#1 Record - Big Star’s optimistically-titled debut - is the truest album the group ever released. To all intents and purposes, it’s arguably the only real Big Star album. No other LP of theirs sounds as collaborative, as democratic or as band-like - that is to say, Alex Chilton wouldn’t have let ‘The India Song’ on any other Big Star record. Not only that, but it’s the only one of their records (discounting In Space) that features the same personell all the way through. You can only imagine what would happened if the line-up responsible for ‘In the Street’ and ‘When My Baby’s Beside Me’ had stayed together for just one more record. At the very least, they could surely have been as big as Cheap Trick.
The album exactly what they set out to make - a fusion of all the instantly-classic sixties rock and roll they came of age listening to. Hell, it’s been called the last sixties album. Maybe that’s why, for a long time, it was my favourite Big Star LP; while hardly a shallow record, it had a little more surface to it than anything else in the band’s catalogue. It was easier to swallow because it was all so perfectly formed and instantly understandable. That neon sign on the sleeve suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Central to that rock idol worship is, of course, ‘Thirteen’ - another Big Star staple, another hit that should have been. In the most explicit display of iconoclasm Chilton ever penned, he begs his best girl to come out for the night:
Won’t you tell your dad ‘Get off my back’?
Tell him what we said ‘bout ‘Paint It, Black’.
Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay…
The whole lyric is incredible - naive, sure, but there’s not a word wasted. So it’s kind of a shame that Chilton used to consider much of his Big Star work as mere juvenilia. If only we were all so lucky…