Review #359: Radio City, Big Star

Karla Clifton
2 min readMar 11, 2023

#359: Radio City, Big Star

Believe it or not, Big Star frontman and chief lyricist got his start as the singer of a blue-eyed soul group called the Box Tops. The story goes that Chilton of Big Star had a life-changing encounter with Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.

That explains why the Memphis-based group sounds so British. “Life Is White” feels like a Stones song, and the twee piano tune “Morpha Too” makes me think of the Who. That said, heir “power pop” (whatever that means) guitars span a wide range of styles. “O, My Soul” is joyful, “You Get What You Deserve” is highway blues, and “Mod Lang” is straight hard punk.

When they’re not doing their best British Invasion impression, they’re paving the way for alt-rockers of the future. I’d go a step further and say that they laid the groundwork for my teenage self’s favorite genre: emo. Hear me out — like most emo albums, about half of these are heartbreaker love songs, wistful and full of lines that make you feel sorry for the jilted Chilton. See “Way Out West,” where he begs Love me and we can work out the rest. Aww. Also see the displaced “Back of a Car,” the trippy “Daisy Glaze,” and the simple acoustic “I’m in Love with a Girl.” (Dashboard Confessional covered that one — if that isn’t the most emo thing you’ve ever heard.) He’s even got the tuneless emo wail — see “What’s Going Ahn,” for the worst offender.

The most emo song of all is “September Gurls,” their sun-drenched Beach Boys tribute. The mythos around this song runs deep — the freaking Bangles covered it, and freaking Michael Chabon (author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) called it “the greatest number-one song that never charted.” (In that essay he also laments that Big Star “never made it big or found stardom,” which cracks me up and makes me a little less self-conscious about my own music writing.)

The first time I reviewed Big Star, I kind of took for granted that I had never heard of them. I haven’t heard of plenty of bands — there are a lot, after all! Learning that they had a cult following that only really developed after their dissolution reminded me that lists like this are a little bit silly. Who knows how many groundbreaking, contemporary acts are being ignored by Rolling Stone right now?

Favorite Song: “She’s a Mover.” One: I love songs about badass wild chicks. Two: The lines She’s like devil you know/ She finds herself in Catholic school. Because I love horror movies set in Catholic schools.

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