Radio City (album)
|Studio album by Big Star|
|Studio||Ardent Studios, Memphis|
|Producer||John Fry and Big Star|
|Big Star chronology|
Radio City is the second album by the American rock group Big Star. Released in 1974, Radio City was recorded during 1973 at Memphis' Ardent Studios. Though not a commercial success at the time, it is now recognized as a milestone album in the history of power pop music. Critically acclaimed upon its release, the record sold poorly, partly due to a lack of promotion and the distribution problems of the band's struggling record label, Ardent Records. The album included "September Gurls" and "Back of a Car", which remain among the most famous Big Star songs; both the Searchers and the Bangles have covered "September Gurls".
The original Ardent Records LP featured record-jacket photographs by noted photographer William Eggleston, including The Red Ceiling on the cover. Eggleston was a close friend of band member Alex Chilton.
Radio City is notable for its unique, chewy guitar sound, for its live-sounding yet meticulous textures, and for its somewhat tortuous recording history. The album shows a southern US band under the influence of British Invasion bands such as The Beatles and The Kinks.
Some of the outtakes from the album include "I Got Kinda Lost", "Gone with the Light", "Motel Blues", and "There Was a Life" (an early version of "There Was a Light" from Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos CD). The singles released from the album were "O My Soul" and "September Gurls".
Radio City's reputation has grown since its release, with many critics and listeners of the opinion that it is not only the definitive power pop album but one of the finest rock-music albums. As writer Richard Meltzer told an interviewer, "Big Star...is the means through which most bands today who are influenced by the Beatles get their dose of the British Invasion."
In 2003, the album was ranked number 403 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Rolling Stone magazine also ranked the song "September Gurls" as number 178 on its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Sound & Vision ranked it number 43 on its Top 50 Albums of All Time list.
Composition and recording
In late 1972, following the release of the debut album, #1 Record, founding member Chris Bell left the group and the band became inactive for four months. Bell had already contributed to the music and lyrics of "O My Soul" and "Back of a Car"—songs which Alex Chilton recalls were written "by committee"— but receives no official credit. Chilton, aided by drummer Richard Rosebrough and at times by bassist Danny Jones, completed the recording of "Mod Lang", "She's a Mover", and "What's Going Ahn" without Jody Stephens or Andy Hummel. After performing at the Rock Writers Convention in 1973, the band returned to the studio to start work on Radio City.
On its release in February 1974, Radio City met with general acclaim. Record World judged the musicianship "superb"; Billboard described the album as "a highly commercial set", and Cashbox called it "a collection of excellent material". However, sales were thwarted by an inability to make the album available in stores. Stax Records, primary distributor for the band's Ardent Records label, had recently placed distribution of its catalog in the hands of the much larger Columbia Records; Radio City's release coincided with a disagreement between Stax and Columbia, which left Columbia refusing to distribute the catalog. As a result, the album achieved only minimal sales of around 20,000 copies at the time.
Giving an "A" rating, Robert Christgau calls the album "Brilliant, addictive", observing meanwhile that "The harmonies sound like the lead sheets are upside down and backwards, the guitar solos sound like screwball readymade pastiches, and the lyrics sound like love is strange," concluding his review with, "Can an album be catchy and twisted at the same time?" AllMusic's William Ruhlmann considers that the band's follow-up to #1 Record "lacked something of the pop sweetness (especially the harmonies)" of the debut but captured "Alex Chilton's urgency (sometimes desperation) on songs that made his case as a genuine rock & roll eccentric. If #1 Record had a certain pop perfection that brought everything together, Radio City was the sound of everything falling apart, which proved at least as compelling."
- "O My Soul" (Alex Chilton) – 5:40 [Mono; No stereo mix has ever been released]
- "Life Is White" (Chilton, Andy Hummel) – 3:19
- "Way Out West" (Hummel) – 2:50
- "What's Going Ahn" (Chilton, Hummel) – 2:40
- "You Get What You Deserve" (Chilton) – 3:08
- "Mod Lang" (Chilton, Richard Rosebrough) – 2:45
- "Back of a Car" (Chilton, Hummel) – 2:46
- "Daisy Glaze" (Chilton, Hummel, Jody Stephens) – 3:49
- "She's a Mover" (Chilton) – 3:12
- "September Gurls" (Chilton) – 2:49
- "Morpha Too" (Chilton) – 1:27
- "I'm in Love with a Girl" (Chilton) – 1:48
- Danny Jones – bass guitar
- Richard Rosebrough – drums
- In 1981, The Searchers (band) covered "September Gurls" on their album "Love's Melodies", thus bringing full circle the influence that British Invasion bands had had on Big Star's sound.
- In 1986, The Bangles covered "September Gurls" on their album "Different Light".
- In 1992, Gin Blossoms covered "Back of a Car" on their album "New Miserable Experience".
- In 2011, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional covered "I'm in Love with a Girl" on his album Covered in the Flood.
- In 2015, Lucero included "I'm in Love with a Girl" on their LP All a Man Should Do. Jody Stephens sang back up vocals and the title also comes from the song. Lucero recorded the album at Ardent studios with Jody Stephens frequently "popping in".
- Jovanovic, p. 132.
- "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. May 31, 2012. Archived from the original on November 6, 2016. Retrieved July 9, 2017.
#403 - Radio City
- "500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 7, 2011. Archived from the original on November 29, 2016. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
- "The Top 50 Albums of All Time Page 4". Sound & Vision. 5 November 2008. Archived from the original on June 15, 2015. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
- Eaton, p. 42.
- Eaton, p. 87.
- Eaton, pp. 74,80–81,91.
- Eaton, pp. 52–53.
- William Ruhlmann. "Radio City". AllMusic. Archived from the original on December 11, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- Robert Christgau. "Big Star". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- Reid Davis (August 26, 2009). "Big Star: #1 Record/Radio City". Paste. Archived from the original on August 31, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- Stephen M. Deusner (June 16, 2009). "Big Star: #1 Record/Radio City". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on January 23, 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- David Fufkin. "Big Star: Radio City". PopMatters. Archived from the original on November 8, 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- "Radio City". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on March 17, 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- Anthony Miccio (February 15, 2005). "Big Star – Radio City". Stylus Magazine. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
- George-Warren, Holly. A Man Called Destruction: The Life And Music Of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops To Big Star To Backdoor Man. New York: Viking, 2014. 152. ISBN 978-0-670-02563-3. Eaton's date of March 1974 is not corroborated by other sources. Confusingly, the back of the album jacket bears the date "January 1974," a date cited in the updated edition of the Jovanovic book.
- Jovanovic, p. 140.
- Ableson, Jon. "Chris Carrabba To Release "Covered In The Flood" Solo Album". Alter The Press!. Archived from the original on April 28, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
- Eaton, Bruce (2009). Big Star's "Radio City" (331⁄3). Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 978-0-8264-2898-1.
- Jovanovic, Rob (2004). Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0-00-714908-7.
- George-Warren, Holly. A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man. New York: Viking, 2014. 152. ISBN 978-0-670-02563-3