The music of Big Star seeps into music from the 80s and beyond. The chiming guitars, lush harmonies, and complex yet catchy melodies are clearly shown in alternative rock and indie bands. They are frequently mentioned as an influence for bands such as R.E.M. and the Replacements.
So how is it possible that these bands have become household names, yet the name of Big Star remains a mystery to much of the world? It seems that bands with such originality and heavy influence eventually worm their way into fame, despite decades of hiding behind the more well-known bands that used their music as a basis for their own. Bands in this category include The Velvet Underground, a band whose debut album barely sold any copies when it came out in 1967 and nearly disappeared off the face of the earth. But the brilliance of the band eventually became known, and now they are regularly cited as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Big Star have not struck this popularity yet, the popularity they deserved in the early 70s, which they deserved and could have easily gained. The catchy hooks of songs like "Feel", "When My Baby's Beside Me", and "My Life Is Right" sound like songs that could have appeared on commercial rock radio alongside other poppish bands. But due to poor distribution, #1 Record suffered from poor sales just like The Velvet Underground's debut album.
And like The Velvet Underground & Nico, the stark originality and excellent songwriting makes this album worthwhile. Alex Chilton and Chris Bell create harmonies and melodies and trade lead vocals in a manner similar to Lennon and McCartney. Some of the strongest songs are layered with great guitar work and multiple harmonies, like "Feel" and "In The Street". The jangling guitars echo bands of the 60s like The Byrds. The better tracks on the album, though, are the more thoughtful and softer ones. "The Ballad of El Goodo" succeeds in combining the 60s pop guitar sound with a rock ballad and the greatest track on the album, Thirteen, is a much simpler track, and shows that simpler can be better. Big Star take away the big guitar sounds and instead create an intimate, lyrically simple track that still the contains excellent harmonies of the Beach Boys. Not all of the tracks are as memorable though--there are some throwaway tracks, like the underwhelming ST 100/6, and the hardest rocking tune unfittingly put after the softest, "Don't Lie To Me".
This album is not underrated--it has garnered a wide amount of critical acclaim--but rather underlistened. This album is a classic in all senses of the word, and those who do listen to it find beautiful melodies and very strong songwriting skills. The albums influence does overpower the actual strength of the album, and some tracks falter in comparison to others ("The India Song", "Don't Lie To Me"), but the combining of sunshine pop elements and harmonies to their own original sound makes this a 70s classic that deserves more recognition than it is given.