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Big Star

Big Star

I am sad to hear just half an hour ago of the death of Alex Chilton. Dead at 60 from a heart attack. I am no expert, but he occupied a certain landscape of alternative American guitar music, a certain territory close to Jacobites.The Replacements were influenced by Jacobites and it is all very much the same scene. I have been aware for years of how good Big Star were, obviously exceptional material- and this was the early 70s, when, music was so erratic, and for those who don't know, Big Star were a great band with great songs, lush rich melodies and perfect songs, with some gritty rock & roll mixed in for good measure.

Alex Chilton

Their records have always been cult items, cult appreciation, but they had the quality sounds to be a big, big band, and for whatever reasons, it never happened. Highly recommended by me to all who appreciate great pop- quality gear, Big Star are a neat graft on to the 60s sensibility. The Times obituary is very good in informative terms on this magical band- and it should be said, if I were compiling a list of the greatest American bands of all time, Big Star would almost certainly be on the list. Alex Chilton, a sad loss to music, leaves a legacy of excellence with his Big Star albums. God bless you Alex-

And I wonder, what would the list be, of the greatest American bands of all time? Thats highly subjective, and I would have to think carefully in order to compile a personal list, as my knowledge and appreciation of American music is less comprehensive than my understanding of British pop. With the Americans though, certain contenders spring to mind- I don't know what you think, but here are some of my ideas. Going back to the 50s, I have to say, I do like the best rock & rollers. I see rock & roll as rhythm and blues, and I am an r&b musician, so I don't differentiate in terms of dividing up the different types of r&b of the 50s/60s, along the lines of a mod/rock & roll divide. Because when you are a musician you can realise, r&b is r&b, whether its a Buddy Holly record or a Smokey Robinson record or a Little Richard record. Because the notational styles of rock & roll, r&b and soul seem to me to be, similar. Variations perhaps of the same language. Now having said this, the whole mod sensibility was/is obviously different from the rock & roll scene. Going back to Buddy Holly, forget the shades, he was in fact a stylish man. Cool silk ties and so on. But generally I see the original rock & roll scene as being very different aesthetically, the whole vibe was completely different. What about that thing of kids smashing up cinemas when Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock came out? This doesn't compute with me as having anything to do with the aspiring mod scene, when people were getting into jazz. Isn't that scene a whole lot more sophisticated than a bunch of yobs smashing up a cinema? And, no disrespect intended, but, I have never "got" the drape jackets they used to wear. In the bright colours. I just don't. Short quiffs, I don't mind. But, the finer points of mod fashion are infinitely more interesting to me than the styles worn by the rockers, and to be honest my fashion sense had to go one way or the other and so it went the mod way. Plus of course, I love the music of a certain decade.

The Hollies
London 1969

The greatest British bands of all time. I thought there was nothing until The Beatles, but, Shaking All Over by Johnny Kidd surely qualifies that amorphous band for a certain mention. Post rock & roll, it seems to me to have an almost jazz like moodiness and certainly a lot of sophistication. I talked once with Bobby Elliot, the Hollies drummer, it was fascinating, and I still have the tape. He told me about the Hollies scene in the back of a van with The Mammas and Pappas,on the road. He told me about how David Crosby was waiting backstage to see Graham Nash, and how Hollies lead singer Alan Clark was hot under the collar, as Crosby moved in for Nash. And how, it blew his mind when he heard Johnny Kidd's Shaking all Over in a club. He said he couldn't believe it was a British record. Rock & roll by then had expired as a commercial force, and yet here was this incredible single which infact took rock & roll a step further musically, and was a big hit. Judging by the label artwork it was pre Beatles, the point being I suppose it was so good, it alone qualifies JK and his band for consideration for the greatest British bands of all time list, in my mind at least. They had other good records, Please Don't Touch being another example. So lets say, even a couple of great records can qualify a band or artist for inclusion in my list of the greatest Brits. Here then is my idea of who the greatest British bands of all time are- it is highly subjective, as I include 60s pop groups who didn't write their own songs- and also, there are some cult bands who's stuff I don't know too well, who maybe I won't mention- but I will suggest these bands- The Beatles- The Rolling Stones- The Kinks- The Who- The Small Faces- The Move- Manfred Mann- The Hollies- Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd-

The Searchers- The Marmalade (pre Ob-La-Di)- T-Rex- Slade- David Bowie's Spiders From Mars- The Sweet- Chicory Tip (only joking)- now what. It's '73. Now what. Ok the aesthetics are difficult, but if I am to be truthful, Led Zeppelin. Then, The Pistols, The Jam, briefly The Beat, Madness, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, ... but the line peters out here for me really, although I know Kaiser Chiefs and Kasabian have made good records. Some would be outraged I haven't mentioned Radiohead, but its avant garde art music really, and a great song can blow that out of the water. Like the one they wrote, "Creep". I mean I'm just having fun reeling off the ideas, feel free to radically disagree. My list would alter if I left out the bands I love, who didn't write their own stuff. That would leave The Beatles and Stones, Syd's Floyd, The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces, the underrated Move, Slade, Zeppelin, The Pistols, The Jam and solo Weller, The Beat, Madness, The Smiths, the Stone Roses and Oasis. What are your thoughts and feelings on this, do let us know. Elvis Costello has obviously been a quality artist. I think this post Strokes alternative music scene will pass before too long, and something unexpected will hit big time. And it will come from unexpected sources...

Next week I will be interviewing Sid Griffin of the Long Ryders, a legendary band across two continents.
Just as a warm up, here is the Long Ryders with Looking for Lewis and Clark.
See you next week.

Reading the Village Green Machine blog. Big Star