Show 198: A Classic Album Dissection: Big Star, Review of Jay-Z & Greg's DIJ Pick
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1 This week everyone is talking about music from across the pond. That’d be The Beatles, of course. But, another British artist is also making headlines. UK rapper Speech Debelle has just been named the winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize after only selling 3,000 copies in her home country. As Jim and Greg explain, this is quite a contrast from the highly commercial acts rewarded by The Grammys. Speech Debelle is certain to see a sales boost after winning this prize, however it’s uncertain whether she’ll follow suit of past winners like PJ Harvey and Franz Ferdinand, or less successful ones like Roni Size who amazingly beat Radiohead.
2 During this episode Jim and Greg celebrate the legacy of Big Star with a Classic Album Dissection of their first two records, #1 Record and Radio City. Both albums have recently been re-released as a double album, and a new Big Star box set is due out next week. As Jim and Greg discuss, the band changed the history of American music without selling very many records. With a sound that combined Memphis Soul with British Invasion rock, they laid the groundwork for “Power Pop” and influenced bands including R.E.M., Wilco and The Replacements. The original Big Star lineup included former Box Tops singer Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jim and Greg’s guest this week, drummer Jody Stephens.
3 Following their discussion with Jody Stephens, Jim and Greg each discuss and play a song. Greg chooses to highlight the opening track from #1 Record called “Feel.” The song was written and performed by Chris Bell. While Alex Chilton is the name most people associate with Big Star, Bell really created it. Most of his incredible work didn’t see the light of day until after his death at age 26, but Greg thinks songs like “Feel,” illustrate the power of his voice and lyrics—many of which convey the problems he faced in his short life.
3b Jim plays a song written and performed by Alex Chilton from the second album called “September Gurls.” As he discussed with Jody earlier in the show, this was a breakout song for the band and one that was immediately adored by critics and fans including The Bangles, who later covered it. Jim’s not sure what the song means, but for him it’s more about the mood that Chilton created. With its sweeping melodies and “pan-sexuality” it’s a power pop classic.
4 Hip hop’s top entrepreneur Jay-Z has a new album out called The Blueprint 3. It’s the third in the rapper’s Blueprint series. For the first he worked with then unknown producer Kanye West. Then for the second he invited a slew of big name guest stars. Now he splits the difference—West is back in the studio, as are guests like Timbaland. Greg finds the result split; half the tracks are good, half show the rapper on autopilot. Jim was also disappointed to hear that Jay-Z didn’t really explore his life as a business man and celebrity husband in any unique way. But, the voice is still wonderful. It gets a double Burn It.
5 For his turn at the Desert Island Jukebox, Greg wants to add a song by one of his favorite “Power Pop” bands. The term was actually coined by Pete Townshend during The Who’s pre-rock opera era. It now describes a slew of bands who use a lot of big melodies, tight arrangements, harmonies and prominent guitar riffs. The Midwest produces a lot of power pop bands, including Green. The band has had many incarnations, but it’s the constant force of Jeff Lescher that gives the group its edge and puts them above the rest for Greg. He takes their song, “She’s Not a Little Girl” with him to the deserted island.
Songs Featured in Show #198
Speech Debelle, “Spinnin’,” Speech Therapy, 2009
Speech Debelle, “The Key,” Speech Therapy, 2009
Big Star, “In the Street,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “My Life Is Right,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “Watch the Sunrise,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “Ballad of El Goodo,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “The India Song,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “The India Song,” (Alternate Version) #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “Back of a Car,” Radio City, 1974
Big Star, “O My Soul,” Radio City, 1974
Big Star, “ST 100/6,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “Feel,” #1 Record, 1972
Big Star, “September Gurls,” Radio City, 1974
The Replacements, “Alex Chilton,” Pleased to Meet Me, (1987)
Jay Z, "D.O.A," The Blueprint 3, 2009
Jay Z, "Empire State of Mind, " The Blueprint 3, 2009
Jay Z, "So Ambitious," The Blueprint 3, 2009
Green "She's Not A Little Girl," Green, 1988
Monster Magnet, "I'm Calling You," 4-Way Diablo, 2007
The Vivian Girls, "I Have No Fun," Everything Goes Wrong, 2009
Marnie Stern, "Transformer," This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It And, 2008
Merle Haggard, "Working Man Blues," A Portrait of Merle Haggard, 1969
Loveboy, "Working for the Weekend," Get Lucky, 1981