“Nothing Is Wrong” The dBs (from Repercussion, 1982)
It’s been well established by now that Big Star’s poorly-selling LPs, made in the early 70s, made it onto the turntables of some great musicians who followed in their wake. But it took time for Big Star’s two major styles - the perfectly constructed pop of #1 Record and Radio City, and the doomed grandeur of Third - to seep into pop. Definitely, by the time The Replacements recorded Please to Meet Me in 1987, with Paul Westerberg’s driven tribute to Star-man Alex Chilton, the influence was in place, to only grow larger in the 1990s with musicians like Matthew Sweet, Elliott Smith and Teenage Fanclub.
But before then, there was The dBs, whose first three records ironically suffered the same fate as Big Star’s - poorly distributed and reputation carried by word of mouth among a certain type of reverent pop fan. More so than their tour mates R.E.M. (whose music, aside from the jangly guitar, didn’t resemble Big Star’s very much at the time), the dBs used Big Star’s music as a blueprint for their own kind of off-kilter pop.
“Nothing Is Wrong”, from their second LP, strongly recalls Jim Dickinson’s production on Big Star’s Third, which was no small thing in 1982 (the latter, only released in 1978 on a small label, years after being recorded, might have been even less heard than Big Star’s first two albums at the time). With its soaring harmonies, languid tempo and expansive use of space for the instruments, “Nothing Is Wrong” picks up Third’s haunted sound. Yet, the song itself reminds me less of Alex Chilton and more of Big Star’s other songwriter, Chris Bell (who didn’t contribute to Third - essentially a Chilton solo record), particularly the wistfulness and sense of heartache.
You can find the best example of that on Bell’s great post-Big Star single “I Am the Cosmos/You and Your Sister,” which was released in 1978 on Car Records, a label owned by Chris Stamey of The dBs (who also played for a time with Chilton). Nothing is Wrong sounds to me like Peter Holsapple (the band’s other songwriter) and The dBs not just carrying on Big Star’s (and Bell’s) style, but examining it further - bringing the inspiration to a new wave era of pop in hopes that Big Star’s sound could finally stand in the right time to be appreciated.
Not to be, though. It took more time, fittingly. And now The dBs’ music is appreciated by a certain type of power pop cultist as much as Big Star’s once was (and maybe still is, though with Matthew Sweet’s chart success, at the least, the latter’s style finally found a mass audience, if not their music).