Two Restored Classics Bring Renewed Appreciation

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Big Star | # 1 Record | (Craft Recordings) 

5 out of 5 stars

Big Star | Radio City | (Craft Recordings) 

5 out of 5 stars

It should go without saying — although it bears saying again — Big Star’s initial one-two punch, #1 Record and Radio City (released in 1972 and 1974, respectively), rank among the greatest American rock records of all time. Granted, that’s a broad statement, and one that brings into context a swath of homegrown music spanning some seven decades. But rock critics don’t make claims like that unless they have the facts — and the grits — to prove it. Yet having been cited as such by any number of esteemed pundits since those two albums’ original ill-fated release — both hailed in hindsight, as it were — there’s no doubting the essence and excellence of these two crucial classics.

For those that missed them the first time around — not surprising considering the fact that their original label, Ardent Records, was the repeated victim of terrible distribution — or even for hose that caught up through various reissues and supplemental offerings, the new vinyl editions of #1 Record and Radio City offer a way to hear them like never before, especially if one has the ears of an audiophile. Pressed on 180-gram vinyl and cut from the original stereo tapes, they bring a depth and clarity to the recordings that finally and fully reflects the craft and creativity that went into their conception. 

For its part, #1 Record ranks as one of the best debut albums ever offered (there’s that hyperbole again) and the sum of its parts make that statement so. Two of its tracks — “The Ballad of El Goodo” and “In the Street” — are still considered among the most essential power pop tracks ever recorded, and even now, nearly 50 years later (!), they remain two of the most effusive, exuberant and adrenalized examples of all that rock and roll has come to mean as far as our common psyche is concerned. A product go the seminal core quartet consisting of Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens (who sadly remains the only surviving member of the original incarnation), it’s an American masterpiece of enduring value.

Radio City, released two years later, found the original foursome pared down to a trio after the departure of Chris Bell, but happily it didn’t suffer due to the shortage of participants. If anything, it was an even greater triumph than its predecessor, with songs such as “O My Soul, “Back of A Car,” “September Gurls” and “I’m In Love with a Girl” reaffirming the fact that Big Star was indeed, the ultimate masters of creative, concise rock and roll anthems that could find a common bond, not only with adolescent audiences but anyone within whom the heart of rock and roll still beat. 

Granted, those who have always appreciated the value of these two discs probably own them in a myriad of formats and combinations, and as a result, may be torn between purchasing the upgrades or sticking with what they have. After all, with a list price of nearly $25, economics weigh into the decision as well. Perhaps the best recommendation comes with an old cliche…one can never have too much of a good thing. Especially when the good thing in question doesn’t get much better than this.

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