Big Star are now regarded as an inspiration for much of the alternative rock movement of the 1980’s/90’s and particular the Alt-Country/Americana movement.
Co-Singer/Songwriter Alex Chilton had previously experienced early success in blue-eyed soul act The Box Tops, including the massively successful ‘The Letter’ single.
‘#1 Record’ is a highly varied album, featuring squalling garage rock, (‘Don’t Lie To Me’), beautiful acoustic balladry, (‘Thirteen’, after which Teenage Fanclub’s third album is named), chiming Byrds-esque country rock, (‘The Ballad Of El Goodo‘), weary love songs, (‘Give Me Another Chance’ or ‘Try Again’) and the sort of pop melodicism Chilton was better known for in The Box Tops (‘When My Baby's Beside Me’).
The album’s considered to be a major influence on bands such as The Replacements, R.E.M, The Posies (whose Jon Auer & Ken Stringfellow featured in a much later Big Star reunion tour with Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens), Whiskeytown and Teenage Fanclub; has several songs on it considered to be absolute classics, yet sold negligible quantities (less than 10,000 copies) upon its release.
So, why not?
Again, like Rodriguez, it’s likely that Big Star had the wrong record deal, being signed to Stax subsidiary Ardent Records. One can only assume that the label signed the band expecting something akin to Chilton’s soul pop delivery in The Box Tops and as such would have something that they could use to sell to a white radio market. Stax was also experiencing severe financial difficulties during the period and the record was not well distributed.
Was it also that same diversity that makes the album so well regarded, (despite the many genres on offer here, Big Star are pretty convincing no matter what accent they’re speaking in) that meant that the label simply had no idea how to market the LP?
After the mistreatment that Chilton felt he received as a Box Top, he was already (and remained for the rest of his career) a contrary character to deal with. Big Star only played live seven times in their entire career and co-vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Chris Bell’s rapidly spiralling drug problems meant that a cohesive functional band was not long for the world. (Bell left before the follow up, ‘Radio City’ LP was recorded and sadly, died in 1978. He was 27).