I had never heard the Yoko Ono song, “Mrs. Lennon,” before. But Alex Chilton certainly has. In a 1987 interview with Dawn Eden, he admitted that “it’s just like [Big Star’s] ‘Holocaust.’ Exactly.”
The Bob: Did you have that song in mind when you wrote “Holocaust”?
CHILTON: I don’t know. I think that it was one of those instances of plagiarism that you sort of are aware of somewhere in your mind, but not…I think that, at the time I was doing the tune, I didn’t realize that I was copying it.
How does a mega fan of both the Beatles and 70s drug music miss Big Star for 30 years? Even he isn’t sure anymore.
Given my lifelong love of the Beatles and my near-freaky obsession with Elliott Smith, you’d think it a natural fit for me and Big Star: the band who lived in the long shadow of Badfinger and never quite hit the Big Time but walked in that shadow while serving the same Liverpudlian masters. And yet…and yet…
My hesitation with Big Star started in college. Like all good indie kids, I knew of Big Star and the long list of more contemporary bands who name them as an influence, bands I loved. I finally heard Big Star while working a shift at my college radio station (how High Fidelity of me!) when I dug out a beat up CD of Third – Sister Lovers and dialed up the lead track, “Kizza Me” for what I expected to be a life changing event. Well, maybe that wasn’t the best choice for an introduction to Big Star. And so it was years before I returned to Alex Chilton, et al.
My next brush with the band came in September 1998 when GLONO founder Jake Brown put “September Gurls” on a mix and my interest was duly piqued. I loved the melody and the lyrics but there was something that bugged me. I couldn’t put my finger on it for the longest time.
Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story is out now in the UK on Ace/Big Beat. According to the Ace Records press, the 2-disc collection from the legendray Memphis recording studio contains “no less than 14 rare or unissued Big Star-related cuts, most of which have not been on CD before. These include demos, alternate versions, original mixes and non-LP tracks. Everything is presented from the master tapes and the sound quality, as befits any Ardent recording, is second to none.”
Uncutinterviewed some of the major players in the Ardent story: John Fry, Terry Manning, Jim Dickinson, and Jody fucking Stephens.
FRY: “In 1966 we rented a commercial building and put in a proper studio. The national profile of Memphis was always Elvis and Sun Studios; then there was a shift in the ’60s when Stax started to gain prominence with soul music. But we were Beatles fans and Anglophiles. We were out of step with Memphis.”
These days, Ardent Records releases mostly Christian rock, but the Ardent Studio is still the place to be, at least according to clients such as the Raconteurs (Broken Boy Soldiers), Cat Power (The Greatest), R.E.M. (Green), and the White Stripes (Get Behind Me Satan).
Iggy Pop was fucking the camera. Lithe like a Romanian gymnast, his lifelines disappearing craggy into low rise jeans, the punk father writhed onstage like a human snake razor blade, and the camera beamed it into outer space. A veteran sex simulator and the energy source of his reconstituted Stooges, Pop’s completely unfakeable yowls, tumbles and cabinet climbs were typical of a show that delighted in refreshing the stale rock festival concept. There were a few flecks of grey in this 21st century version, and the occasional mohawk’d toddler waddled on by. It also took place in the shadows of a giant orange mocha frappucino. But with his Underground Garage Festival, Little Steven Van Zandt made his vibrant music id a touchable thing, and the jabberwocky prattlecock of today’s industry faraway for at least a day. And New York City rocked like a hurricane.
Our umbrellas were consfiscated at the gate (they could be used as weapons, I was told), but that was the only down note in the entire day and night of Little Steven’s Underground Garage Festival on Randall’s Island. My friend Kathy and I got there at 1 pm, having bagged an overly ambitious plan to be there for the beginning at 11:00 am (who can rock at 11:00? Apparently James Gandolfini, and missing him was a drag, but we caught a few other Sopranos who were hanging onstage, like Big Pussy Bompansero and Paulie Walnuts, along with some other of Little Steven’s pals like, oh, Bruce Springsteen, who sauntered on now and then to introduce a band). It was a day of dazzling but casual star power; everyone was friendly; there was a minimum of insider/outsider vibe, and the unpretentious, inclusive spirit of the show evoked legendary 60s rock events like Woodstock (the love vibe) and Altamont (the confiscated umbrellas, the revved-up aggression in the music) and made peace with that past by connecting it to the present.
It sounds like the Hanson boys are getting hip on us now. Check out this quote from an article on rollingstone.com: “There’s more reckless abandon on this record,” says Taylor [Hanson]. “A sense that we’re not gonna over-think things. I wanna leave space for people to hear the parts, the grit of the guitar or the driving rhythms. Not to say it’s not gonna be tight and that the songs won’t be pop . . . I love writing songs with that hook, that’s what I enjoy, like every Big Star song. But I want people to feel it. I want people to instantaneously be drawn in and go, ‘I don’t know why I like it. I don’t care if it’s Hanson or Black Sabbath, it’s just good.'”
Could their next album be good? They’re working with Matthew Sweet on a song. Who knows?