As one one half of the songwriting duo (along with Alex Chilton) behind Big Star, a band whos albums #1 Record, Radio City, and Sister Lovers all went on to receive unanimous critical acclaim, and a band who has been cited as a main influence by artists such as The Counting Crows, R.E.M., The Replacements, The Bangles, Teenage Fanclub. You would be led to believe that the songwriting duo of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell was just as well known as the duo of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards or that of Paul McCartney, and John Lennon. Though speaking in terms of quality you could easily compare the three, in terms of popularity though the names Chris Bell and Alex Chilton would never be mentioned. Even though though all their albums were praised by critics, due to distribution problems with Big Stars label Stax the albums more often than not never found there way to distributors.
And so sadly Chris Bell and Alex Chilton never received the credit they so rightfully deserved, and may be only known to some who read the credits of that 70's show as being the writers of the theme song "In The Street." (Warning: Cheap Trick plays that version). And shortly after the release of #1 Record Chris depressed by the failure of the album to take off parted ways with Big Star, and although he made some contributions to Big Stars second album Radio City (Back Of A Car, and O My Soul) Chris Bell would never return to the band. Instead Chris embarked on a solo career, he continued to write and record songs but as he did his depression became worse and worse and he soon became suicidal (which can be seen clearly in the lyrics of his songs). Chris' Brother David was a strong believer in Chris and in order to help revitalize Chris' career he insisted that he and Chris go to a studio in France. After much persuasion Chris agreed and they recorded tracks for a planned album. When the tracks were rejected Chris returned to memphis and made a few recordings with Jody Stephens (Big Stars drummer), and local musician Ken Woodley before returning to Europe to play solo shows in folk clubs. He began talks with Chilton about a Big Star reunion which ultimatley failed and resulted in Bell giving up music for a management position in a family fast food chain.
But in 1977 a small New York Record Label named "Car" released a Chris Bell single featuring "I Am The Comos," backed by "You and Your Sister," which featured Chilton on backing vocals. This recording like The Big Star albums was well recieved by critics, and it motivated Chris to start a new band. But on December 27, 1978 on his way to his fathers restaraunt Chris' car struck a telephone pole instantly, and he was instantly killed.
Fast forward to 1992 when the ever persistent supporter of Chris Bell, his brother David found a label to release an album of Chris' unreleased solo material. The Album would be called "I Am The Cosmos."
If released in his lifetime this album could have undoubtedly gave Bell the credit and appreciation he deserved. More than the melodic pop masterpieces Bell wrote with Big Star, "I Am The Cosmos" is an audio ride through Chris Bell emotions much like John Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band." Chris, along with Lennon are one of the few people who have the ability to release all their emotions into a song and make the listeners feel the emotion, while still retaining a beautiful melody. Opening up with the haunting but at the same time soothing and melodic title track I Am The Cosmos
Bell sounding on the verge of breaking into tears crys out "Everynight I tell myself, that I am the cosmos, I am the wind, but that don't get you back again."
The second track Better Save Yourself
is even more haunting as we travel further into Bells mind as he sings out "It's suicide...I know i've tried it twice.
After the first two haunting and emotional rides the album begins to venture into new territories. Speed Of Sound
while still featuring a somber topic about a lost love, the music gives the feeling of a sign of hope. Get Away, Make A Scene, Fight At The Table, I Don't Know, and I Got Kinda Lost
all provide some rock n' roll swagger to the album. With the distorted guitars, blues progression, and fun sing-along lyrics/melodies the songs provide a contrast to the haunting and emotional ballads throughout the album without ruining the feel of the album.
Look Up, There Was A Light, and Though I Know She Lies
are all beautifully haunting and melodic ballads that are filled with hope and triumph. The first two are outputs for Chris' spiritual belief. In look up Chris sings "Look up, look up, and see the sky, Look up, look up, he's the light, waiting to love you."
While Though I know she lies features a majestic acoustic, along with a heart-felt vocals and ends the album on a somber but beautiful note. (Note: tracks 13, 14, 15 are bonus tracks that are variations of previous tracks).
If you were looking at the track listing you may have noticed that I have not mentioned the song You and Your Sister.
There is a simple reason for that. I have saved the best for last. Like the rain stopping to let the sunshine for just a few minutes, You and Your Sister
is a beautiful love song that gives us shelter from the more somber songs that make up most of the album. It begins with two guitar melodies coming together to create one beautiful arrangement (much like Big Star's "Thirteen"). Chris and Alex sing together to brilliant chorus "Your sister says that I'm no good, I'd reassure her if I could, all I want to do, is to spend sometime with you, so I can hold you...hold you"
Though you can still hear a little bit of the Chris from the other songs on the album ("Friends fail everyday...
), this song proves Chris ability (if anyone doubted his Big Star work) to write a perfect pop song. And this album gives us a quick glance at the genius songwriting abilities of Chris Bell that should have allowed him to leave a mark the size of Paul McCartney, or Elton John.