For a long time I have delayed in writing about this band, not because I did not think that they were worthy of being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but rather because I wished that they would be inducted before I had to talk about them because I was not sure that I could do their career justice. I must admit that while I am a fan of power pop , my familiarity with Big Star is mostly second hand. There are many people who are far better equipped to write about them than I am, people who have treasured their memory and listened to their poignant first three albums and been inspired by a band whose obvious talent and craftsmanship at writing and performing songs was sabotaged by misfortune and bungling on a part of their labels, including Columbia and Stax, influencing a legion of later acts but not becoming famous in their own right. There is something deeply tragic about this band and its wasted potential, and the way that the band remains even today a cult band and an underground band whose work is immensely influential but not popular with a mainstream audience. This is a band whose work I am slightly familiar with but hope to be more familiar with in the future.
The Influence Of Big Star
While the band Big Star had no hit singles or albums during their career, even when they came back in the 1990’s and 2000’s and released their first new music in decades, their influence has been undeniable. For one, they have served as an openly acknowledged inspiration to a wide variety of bands like R.E.M., the Replacements, Matthew Sweet, the Posies, Kiss, and Teenage Fanclub, among others . Aside from the bands who have openly acknowledged their debt to Big Star in terms of their approach to power pop, their songs have been covered and have reached a far bigger audience that way than they have in their original versions, such as the cover of “September Gurls” by the Bengals or “In The Street,” which became in a shortened cover version by Cheap Trick the theme song for the television show “That 70’s Show.” Other songs like “I’m In Love With A Girl” have been covered with success as well, showing that the band’s songs have remained notable even if the band itself has long flown under the radar. Whether it is through their own songs burrowing their way into the minds of others who wanted to be power pop icons or whether it is through their own songs being a direct inspiration for others to cover them, including an entire covers album honoring their work, Big Star has certainly made an impression on the music world far beyond their own limited popular success.
Why Big Star Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
The standard by which bands and musicians are judged for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is influence, and there is no denying that this band was influential. The dark undertone of their music and their craft in hooky melodies and meaningful lyrics has gained them fans far out of proportion to their record sales among other musicians. Other bands have not only covered their songs, but have even written songs about the band, including “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements. The band’s first three records, recorded in obscurity and mismanaged to a great degree by their labels, #1 Record, Radio City, and Third/Sister Lovers, are worthy classics of the power pop genre. It is worth mentioning here that all three albums have been ranked as among the 500 best albums of all time by Rolling Stone, showing that the band has not been ignored or neglected by critics even if none of the albums were successful upon their release. This sort of attention and recognition should be enough for the band to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, at least eventually.
Why Big Star Isn’t In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
They didn’t have any hits. There is a catch-22 that some bands find themselves in, and power pop bands in particular have had this issue. If they have hits, they are often viewed with a high degree of critical disdain for their popularity, and face incredible pressures as a result of label problems or creative tensions as has been the case with power pop bands as diverse as the Raspberries, Badfinger, the Gin Blossoms, and Toad The Wet Sprocket, among others. If they don’t have hits, though, they are considered too far beneath the radar and do not get the attention or credit that they deserve.
Verdict: Put them in. Most of the band has died, and only one of the original quartet survives, but that original quartet at the very least deserves to be inducted at least to honor a band that paved the way for later power pop bands to blend killer hooks with dark and reflective lyrics.
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