#1 Record is the only Big Star album on which group founder Chris Bell is officially credited as a member. Bell had a major hand in the record through songwriting, vocals, and guitar work. The polished sound of #1 Record, in contrast to the messier styles of the band's subsequent albums, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers, is attributed by producer John Fry to the presence of Bell: "When Chris Bell was still in the band, he took more interest than anybody in the production and technology end of things. He had a good production mind...the reason why the second album is rougher, with fewer harmonies, is due to the absence of Chris's influence in the studio."
Eight years earlier in 1964, when their home town of Memphis, Tennessee became a tour stop for The Beatles, primary songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were thirteen years old. Heavily influenced by the UK band, the pair—Bell in particular—wanted to model their songwriting on the Lennon–McCartney partnership, with the result that they credited as many songs as possible on Big Star's debut album to "Bell/Chilton". In practice, they developed material incrementally in the studio, each making changes to the other's recordings. Drummer Jody Stephens recalled, "Alex would come in and put down something rough and edgy and Chris would come in and add some sweet-sounding background vocals to it." The pair also each contributed songs individually composed before Big Star was formed, Bell bringing "Feel", "My Life Is Right", and "Try Again", and Chilton, "The Ballad of El Goodo", "In The Street", and "Thirteen".
On its release in April 1972, #1 Record immediately received widespread acclaim, and continued to do so for six months, although an inability by Stax Records to make the album available in stores meant it sold fewer than 10,000 copies.Record World called it "one of the best albums of the year", and Billboard commented, "Every cut could be a single". Cashbox described it as one where "everything falls together as a total sound" and one which "should go to the top". The River City Review's reaction to the album was to state that "Big Star will be around for many moons".