A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #45 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
Big Star is not just one of those bands that only serious music lovers and record shop perusers know, they’re one of those bands that every serious music lover and record shop peruser knows. Which makes them not exactly obscure, just not often heard on the radio. Their first album, 1972’s #1 Record is one of the foundations of power pop. The sometimes rootsy, sometimes soulful, sometimes moody, always catchy songs of Chris Bell and Alex Chilton also became a common influence among countless early indie/alternative groups. Big Star owe a bit of their continued relevance to the fact that bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements sung their praises (literally sung them, in the case of The Replacements song “Alex Chilton”).
“Thirteen” is arguably the best track on #1 Record. It’s a little more fragile than the rest of the album. It doesn’t have a bass or drum track and the vocal harmonies aren’t really featured until the end. It’s really just a duo of simple guitar arpeggios and Alex Chilton’s wavering voice. There’s a particularly beautiful bridge, and when the harmonies do swoop in with a little bit of a trippy chorus effect on them they help the song crescendo nicely.
The lyrics are the real highlight though. “Thirteen” is a perfect adolescent love song. Chilton puts on the character of a young man asking a girl to the dance and chatting her up about rock ‘n’ roll and parents and stuff. It’s a little rebellious, a little subversive, and a little sweet all at the same time:
Won’t you tell your dad “Get off my back?”
Tell him what we said about “Paint it Black”
Rock n’ roll is here to stay
Come inside where it’s okay
And I’ll shake you
It’s the kind of song that can relate to just about anyone who hears it, the kind of song that anyone might make a personal favorite, and it’s exactly songs like this that explain why Big Star have kept a cult following as long as they have.
Review by Matthew