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Author Topic: Big Star/ # 1 Record  (Read 29437 times)

Andi Gisler

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Big Star/ # 1 Record
« on: February 07, 2005, 05:55:02 am »

Terry,

were you involved in this amazing record? The CD reissue I got once again provides NO cedits at all.
I especially dig the incredible acoustic guitar sounds throughout, like on 'Thirteen'. Would you share any secrets how this was done?

Merci

Andi

Steve Folta

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2005, 04:03:16 pm »

I'd love to hear *any* stories about the first two Big Star albums.  I once heard a rumor that Chris Bell destroyed the multitrack masters to #1 Record, as he thought the mixes were perfect and he didn't want anyone ever to remix them.  Any truth to that?
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Leo

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2005, 04:32:36 pm »

I beleieve the rumor you speak of (not sure of the record) ,but John Fry and Larry Nix where mastering one of the albums to vinyl and they just finished and Chris came in picked up the ingraver and asked what it was and dropped it on the master ruining it. But i maybe wrong. I'm going by Ardent Studios later today, so i'll ask. If Terry doen't beat me to it.

p.s. I know about the GTRs on the Kangaroo Song. Very Happy
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Leo Goff III

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2005, 11:33:25 pm »

Hi Andi, Steve and Leo!

Remembering this particular record is one of the toughest for me of all.  For many, many years I wouldn't even talk about it.  In fact, I wouldn't even listen to this album for more that two decades.  But a couple of years ago, a writer from the UK, Rob Jovanovic, called me to ask if I would talk a bit about the whole Big Star scene.  Rob was writing a book for Harper Collins about the band.  He turned out to be a real nice guy, and before I knew it, he had me talking some.  By the end, he was asking if there were any out takes, extra mixes, etc., as he was hoping to release a companion CD with his book.  I said that I didn't really know, as I had a LOT of boxes of very old tapes and momentos, which I hadn't even opened for a long time.  But he got me looking through boxes, and before I knew it, I had found some things...

But to the whole Big Star story, as I knew and lived it.

This whole thing is one that's hard for me because I am such a HUGE fan of the band, and as well as having been integrally involved with it, the way things turned out weren't always for the best.  Just today I listened to #1 Record on the way to the studio, and again it made me very nostalgic, happy, sad, excited, and depressed...as it always does.

The band grew out of two things.  One was a group co-founded by Chris Bell, in which in which he was the lead guitarist, and sang some leads and backing vocals as well.  I was the keyboard player, backing vocalist, engineer, co-producer, and somewhat of a mentor to Chris.  This band was, amongst other names (Christmas Future, Icewater), basically called Rock City.  Chris was my best friend for about 10 years back then, and we were both totally into music composition and recording.  I had been working as engineer and producer for Stax Records, and as chief engineer for Ardent Studios, owned by my other great friend at the time, and my audio mentor, John Fry.  There was a group of other guys with us who sort of revolved in and out of the various groups we would put together.  We would practice at Chris' 'back house,' which was also our darkroom (one of them at least...I had one in my apartment, and our friend William Eggleston had a big one in his house).  I was recording a lot of my own things, in addition to the 'day job,' and Chris wanted to get into recording and production.  He started writing original songs, and would bring them to me to see what I thought.  They were getting pretty good, so we started recording an album.  On drums was Jody Stephens, eventual BS drummer, and on bass and lead vocals was Tom Eubanks.  We worked long and hard on the album, going into Ardent late at night (we had free run of this great place).  An album was completed, to be called "See Seven States" by Rock City.  We mixed it and sent it out to labels, but got almost no response from them.

The second thing from which Big Star sprung was Alex Chilton.  Alex was lead singer for The Box Tops, who had been having several big single hits, including the biggest hit of one of those years, 1960-something, "The Letter."  But Alex was unhappy working under his producers, who  were telling him everything to record, how to sing, basically running his life (...and making him a star...!)  But he wanted to do his own songs his way.  I had been engineering and playing on the Box Tops recordings, so I had worked with Alex a lot, and we had become good friends; he felt that I understood his plight.  AC asked me if I would produce an album of him, doing his songs.  I said OK.  So we recorded his first solo album, and shopped it to labels as well.  Atlantic wanted it, but wanted to release a single or two first; Alex was tired of singles, and preferred to have the whole album out first.  Then Brother Records (The Beach Boys' label dist through Capitol) were interested; The Box Tops had toured with the Beach Boys, and AC was friendly with Carl and Brian Wilson.  So we all met to talk about releasing it there.

In the meantime, Chris and Alex had hooked up, and Chris saw an opportunity to get this talent into HIS band.  So another new album was started, this time with Chris, Alex, Jody on drums, and Andy Hummel, another friend-to-all, on bass.  I played some keyboards, sang backing vocals, and engineered some.  John Fry was the main engineer, and certainly, especially, was for the mix, and Chris had learned a lot about engineering by now, so he did a lot of the overdubs.  We took two of the songs which had been recorded for the Rock City album as a starting point, plus one we had recorded as Icewater, and Chris and Alex wrote separately and together the other songs (Andy wrote and sang one).  Chris basically sang the songs he instigated, and Alex the same with his.  I also sang co-lead on "When My Baby's Beside Me."

This new one was coming along so well, and with minimum response from labels for at least one of the other two albums, The Rock City and Alex solo ones were just put aside in their relative tape boxes.  The RC was fully mixed and edited, but the Alex was still only multitrack.  We then pretty much just forgot about these.

I produced another group about the same time, Cargoe, and also a third artist, a solo guitarist named Gimmer Nicholson.  These three artists were to be the first on our newly formed label, Ardent Records.  We were tired of looking to the majors for releases, and were going to do it ourselves.  Gimmer was to be the first release, then Cargoe, then the new Chris/Alex group.

We named this group Big Star, after the supermarket across the street from the studio, at whose sign we were always staring.  The album was finished, and I came up with the star idea with the 'Big' in the middle for the cover, and had another friend, a neon sculpture artist named Ron Pekar, make it up for us.  It was photograped hanging on the wall of John Fry's office, with black photo paper behind it.

We decided that, because The Beatles didn't really put any credits on their records at this time, we wouldn't, either.  We thought that the public group should only be four people, and they should be named and featured, but not much else...this was to be right in line with The Beatles, as usual (much like the BS music was, or so we thought).

As for the recording, this album was completely crafted over a  long period of time.  It was not thrown together quickly.  Many months, in fact, years if you include the resurection of the Rock City/Icewater tracks, were spent in putting this together.  Chris Bell had become almost fanatical about getting things just right, and would do and redo, and redo parts.  Andy played a new bass part on "Feel."  I had done the one on the Rock City/Icewater version.  There was no designated <Producer> as known today, but if any one person was the closest to that, it would have been Chris Bell.  I cannot overstate my admiration for the songs and the talents of Chris and Alex.  Not to mention the engineering and mixing talents of John Fry.

The acoustic guitars were very carefully done.  Neumann mics were usually used, I think KM 84's and/or 86's, and in some cases 87's.  Almost always only one mic was employed.  Most acoustic tracks were fairly heavily compressed (for those days, at least), usually by one of the UA 176 limiters we used so much.  On "Thirteen," multiple parts were done to almost simulate one big guitar.  There was almost no strumming of these acoustics, though; most of it was single note playing, or at least arpeggios.  Most people I have seen attempt to replicate this try strumming first...that's not it.  Chris and Alex would both play different acoustics.  I remember AC had a Martin then, and I think CB had a Gibson.  Alex was a great acoustic player, having done the Greenwich Village thing as a solo acoustic artist also.  And Chris could play anything, on any guitar.  He played some "finger picked" parts close to the bridge.

But the little known fact about these acoustics, especially "Thirteen," was the influence of Gimmer Nicholson.  His solo acoustic guitar album was loved by all of us, and it was very much in this style.  It just ended up not being released for many years, so outsiders hadn't heard it then.

The early tracks were done on 8 track Scully 1", and the later ones on 3M 16 track 2".  Ardent moved locations during the long period of recording this, so the earlier ones were done at the National Street location, while the later ones at Madison Avenue location.  The console(s) were always SpectraSonics (by Auditronics...but NOT the later Auditronics).

Much of this basic story, plus a lot more, I think is now out in Rob's book.  I'll find the Amazon link, and out it on the bottom of this post.  Haven't gotten it yet myself, though.

What is so sad about this all to me was the fact that Chris was killed a few years later, and never knew that so many people really love his music so much, because it wasn't until years after release that major success came...and it seems to grow every year.  Also, there is a lot of emotional conflict in these songs; they were to some extent written about what we were all going through at the time, and it is sometimes hard to hear that again.  Of course, the most truly real emotional conflict I think I've ever heard in a pop song was in Chris Bell's solo effort "I Am The Cosmos," which was never even a real, finished record.

Anyway, back to the "opens-old-tape-boxes" part of this now-too-long story.  When I started looking for things, I actually found the long-lost, and almost forgotten, Rock City album, inside a mis-marked box.  So I only had to master it, and released it on my small label, Lucky Seven (shameless link below), the same label on which I had finally put out the Gimmer Nicholson album, a couple of years earlier.  The Alex solo album was called "1970" and was released about 1996, finally!

As for any damaged tapes or lacquers, I think there was an incident about Chris dropping the stylus while writing or marking on a finished acetate master (we always wrote something, or made some mark), but I don't remember exactly what it was, or how that happened.  But I do know that he tried to destroy the mixed 1/4" masters before it could all be released.  Chris was a wonderful person, and extremely talented artist, but he did have issues at times,  and he had decided that this music wasn't going to come out as it was.  I got wind of this, and hurried to the studio to replace the reels inside those 2 boxes.  Chris did burn those tapes, but I had the real ones hidden.  Of course, there were safeties, so it wouldn't have really mattered anyway.  But in that same box where I looked recently, there were the original #1 Record 1/4" masters, inside the other boxes I had put them in long ago!  I have them now, and when REM were here recording last February, I had to get them out so they could all look at those tapes.

Well, again, a far too long story.

All the best,

Terry


SHAMELESS LINKS:

Rock City:
         http://www.rounder.com/index.php?id=album.php&catalog_id =6491

Gimmer Nicholson:
         http://www.rounder.com/index.php?id=album.php&catalog_id =3383

Alex Chilton "1970":
     http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000005D80/qid%3D1107 839298/sr%3D11-1/ref%3Dsr%5F11%5F1/103-7466694-2384653

Big Star, The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band, by Rob Jovanovic:
         http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0007149085/qid=1107 836943/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_8_1/202-8777433-6050244

Chris Bell
   http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000009OD/qid%3D1107 845619/sr%3D11-1/ref%3Dsr%5F11%5F1/102-5643972-1861707
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Andi Gisler

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2005, 08:24:02 am »

Terry,

thanks so much for your reflections and info!
Yesterday I was listening to ' # 1Record'  on headphones and was completely blown away by it.
That such a great record was 'overlooked' in its day seems almost beyond belief. At least time has done justice to it!

thanks again

Andi

Steve Folta

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2005, 04:28:35 pm »

Quote:

 Well, again, a far too long story.


Never!  Thanks for a great post.

Quote:

 But in that same box where I looked recently, there were the original #1 Record 1/4" masters, inside the other boxes I had put them in long ago!


Does that mean we've all been listening to the safeties all these years?
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neve1073

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2005, 07:46:03 pm »

Re: Thirteen

I love this track. The acoustic guitar sound is something to aspire to. Can you give us an idea of compression settings you used on this? I dont have a 176 but do have an 1176.

Thanks also for the Gimmer tip. I've been relistening to thirteen and to gimmer and it totally makes sense.
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compasspnt

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2005, 08:24:11 pm »

neve1073 wrote on Fri, 11 February 2005 19:46

Re: Thirteen

I love this track. The acoustic guitar sound is something to aspire to. Can you give us an idea of compression settings you used on this? I dont have a 176 but do have an 1176.

Thanks also for the Gimmer tip. I've been relistening to thirteen and to gimmer and it totally makes sense.




Hey JF,

You want exact settings???  Ummmm...

I do know that a general starting point would have been 4:1, input 9 to 11 o'clock, output 1 to 3 o'clock, attack 11-ish, and release 2-ish, but that would all of course vary with program material.

The 176 was VERY DIFFERENT from the 1176.  Not at all the same beast.  I have both, and know this very well.  The 176 (tube/valve) version was much warmer, softer, bigger, while the 1176 to me is sharper, brighter, punchier.  The 1176 will not do this "thirteen" guitar sound at all.  But if you can get a 176, it will be hard to maintain.

I have always loved this 176 more than any other compressor, so that was the inspiration for with our custom in-house Lucas Limiting Amplifiers.  They have the same basic controls and tubes, but we improved reliability, noise floor, added some of our own circuitry, etc. (they are NOT clones).   These Lucas are the compressors I have used for almost everything I've done for the past 15 years (all of Lenny's vocals on "5" went through them, and he bought a couple for himself).  Just this week I had to change a tube for the second time.  This 176 concept uses the tube itself for the gain comparison and reduction, not an opto or vca or anything such as most do.  The Fairchild also used this method, and the EAR 660, of course.

Yes, when you hear Gimmer, it's easy to see the Big Star acoustic guitar sound inspiration.

Thanks!
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Lee Flier

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2005, 01:04:17 am »

Wow, wow, wow.  These are some of my favorite records ever.  Too cool to hear these stories Terry, thank you. Smile

neve1073

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2005, 04:43:30 am »

Thanks for the reply and forgive my ignorance. I did an image search for the 176 and there it was in all its tube glory. What a buxome looking piece of gear. It made me drool!
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strawberrius

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2005, 11:28:51 am »

hi terry-

how awesome that u r here!

i have always wondered about the strat sound on "september gurls"
especially the overdub solo-ish gtr  pre V2 that ends in the "hard days night" chord.

can u shed any light on how this tremendously awesome sound came to light?

- doubled with slight varispeed?
- D.I. or amp?
- is it alex playing or chris?
- which compressor? the 176 again?

also what phasor pedal is used on the ballad of el goodo?

thanks-

john fields
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compasspnt

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2005, 07:33:49 pm »

strawberrius wrote on Sat, 12 February 2005 11:28

... about the strat sound on "september gurls"
especially the overdub solo-ish gtr  pre V2 that ends in the "hard days night" chord.

can u shed any light on how this tremendously awesome sound came to light?

- doubled with slight varispeed?
- D.I. or amp?
- is it alex playing or chris?
- which compressor? the 176 again?

also what phasor pedal is used on the ballad of el goodo?



Hi John,

Alex played all of the guitars on September Gurls.  Chris was no longer in the band, having left because of certain "creative differences," shall we say.  He did contribute to the second album a bit, especially with a couple of songs which had already been written, but played very little, if any, on Radio City.  The first album was really more Chris Bell's, instigation, with some of the songs his, plus tremendous Alex contributions (such as When My Baby's Beside Me, I think one of the all time great pop songs; this one was all Alex.  Also 13, Give Me Chance, Sunrise, Goodo, etc.).   The second album was fully Alex's baby.

The SGurls sound is two things.  One is definitely a Stratocaster, a late 60's or early 70's one that Alex had, played through a Fender Super Reverb silverface amp (just post the CBS changeover, as I recall.  This amp had the 4 x 10's.)  As I understand it, these amps were the same basic circuitry as the pre-CBS ones, with cosmetic differences.  CBS hadn't gone in and "messed them up" yet, as some believe they did.  There may have been one or two tracks of this.

The second part of the sound is Alex playing a "mando-guitar" type thing, with double strings (4 sets of 2).  This was somewhat like a mandolin, but electric, and bigger.  I don't remember how it was tuned, but I think it may have been closer to 4 string guitar tuning, rather than classic mandolin tuning.  This gave a bit of a 12 string sound, but not as full, and brighter.  Very distinctive, I think.  I have one of these mando-guitars, and recently played it through my Super, and there was the sound.

As for the compressor, I don't really know, but it probably was the 176.  There were also some 1176's, and SpectraSonics ones there too, so it might have been one of them.

The El Goodo sound was also a Strat through a Super.  Alex had some kind of a leslie-simulator pedal that he ran through.  It may have been a UniVibe (???), but I'm really not sure.

Thanks for your questions!

Terry
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Arf! Mastering

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2005, 09:31:36 pm »

I just ordered all the discs. Thanks for the history.
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bblackwood

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2005, 09:51:51 pm »

About 5 years ago (while I was still at Ardent) I was put in charge of archiving all of the Big Star masters, which we did to both 1/2", 30ips analog tape and digitally at 24/44.1kHz. It was stunning to hear these mixes, cut in the early 70's, that were so clean and crisp, sounding amazing even today.

John Fry was a genius engineer. No wonder so many great engineers have gotten their start there (not talking about myself, of course).
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compasspnt

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2005, 10:18:41 pm »

bblackwood wrote on Sat, 12 February 2005 21:51


John Fry was a genius engineer. No wonder so many great engineers have gotten their start there (not talking about myself, of course).


Well, I think it's exaggeration to say that any really great engineers got their start there (yourself excluded, perhaps).  And to be honest, there is nothing really magic about the Ardent Studios on Madison (but there was magic on National Street!); although maybe I say that knowing too many 'inside stories.'   BUT...

John Fry is a true unsung hero of audio.  John did things the careful, simple way, "by the book."  He was a true gentleman, and was always the utmost professional.  He cared about recorded audio in a high fidelity way before that was fashionable.  John wrote part of the book on modern recording, and those of us who were privileged to be around when he was actually doing it, learned a lot from him.  We had to make much of it up, as there were no studio guidelines yet.  There were strange mistakes, of course, such as with the first set of monitors installed in the new Ardent professional location on National Street, about 1964 or 65.  These were AR home hi-fi speakers, which were excellent for their day.  But they couldn't take the raw power of single instruments with high transients blasting through them, and we kept blowing them up.  The audio dealer couldn't understand why, so he came around to see for himself.  When he heard a live bass and drum track crashing across the stereo soundfield, he jumped back, and said to just forget it with these speakers!  He had never heard anything like that.  So we had to go to JBL's.  Another funny thing about the monitors was that, because we had four tracks on our Scully, we thought we needed four monitor speakers, one for each track.  So that's what we put up, hung from the ceiling by metal poles and flanges bolted to the top of the speakers (of course, on the first try, the screws were too long, and they went right into the inside of the cabinet!)  It wasn't until a while later that we realised we really only needed two speakers, and we'd spread the number of tracks across the stereo field!  (But we did keep one in the centre for mono!)

John stopped engineering after just a few years, and went totally into the business side of things.  But he sure left a legacy!

TM
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bblackwood

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #15 on: February 12, 2005, 10:43:47 pm »

Maybe it would be better stated "came into their own", but it's amazing when you look at who's come out of that place over the last (almost) 40 years, at both National and Madison locations...
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Brad Blackwood
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Andi Gisler

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #16 on: February 13, 2005, 08:47:14 am »

bblackwood wrote on Sun, 13 February 2005 03:51

About 5 years ago (while I was still at Ardent) I was put in charge of archiving all of the Big Star masters, which we did to both 1/2", 30ips analog tape and digitally at 24/44.1kHz. It was stunning to hear these mixes, cut in the early 70's, that were so clean and crisp, sounding amazing even today.


So did you hear the hybrid SACD version of  '# 1/Radio City' ? I got an older 'Twofer' reissue that actually sounds pretty good. Wonder whether the SACD is worth buying?

Andi


bblackwood

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #17 on: February 13, 2005, 09:58:03 am »

Andi Gisler wrote on Sun, 13 February 2005 07:47

So did you hear the hybrid SACD version of  '# 1/Radio City' ? I got an older 'Twofer' reissue that actually sounds pretty good. Wonder whether the SACD is worth buying?

I've not heard it, but remember that discussions were ongoing as I archived. IIRC, they used the original masters/safeties on those, not the archived versions...
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Brad Blackwood
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MB

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #18 on: February 14, 2005, 01:31:46 pm »

Fascinating stuff.

Coincidently, the superior British pop culture magazine, Uncut, has a Big Star story in the March 2005 issue.

Contrasts nicely with Terry's reminiscence. It totally misses the Gimmer Nicholson reference.

I quote: "As 1972 ends, and with no sign of sales picking up, Big Star start work on a follow-up, but tensions are high. Bell is behaving increasingly erratically, fistfights break out between him, Hummel and Manning."

Terry how does it feel that to read these types of rock mythologies? Seeing how you this is your life and all.

Also, you said that you couldn't listen to or talk about Big Star for years, but you never said why. Could I be so bold and ask?

Feel free to tell me where to stick it if this is none of our business.

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MB

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2005, 01:37:30 pm »

FYI.

I just went to reference the article in Uncut, and wouldn't ya know it, it's written by the same Rob Jovanovic's whose Big Star book Terry was mentioning.
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compasspnt

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #20 on: February 18, 2005, 07:17:10 pm »

MB wrote on Mon, 14 February 2005 13:31

Fascinating stuff.

Coincidently, the superior British pop culture magazine, Uncut, has a Big Star story in the March 2005 issue.

Contrasts nicely with Terry's reminiscence. It totally misses the Gimmer Nicholson reference.

I quote: "As 1972 ends, and with no sign of sales picking up, Big Star start work on a follow-up, but tensions are high. Bell is behaving increasingly erratically, fistfights break out between him, Hummel and Manning."

Terry how does it feel that to read these types of rock mythologies? Seeing how you this is your life and all.

Also, you said that you couldn't listen to or talk about Big Star for years, but you never said why. Could I be so bold and ask?

Feel free to tell me where to stick it if this is none of our business.




Hey Matt,

Thanks for the nice posts.

It is indeed strange sometimes to read things which happened to oneself which, it seems, are becoming somewhat storied incidents.  I usually miss seeing them, though, because I am always busy working on today's session, rather than dwelling on the past ones.

There are several reasons I didn't listen to Big Star for so long, or even talk much about it.  Some of these reasons I don't mind talking about, but some are better kept in the heart.  As the magazine quotation you refer to mentions, there was a lot of tension in the Big Star circle near the end (like there wasn't any in the beginning?!?!)  Fisticuffs did indeed occur between Chris and I, and I think between Chris and Andy, also.  Chris was, as mentioned in another post, a very emotional person; although I didn't realise it all completely at the time, he was struggling with several issues inside, and that spilled out onto all of us.  The band weren't making any money; they weren't having any success.  But Chris Bell had worked so hard on the first album, and was so sure of it's quality, he had become very disillusioned; this was on top of all the other real life issues he was facing.  He didn't know why things weren't going well, but he was nonetheless upset, and he started blaming others for the lack of success.  Chris became estranged from many of his friends, and he began drinking and taking other problematic substances, which only compounded his paranoia.  He did later, not long before he died, come to me (and to others) and apologise for his behaviour; he had become a devout Christian, and wanted to make amends for some things he had done or said.  He brought me a copy of his new song he'd recorded, "I Am The Cosmos," and asked me to help him overdub a couple of things.  I remember doing handclaps on it.  But I did say to him that I thought the sound was not that great, and the track would benefit greatly from a high quality recut with good audio and production.  This unfortunately upset him a bit; he had recorded a lot of it in England, with Geoff Emerick.  Chris was trying very hard to do these things on his own, without the "oversight" of me, John Fry, and Alex Chilton, so my comment came at a bad time!  I didn't hear that song again AT ALL until last year.  I have to say now that I think "Cosmos" is the greatest single emotional pop song ever written; the dichotomy of internal issues displayed is overwhelming!  But I still wish the production and sound were good.  All of these issues were part of the reasons I didn't care to hear that music for a while.

Additionally, I have always just worked very hard.  I sadly don't sit around and listen to music for pleasure very often.  And when I do, I usually listen to something completely different than what I work on.  So I didn't (and don't) very often later hear the music I've recorded.  Also, Big Star weren't on CD for a while, and I had boxed up my turntable, so I didn't have anything to listen to, had I wanted.

But finally, I did (thankfully) get back into all of it!

Anyway, thanks so much for your interest!

Terry
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #21 on: February 18, 2005, 08:34:49 pm »

Terry, I always enjoy your posts and like the fact that you and I generally tend to be on the same side of whatever opinions are being debated, but fuckin' A, how did I miss the Big Star connection?!?!?!  I got turned on to Big Star about 15 years ago by a friend in the band Mary's Danish.  (Coincidentally, his band mate was the former boyfriend of Susanna Hoffs, who of course covered "September Gurls.")  That music had such a huge impact on me, and back then, it was even less known than it is today.  There were very few of us in LA who dug the "power pop" thing.  Parthenon Huxley, the guys in the Grays, Rick Parker and probably I were the only ones I remember who were seriously trying to go for that thing in the Hollywood scene.  Big Star is always mentioned in my top five influences.  I almost slapped a A&R guy at Atlantic east coast when he told me he'd never even heard of them!

In '92 or so, my friend Manny and I went to go meet Jody at a Joe Cocker concert.  The sight of Chris Stainton playing a DX7 was so awful that we left after three songs and went and hung out at a coffee house for the evening.  I was obviously losing my shit over the fact that I was hanging out with Jody (I was only about 22 at the time), and I was struck that is seemed he didn't realize what a big deal those records were to some of us.  

If you remember in a thread about drum sounds, I had said that the sounds on Radio City are among the best I ever heard, and that I e-mailed Jody to find out what he was playing.  My suspicion was that they were keystone badge Ludwigs, which they were, and he said he used an Acrylite snare.  He wasn't able to tell me anything about how they were recorded though.  I've always been very curious about what mics and positions were used.  "Back of a Car" is pretty much the paradigm for my rock drum sounds.  (In fact, I used to even do the snare at 11:00 thing, until about eight or so years ago.  Everybody kept insisting that I put the snare up the center, so I conformed.)  I pretty much get those sounds, but I really want to know how the methodology differs.  

Also, you mention what a big influence the Beatles were, but what about groups like the Byrds?  I hear so much of that, and of course they influenced the Beatles greatly during the Rubber Soul period.  

And one more question for you and anybody else who cares to answer: My Big Star CD is among the brightest I own.  Is this just a mastering guy who really likes high end or were the tracks recorded and mixed that way.  I personally dig it, and it sounds amazing on anything that I play it on, but I can't use the record to A/B during mixes without getting myself in serious treble trouble.
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #22 on: February 19, 2005, 07:10:50 am »

J.J. wrote on Sat, 19 February 2005 02:34

 My Big Star CD is among the brightest I own.  Is this just a mastering guy who really likes high end or were the tracks recorded and mixed that way.  I personally dig it, and it sounds amazing on anything that I play it on, but I can't use the record to A/B during mixes without getting myself in serious treble trouble.

Great point! That's why I'm really curious about the '#1/Radio City' SACD version. I only have a entry level Sony SACD player, some discs sound great (Dylan's 'Love +Theft' fis great), while others are  more like 'Tinnitusville' (some Miles stuff for example).
So again, has anybody heard these new remasters?

Andi


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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #23 on: February 20, 2005, 02:00:26 pm »

"I am the cosmos" does have stunning songwriting and performances on it. It also does not sound very good. It's hard to believe that Geoff Emerrick had a hand in that production.

-jason
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #24 on: February 20, 2005, 03:50:20 pm »

J.J. wrote on Fri, 18 February 2005 20:34

... Big Star is always mentioned in my top five influences.  I almost slapped a A&R guy at Atlantic east coast when he told me he'd never even heard of them!



It's about time a few of 'em got slapped!

Quote:

I've always been very curious about what mics and positions were used.  "Back of a Car" is pretty much the paradigm for my rock drum sounds.  (In fact, I used to even do the snare at 11:00 thing, until about eight or so years ago.  Everybody kept insisting that I put the snare up the center, so I conformed.)  I pretty much get those sounds, but I really want to know how the methodology differs.



Well, I don't remember exactly what was done on which song now, but there were general ways we would do things.  First, I don't remember for sure who played drums on this cut...it may have been Jody, of course, but it may have been Richard Rosebrough also...

We usually mic'd very simply...nothing out of the ordinary mic-wise or position wise.  Neumann's (87, 67) or Shure (57, 545) or EV (RE15, 20) were common.  We'd use more condensers for drums than a lot of people do today.  Usually not any far-away overheads, but a mic may well have served more than one drum, that is, snare + hat, or snare + hat + rack tom, etc.  Sorry I can't get more specific.  I do remember that when I went back in about '96 to final mix (for the first time) the old Alex Chilton solo stuff I'd done in '69, I was somewhat shocked to find all of the drums on one track!  But it really sounded good in most cases...there was a place or two I would have liked more bass drum, or more snare, but generally, cool.  And there was a real power to  the  drum track...it may have all been compressed together, but if not, at least the tape had done it!   Of course, Radio City was done about 4-5 years later, so I'm sure we were using more tracks by then...but the drums weren't ever spread across 8-12 tracks at that time, like people do today.  Decisions were made, and the drum sounds sort of melted/compressed together 'on their own' within a minimum analogue track count.

Quote:


Also, you mention what a big influence the Beatles were, but what about groups like the Byrds?  I hear so much of that, and of course they influenced the Beatles greatly during the Rubber Soul period.



The Beatles were certainly the model for most of our Big Star shenanigans, but yes, the Byrds were an influence.  Beatles were the most important for Chris Bell.  His mother was British; he and I were totally into the Brit-invasion music...we wanted to create something similar to the Beatles.  But Alex wasn't as much into them.  He had hung out with McGuinn a little bit, and was a big Byrds fan.  He was also a part time resident of the folk scene.  But he was even more a Beach Boys fan.  I personally hear a lot of Wilson in his writing, although he certainly put on a bit of a McGuinn voice at times; and he did own a 12 string!

Quote:

And one more question for you and anybody else who cares to answer: My Big Star CD is among the brightest I own.  Is this just a mastering guy who really likes high end or were the tracks recorded and mixed that way.  I personally dig it, and it sounds amazing on anything that I play it on, but I can't use the record to A/B during mixes without getting myself in serious treble trouble.


This is one of the small points I have always taken with the BS recordings.  I thought at the time that the mixes were too light in low mids and bass.  Now, I love these records, and have started listening to them again, enjoyably.  And you're right, they do sound good on almost any system.  But I did indeed always think that, to my personal taste, they were tilted a bit towards the high end.

But when I go back now and listen to the first, original mix masters here, they aren't THAT bright...so I think there was perhaps some excess added in mastering.  I haven't heard the SACD version, so I  can't comment on that.

John Fry was the actual mix engineer, but he was heavily influenced conceptually by Chris on #1, and by LX on RC, so either, or both of them may have contributed to treble mania.

But none of this takes anything away at all from the amazing songs and sounds on those recordings, in my opinion.

Terry
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #25 on: February 20, 2005, 05:22:07 pm »

Terry, thanks for responding.  BTW, Jody said that he did "Back of a Car."  You can tell the difference between his tracks and Richard's tracks because Richard has his toms tuned really, really low, like on "Daisy Glaze".

re: condensors on drums - I always used condensors on toms, at least.  I never understood the fascination with MD421s, which I think sound so woolly.  The only reason I use dynamics today is because I fell in love with the D19C.  
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #26 on: February 26, 2005, 11:57:37 am »

Terry, here's another BS question for you:  Why was "O My Soul" done in mono?  

Also, the bass on "September Gurls" sounds like something being picked with flatwound strings.  I can't quite figure out what bass it is.  Doesn't quite sound like a Fender.  Is it a Gibson EB-1 or Gretsch? (If you have any recollection.)
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"The Internet enables pompous blowhards to interact with other pompous blowhards in a big circle jerk of pomposity." - Bill Maher

"The negative aspects of this business, not only will continue to prevail, but will continue to accelerate in madness. Conditions aren't going to get better, because the economics of rock and roll are getting closer and closer to the economics of Big Business America." - Bill Graham

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #27 on: February 26, 2005, 02:41:47 pm »

J.J. wrote on Sat, 26 February 2005 11:57

Terry, here's another BS question for you:  Why was "O My Soul" done in mono?


We always loved and preferred mono, but of course everyone was asking for stereo (it's still that way with me now!)  I think I  remember that the mono rough mix just sounded so good, and they weren't ever  able to reproduce it properly in stereo.

Quote:

Also, the bass on "September Gurls" sounds like something being picked with flatwound strings.  I can't quite figure out what bass it is.  Doesn't quite sound like a Fender.  Is it a Gibson EB-1 or Gretsch? (If you have any recollection.)



A lot of the bass was done on a Rickenbacker with flatwound strings.  A little bit on a Hofner.  This may have been the Rick.  But I think there was a Gibson bass around at times.

Terry
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #28 on: February 26, 2005, 06:14:46 pm »

A-ha!  I knew I heard flatwounds!  I've never actually heard them on a Rick, though.  I'm so used to that Rotosound tone of Chris Squire's, that when I weighed that option I thought it didn't sound like a Rick.  I have a late '50s Hofner.  I can totally see that being the sound.  I have four hollow bodied basses, as well as a Danelectro, which is kind of a semi hollow.  They are the greatest sounding things, especially when played with a pick.

It's amazing how few bass players these days are hip to flatwounds.  The bass I record more than any other is my '69 P Bass with flatwounds, set up Jamerson style.  It just sits in a track beautifully, no matter what kind of music.  It always freaks out bass players when I ask them to try it, because they have usually never experienced the awesomeness of the flatwound.  I hate having to explain to bass players that their instrument is not called a "midrange."
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"The negative aspects of this business, not only will continue to prevail, but will continue to accelerate in madness. Conditions aren't going to get better, because the economics of rock and roll are getting closer and closer to the economics of Big Business America." - Bill Graham

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #29 on: February 26, 2005, 07:40:36 pm »

I absolutely LOVE flatwound strings!  Everyone is always trying to get every bass note even, get the bass to "pump," make sure they have a solid low end.......but they're never using flatwounds!  This would solve half of their problems, right away!  Just because the sound doesn't "click" on every note, doesn't mean it isn't a great bass; this is not normally a lead instrument.  Almost all of the classic songs from the 60's & 70's that people are trying so hard to emulate had flatwound bass.
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #30 on: February 26, 2005, 10:05:44 pm »

I'd never heard of Big Star until seeing this thread but now I'm curious and I think I'll pick up a CD.  Which one should I start with?
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #31 on: February 26, 2005, 11:52:21 pm »

David Kulka wrote on Sat, 26 February 2005 22:05

I'd never heard of Big Star until seeing this thread but now I'm curious and I think I'll pick up a CD.  Which one should I start with?



The first two albums are available on one CD now owned by Fantasy, and released by Ryko.  The artwork is somewhat screwy compared to the original, but the music is there.

Others may disagree, but in my opinion this is all you'll ever need.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000XHA/qid=110948 6830/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/002-2362780-8924046

Terry
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #32 on: February 27, 2005, 12:10:14 am »

Terry, I ordered it using your link, thanks.  I remember the Box Tops well, but that's about it.  Will be fun, I don't have a clue what to expect.
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #33 on: February 27, 2005, 12:28:16 am »

Terry Manning, great stories on this board. Thanks.

It's interesting how split people are over what to listen to. Some put the "Sister Lovers/3rd"  whatever it is record in a special category all by itself. Some adore #1 Record. For me, Big Star was brightest on Radio City. I've heard "1970" and it didn't really do much for me. I've got a great version of "I am the Cosmos" by  the Posies, on 45 RPM transparent vinyl. I've heard the original, but don't think I have it around here.

A band I was in did get to open for Chilton in the late 80s, and I've seen him a few times since. And I bought an MCI board from the studio John Fry was working at a few years ago, and met him breifly.

There was a lot of great stuff in this continuum, it's interesting to know a little more. I'll probably read the friggin book.
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #34 on: March 16, 2005, 02:22:45 am »

Wow!  This is an amazing forum, and a really great thread.  Thanks again, Terry.

I have kind of a follow-up question regarding the dynamics of the drums (and really, everything):  Were you guys into any kind of expansion while tracking or mixing?  I've often wondered while listening to those two records if there was any use of a Dolby A encoder, with no decode.  Sorry if my chronology is off, I believe Dolby A was around at that time.  Anyway, I know this technique was more popular at some point - bypassing certain filters to achieve different colors.  Anything like that?  Reading the thread it seems less likely to me now, but I've just always wondered particularly about the "magic" sound of the cymbal decay  - and while I'm at it, is that a metal pick on the acoustic on "Feel"?  I LOVE THAT SOUND!  Thanks,

Gideon
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #35 on: March 21, 2005, 12:47:34 pm »

"ahh, those in the know--they know."
                    -Brown Midnite


I've spent my entire adult life (and a good part of my late teens) in studios always in searching servitude to THE bass tone required for the track at hand. The flatwound string--on any bass--seams to allow the instrument to reveal it's real tone. Hopefully that of a BASS.
Although I avail myself to all the cool tools of the trade, man my p-bass with flats, straight through almost any D.I. and/or my '61 Ampeg B-12N never fails to kill anybody who lets me use it.
Another killer--Music Man Stingray and flats...
Just thought I'd concur with the bass string thing.
This is by far the most enjoyable forum I've read in years.
Perhaps a thread on bass recording techniques for us bass hounds is in order?




 
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #36 on: March 21, 2005, 03:46:33 pm »

I personally request this album be entered into the future 'recording hall of fame' awards.

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #37 on: March 21, 2005, 05:53:02 pm »

mcfate wrote on Wed, 16 March 2005 02:22

Wow!  This is an amazing forum, and a really great thread.  Thanks again, Terry.

I have kind of a follow-up question regarding the dynamics of the drums (and really, everything):  Were you guys into any kind of expansion while tracking or mixing?  I've often wondered while listening to those two records if there was any use of a Dolby A encoder, with no decode.  Sorry if my chronology is off, I believe Dolby A was around at that time.  Anyway, I know this technique was more popular at some point - bypassing certain filters to achieve different colors.  Anything like that?  Reading the thread it seems less likely to me now, but I've just always wondered particularly about the "magic" sound of the cymbal decay  - and while I'm at it, is that a metal pick on the acoustic on "Feel"?  I LOVE THAT SOUND!  Thanks,

Gideon


Hi Gideon; thanks for the interest.

No expansion was used.  The mixes were done Dolby A, as I remember.  We got our first Dolby A (the huge gray stereo ones that looked so good, especially compared to the later 1u ones) about late 69 or early 70, I think, but it might have been a bit later than that.  I do know the first use I made of them was on LZ3 mixes.  But we always used them "by the book," no encode-not-decoded stuff going on.  The Dolby's were only on two track, not multitrack, though.  Some of the early BS1 songs were actually recorded as early as '69 (the ones that were from the Rock City/Icewater sessions).

The brightness is just the way it was tracked and mixed.  The SpectraSonics consoles didn't give a big buildup on low mids, plus the guys and John Fry liked it bright...very bright.  Also, I don't think we ever had any metal picks around...I think that was a light guage plastic one.

Thanks again,

Terry
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #38 on: March 21, 2005, 05:58:31 pm »

standupbass wrote on Sun, 27 February 2005 00:28

Terry Manning, great stories on this board. Thanks.


Thank you.

Quote:

It's interesting how split people are over what to listen to. Some put the "Sister Lovers/3rd"  whatever it is record in a special category all by itself.


For me, it is in a "special" category.

Quote:

Some adore #1 Record. For me, Big Star was brightest on Radio City.


Hard for me to decide...lots of good on both...I think I'm slightly biased towards #1, (but probably because I sang and played more on that one than on RC, so that probably doesn't count anyway).

Quote:

...got a great version of "I am the Cosmos" by  the Posies, on 45 RPM transparent vinyl. I've heard the original, but don't think I have it around here.


Great guys, The Posies.  Ken was here at Compass Point with REM a year ago.  I played and sang with Ken and Jon (and of course Alex and Jody) as Big Star at last year's SXSW.

Quote:

...I bought an MCI board from the studio John Fry was working at a few years ago...


I know that board...hope YOU like it!

Quote:

There was a lot of great stuff in this continuum, it's interesting to know a little more. I'll probably read the friggin book.


I finally have a copy of it on the way to me.
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #39 on: March 21, 2005, 09:18:08 pm »

Terry - great to hear about all this - I was thinking of Big Star of course when I was at Ardent (madison) last August - of course you can't _not_ think about BS walking the halls there and seeing Jody...

That double CD set was on a Rolling Stone list some years back and I got it because of that (it was in the "B"s and I ran out of $ soon after...  something to think about when naming a band! start with a low letter, and although "Big Star" may not exactly qualify, always choose a band name that will not reveal millions of hits in a Google search - I made a great album last year with a band that ended up calling themselves "Doctor".  Google that and they turn up on page one million or so - even though they're awful damn good...)  As soon as I post this I'm up off my chair to get the CD from my library back in the house...

I don't have the original 'magic' Ardent experience for comparison purposes, but me and my pals made a really nice album there in 4 days.  And made generous use of a couple of UA 175s.

Regarding flatwound strings - love them too and would like also to point out that nylon strings can be super cool, especially on a precision-style bass.

Cheers
JW
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #40 on: March 22, 2005, 09:22:48 pm »

I received my "#1 Record /Radio City" CD a couple weeks ago.  Visitors and clients who saw it in the shop got all excited about it and behaved as if I had excellent taste in music.

The only problem is that when I play it, the songs go right over my head.  Honestly, I can't make heads or tails of it.  

Sorry Terry, sorry JJ, don't take it personally.  I never liked Phil Collins, and certain friends consider this a major character flaw.  I'll keep listening, maybe after a few more tries I'll connect with this music.
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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #41 on: March 23, 2005, 04:08:23 am »

David, I'm impressed that you were openminded enough to give it a try!  Hey, my best friend, Mike Finnigan, can't stand Led Zeppelin.  
I mean really can not stand them.  And this is a guy who recorded with Hendrix, too and not some folkie or jazz snob.  This sort of thing might just not be your kind of bag, baby.

My advice, make yourself a short playlist of the following songs and see if you you can get your head around these first:

When My Baby's Beside Me, My Life Is Right, Get What You Deserve, Back of a Car, September Gurls, In the Street and Ballad of El Goodo.

If those don't grab the Beatles and Badfinger lover in you, then it's just not the band for you.  And btw, I don't own any solo Phil Collins albums either (or solo Sting for that matter).
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They say the heart of Rock & Roll is still beating, which is amazing if you consider all the blow it's done over the years.

"The Internet enables pompous blowhards to interact with other pompous blowhards in a big circle jerk of pomposity." - Bill Maher

"The negative aspects of this business, not only will continue to prevail, but will continue to accelerate in madness. Conditions aren't going to get better, because the economics of rock and roll are getting closer and closer to the economics of Big Business America." - Bill Graham

MB

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #42 on: March 23, 2005, 05:45:16 am »

Anybody ever seen that Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life?

They're in heaven and Albert's guarden angel (Rip Torn, how cool is that?) is thoroughly enjoying a plate of what looks like shit and Albert asks if he can try some. Rip says sure but he won't like it. Albert takes a spoonful, and promptly spits it out exclaiming "That tastes like shit!" Rip laughs and tells him it's because Albert hasn't developped his angel brain enough to appreciate "Big Brain" food. Albert is left with a look on his face that says "Now you tell me."

Anyhoo, this is how I feel when it comes to my social relationship with music. Sometimes I feel like Rip or sometimes I feel like Albert and for the life of me I can't bridge the gap on either side of that cliff.
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J.J. Blair

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #43 on: March 23, 2005, 12:00:59 pm »

One of the reasons I love Brian Kehew is that he finds the cool and enjoyable things in music that most of us consider shit, as well as his appreciation of great music.  A truly admirable quality that he never loses the enthusiasm that some of us had before we got jaded.
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They say the heart of Rock & Roll is still beating, which is amazing if you consider all the blow it's done over the years.

"The Internet enables pompous blowhards to interact with other pompous blowhards in a big circle jerk of pomposity." - Bill Maher

"The negative aspects of this business, not only will continue to prevail, but will continue to accelerate in madness. Conditions aren't going to get better, because the economics of rock and roll are getting closer and closer to the economics of Big Business America." - Bill Graham

tarmadilo

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Re: Big Star/ # 1 Record
« Reply #44 on: March 25, 2005, 09:44:10 pm »

The Big Star records are right up there with Buffalo Springfield Again, Music From Big Pink, Younger Than Yesterday, Tres Hombres, and Born To Laugh At Tornados as my Desert Island Discs.  I've been raving about them for twenty years now (which is when I discovered them).

I can't believe I missed this thread until now!  Thanks for writing about it, Terry.

Cheers, Tim
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