Big Star – #1 Record (1972)

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When lead singer / songwriter for Big Star, Alex Chilton died from a heart attack in 2010, there was renewed interest in the band and a rediscovery of this, their debut album. At the time of its release, #1 Record was widely acclaimed, but not very widely purchased – supposedly selling only 10,000 copies in the year of release.

Big Star’s remarkable debut LP contains an abundance of well-written and deftly produced (John Fry) rock songs which probably should have turned Big Star into big stars. Mostly co-written by Chilton and fellow founding member of the band, Chris Bell, the songs on #1 Record all benefit from the interplay of Chilton’s rock star raw talent and Bell’s penchant for more Pop sounds.

Most listeners today will know the teenage rebellion anthem In The Street from the hit television sitcom That 70s Show (where reference to wanting ‘a joint so bad’ was written out with an ad lib of ‘We’re all alright!’). The similarly themed Thirteen is also better known in other versions by Wilco, Elliot Smith and Evan Dando.

The heavier, noisier leanings of Chilton are on full display in Don’t Lie To Me and When My Baby’s Beside Me where fuzzy guitar riffs dominate, while Bell’s preference for sweet vocal crooners with acoustic sparkle is beautifully brought to the forefront in Give Me Another Chance sung by Chilton.

Arguably, the stand out track in this exceptional set is The Ballad Of El Goodo, written by Chilton alone before the pair formed Big Star (legend says thanks to a Beatles concert in their hometown of Memphis, Tennessee). The song’s simple chorus refrain (‘Ain’t no one going to turn me around’) swims over a sea of guitars that jangle like crystal bells; carried along by seraphic harmonies and Chilton’s artless, honest voice.

Big Star almost completely disbanded after #1 Record, with only two members (Chilton and Jody Stephens) remaining for the recording of Third/Sister Lovers. Before that third album was released, Big Star were no more. Chris Bell died in 1978 after losing control of his car and running off the road into a post. The band returned to touring in an altered form in 1993 and released In Space in 2005.

Verdict: Approved | Remaining: 116,853mb

This album is almost despairingly underrated and unknown. As a debut record from 1972, it still sounds hip and eternally listenable. #1 Record is power pop at its joyful best – aware, rebellious, singable and enduring. Please, buy this record; then buy it for someone else and tell them to do the same.



Michael Jackson – Off The Wall (1979)


The first of Michael Jackson’s solo albums to be produced by Quincy Jones, Off The Wall is a disco record, sprinkled with funky bass licks, bubblegum pop lyrics, meticulously layered production and a tremendous amount of energy. Best estimates suggest Off The Wall has sold over 20 million copies and continues to be recognised as one of the finest LPs of all time – producing four hit singles and a Best Male R&B Vocal Grammy (Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough).

The Grammy Award-winning opener flicks the ON switch with a bass groove that makes it obvious the song is chomping at the bit to tear the roof off. Jackson’s introverted, effeminate speaking voice awkwardly asks the listener to ‘keep on’ because of the awesome power of ‘the force’ (a Star Wars reference, perhaps, given recording started in 1978; the year after Episode IV was the hottest film in the galaxy). With that, one of Michael’s falsetto exhalations and the kick of percussion and strings, Off The Wall is off and racing.

Besides the classic disco joints like Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Rock With You and the title track, Off The Wall gives us the sickly sweet croon of the Paul McCartney penned Girlfriend, the deep mellow groove of Stevie Wonder’s I Can’t Help It and the maudlin She’s Out Of My Life. Besides the superstar songwriters on board (including the prolific Carole Bayer Sager for It’s The Falling In Love). Jackson himself gave us the Grammy winner, funky dance smash Working Day and Night, and the generic disco jam Get On The Floor.

The title track is among the most underrated of Jackson’s songs. Opening Side B, Off The Wall is the last of the dance songs before the album breaks it down into Girlfriend and She’s Out Of My Life. Its good-vibe beats and ‘enjoy life’ lyrics are punctuated by vocal accentuation (the ‘dah’s and ‘ah’s and ‘hee’s and ‘woo’s) for which we soon came to know Michael so well.

Verdict: APPROVED | Remaining 117,163mb

As a five year old kid in 1977, The Jackson 5 (their music and Saturday morning cartoon) were an important part of my world. In a quite casually 1970s racist way, my grandparents and Uncles would buy me Chico Babies and tell me they were ‘Jackson 5s’. The gate-fold vinyl version of Off The Wall is the second LP I ever owned (the first being the Grease soundtrack), given to me by my then just 19 year old Uncle.

Today, there is not a Friday afternoon that can not be made groovier with a spin of Off The Wall. At just 43 minutes for 10 tracks, it has a distinctive sound (probably thanks to Quincy Jones) and it’s own vibe. The ballads in the centre of this superb disco set are maybe out of place to my ears; denying this LP the pop perfection of Thriller after it. I would still argue though that it is among the greatest Disco albums ever made – if you discount Grace Jones, Isaac Hayes and anything Nile Rodgers ever did.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Michael Jackson could and did do better than this just three short years later; but that doesn’t diminish the outstanding achievement of this solo effort.