I was initially going to title this review “Big Star On 45,” a humorous reference to the late 1970s disco series of records repurposing single (aka 45 RPM) hits of the day into disco-fied medleys called Stars On 45. But then I thought that…. well… that concept — funny as it might be — doesn’t really apply to this music at hand, even though it is a record containing many Big Star would-be hits spinning at 45 RPM, in super high fidelity sound, called The Best of Big Star.
So I took a bigger jump back to the earliest days of long playing vinyl records when the labels were celebrating the arrival of the first truly high fidelity consumer playback medium. Capitol Records issued a “In Hi Fi!” series featuring big band wizards from the 40s re-recording their classics in the new medium (Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, etc.). Mercury Records, under its EmArcy subsidiary jazz label presented artists like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington “…. In The Land of Hi Fi.”
Hi Fi was the new thing back then and in some ways that vibe applies to this new release : a new compilation of Big Star tracks spread across two 180-gram black vinyl long playing records in real sweet high fidelity stereophonic sound.
Its really quite great. Yet for all its goodness, I suspect some of you out there in audiophile-land — and especially in light all all the recent Big Star archive releases — may be wondering : “Is this trip really necessary?”
The answer is a resounding: yes!
From the official press release: “Best of Big Star is part of a wide-ranging, year-long initiative celebrating Stax Records’ 60th anniversary.” So that explains at least a part of why we are seeing these reissues happening so regularly in recent times…
But one doesn’t really need “excuses” for a collection by Big Star, a group whose catalog was maligned and ignored over the years and which has been “made right” in recent years thanks to the efforts of labels like Omnivore Records and Concord Music Group. I have explored a number of the Big Star releases here on Audiophilereview which you can read by clicking through to these hyper links to: Big Star’s Third and Nothing Can Hurt Me, Big Stars Complete Third, Big Stars Third Live
This new collection features rare single edits of some of their most popular songs. It is interesting to hear the single mixes in this context — these are versions mixed for radio back in the day so they are punchy and bright, designed to appeal to AM radio which was still a pretty big deal in 1972 (“In The Street,” “Don’t Lie To Me” ) as well as the emerging FM radio format. By the time to you get to the album tracks and single edits from the later albums (“September Gurls,” “Jesus Christ,” etc.) the sound is decidedly more album-rock radio oriented.
Its nice to have all this music in one place sounding great, perhaps the ultimate Big Star playlist…
The acoustic guitars on “Thirteen” and “I’m In Love With A Girl” sound absolutely gorgeous, benefitting greatly from the 45 RPM presentation. There is superb clarity on the intro to “Feel” as well with the instruments percolating super distinctly at the intro and the background harmonies seeming to float in the air. “Take Care” is just beautiful with its string sections, 12-string guitars, reverb-drenched drums and of course Alex Chilton’s haunting vocals. “Watch The Sunrise” sends a shudder down the spine and that is a single version!
Demo disc stuff? For some of us out here in audiophile land, I think yes! With only three or four songs per side, this set gives the music in the grooves plenty of “leg room” — only Side One has five songs on it, and Side Three contains three! The lacquers to make this set were cut at Ardent Studios (where Big Star recorded back in the day) and it was manufactured at Memphis Record Pressing. It sounds really great overall. The vinyl is generally very well centered and quiet.
The Best of Big Star is a fine collection whether you are a hardcore fan or a casual listener who just wants all the essential stuff. This is that set. And the CD version is super handy, an ultimate collection for driving in the car or for ripping to your mobile devices (the vinyl does not include a download, alas).
The album comes in a lovely gatefold sleeve with spiffy custom picture labels which is groovy for us record geeks as well as the Big Star fans. Each disc comes in a protective, plastic-lined audiophile-grade inner sleeve too. The album features liner notes from GRAMMY® Award-winning writer and director Robert Gordon, plus an introduction by original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. This isn’t a tossed off, thrown together collection — someone put some thought into this!
Containing 16 songs and selling for a very reasonable $24 on Amazon, I’m sure you’ll also find The Best of Big Star at your favorite music stores. This one is a no brainer. Get it!