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The Ballad Of El Goodo: My Love Affair With Big Star

ARTICLE by Victor Stranges

I first heard of Big Star when I was going through an R.E.M. phase in the 1980s. I think I heard Michael Stipe (or maybe it was Peter Buck?) mention them in an interview. I forgot all about them for a few years.

In 1992 I did some travelling in Europe and Canada for a few months and I got back to Melbourne and somehow landed a job in a record store though it was mainly CDs by then, and maybe some cassettes if I recall correctly. There was no internet back in the day so I had to manually look up album releases in the "Platterlog" which is kind of like a bible of all album and single releases available in Australia.

It was by no means exhaustive and there was a much bigger version for international releases but it was hard ordering those titles as there were very few distributors for them. If you ordered something you sometimes had to wait six months only to be told it was still on back order or possibly deleted. Those were the days that made music exciting. You didn't have the convenience so the absence (of the album until it came in) made the heart grow fonder.

I think it was Festival Records that occasionally reissued relatively obscure albums back then and I was thrilled to see that the first two Big Star albums '# 1 Record' and 'Radio City' were available to buy on one CD. Of course I bought it. I couldn't believe it was available.

Big Star (1972) L-R: Andy Hummel, Jody Stephens, Chris Bell, Alex Chilton

In the years to come I went through a bit of a spiritual journey after my father passed away and the songs started to jump out at me. Were they talking about God in the lyrics? Did he mention Christ? Wow. How could a seemingly cool band talk about religion? It was a real inspiration because I thought rock ‘n’ roll and spirituality didn’t mix. All of a sudden I had some pretty decent music piercing my soul in a way that I never experienced.

I’m not sure about Alex Chilton and Chris Bell’s exact stance on things not of this world but it seemed to be a common theme in their writing. Even when the lyrics weren't overtly religious, there was a sense of a higher ground to aspire to such as in the song My Life Is Right. I always thought it was about God but it's probably about a girl. Unfortunately Chris Bell died in a car accident in 1978 and Alex Chilton passed away in 2010. But thankfully music is forever.

By 1974, the band lost two of its original members, Andy Hummel and Chris Bell. Though it seemed that the band had somewhat fallen apart, they would record what I believe to be some of the finest rock 'n' roll recordings around. I reviewed Third/Sister Lovers here:

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