Big Star: “Give Me Another Chance”
It seems a little funny to me in retrospect that I’ve posted about quite a few bands that have been influenced in varying degrees by Big Star (Game Theory being among the most obvious), but have yet to actually post a song by Big Star themselves. Well, time to rectify that, ‘s all I can say…
Much has been written about Big Star and their influence on many later bands (such as Cheap Trick, R.E.M., The Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, The Lemonheads, and The dBs) — and in turn much of indie rock — despite never having been commercially successful themselves when their albums were released in the early ’70s. But when you listen closely to their albums and consider the other music coming out at the time, it becomes very evident what made them unique. They threw out all that was happening with the growing bombast of much of ’70s rock and stripped it back down to the core elements of what makes a great song, practically inventing the power-pop genre in the process. Clearly Beatles influenced, they were an even blend of Paul McCartney’s melodicism and John Lennon’s edge, but moved that in a new direction, finding a way to blend in a very subtle Southern soul influence. Which isn’t too surprising, given that singer/guitarists Alex Chilton and Chris Bell grew up in Memphis, and Chilton was lead singer for the “blue-eyed soul” group the Box Tops, best known for their hit, “The Letter,” when he was just 16. The Box Tops were produced by Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and Chips Moman, legendary for writing and producing many of the great soul hits of the ’60s, and they clearly influenced Chilton’s songwriting.
I’ve always had trouble reconciling Chilton’s big, soulful voice with The Box Tops (listening to “The Letter,” you’d never know it was a skinny white kid singing) with his fragile, higher-pitched vocals that he used with Big Star. I’m inclined to believe that his Big Star voice was his “real” singing voice, and that he was merely doing his best imitation of the great ’60s soul singers with the Box Tops. Ditching that voice was probably necessary to connecting emotionally with the songs he wrote with Big Star.
In my mind, Big Star’s debut album, 1972’s somewhat ironically titled #1 Record, is one of the greatest albums in all of rock. Put it up alongside any Beatles album, and it would hold its own — and those of you who know how big a Beatles fan I am know that I wouldn’t say that lightly. There is an amazing range of electricity and beauty on #1 Record, from hard-edged rockers to quieter, acoustic songs that seem impossibly gorgeous. I don’t know what their songwriting process was, but Chilton and Bell somehow managed to combine their talents in wondrous ways. Among the most beautiful of them (and there is some strong competition) is “Give Me Another Chance,” a song as moving for its music as for its lyrics. This is one of those songs that when listened to in the isolation of headphones (earbuds will do) will stun you and break your heart all in one go before you even know what hit you. Give it a try…