

External links

* [ Big Star Ardent Records Discography]
* [ Big Star Page at Harmonē]
* [ Big Star Reference Pages]
* [ The Official Big Star Homepage]
* [ The Unofficial Big Star Homepage]
* [ Judith Beeman's Back of a Car Big Star zine site]
* [ Jeff the Joker's Alex Chilton, Big Star & the Box Tops: Interviews & Reviews]
* [ Website of the studio which is preparing a movie on Big Star]

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