Big Star – Playlist: The Very Best (2013)

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Big Star is a band that you know, at least by sound and structure, even if you never knew them, you know? Roundly ignored across two early-1970s releases, their’s was the sound of the college-rock scene of a decade later.

You weren’t alone if you never heard 1972’s impishly titled No. 1 Record, or the Alex Chilton-led 1973 project Radio City — recorded after fellow guitarist Chris Bell unexpectedly bolted. Co-founding member Andy Hummel left his bass duties after the follow up stiffed, and Big Star began a long journey toward second-generation ubiquitousness. A third album, essentially a Chilton project featuring original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and a other local Memphis guests, was recorded but sat unreleased for years.

Heading into the 1980s, bands like R.E.M., Tommy Keene, Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet all claimed portions of Big Star’s legacy as foundational elements in their sound. Heck, the Replacements even had a song — and it’s a great one — called “Alex Chilton.”

Still, the band’s moment was simply never to be. Bell had been killed in a car accident in 1978, leaving Chilton — a former frontman with the Box Tops who’d later fashioned his own idiosyncratic solo career — and Stephens to attempt an early-1990s reunion, with the addition of a pair of Posies. Then, Chilton himself was felled in 2010 of a heart attack.

And yet, this shooting star never quite became extinguished, either. A new documentary exploring their troubled, yet persistently influential career called Nothing Can Hurt Me saw release this year, even as this 14-song sampler was constructed from the group’s trio of ’70s releases, along with selects cuts from a 1993 reunion performance at the University of Missouri. Playlist: The Very Best is due November 26, 2013 via Legacy.

Though it spans the gamut from “In the Street” (now best known as the theme song for TV’s “That ’70s Show”) to “September Gurls” (later covered by the Bangles) to a stunning later-period reading of Bell’s “I am the Cosmos,” we’d hesitate to assert that Playlist might finally win Big Star its rightful place amongst a constellation of hipster heirs. Still, it’s certainly another reminder of why they should have been there all along.

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