Big Star boxed set a stunning collection of music by the hugely influential band

In the pantheon of bands that shaped indie rock, few stand taller than Big Star.

The Memphis power-pop band more or less invented the form, and despite negligible commercial fortunes on three albums released between 1972-78, it’s almost impossible to overstate the group’s influence on succeeding generations of indie-rockers who were plenty influential themselves — early R.E.M. and the Replacements, to name just two.

Occasional resurgences of interest have resulted in new versions of Big Star’s albums on CD and, thankfully, vinyl, but the group’s music has never sounded better than on the new 4-CD boxed set “Keep an Eye On the Sky” (Rhino).

The collection is as definitive as they come, with three discs of studio recordings, outtakes, alternate mixes and other rarities, all of which have been lovingly remastered. The fourth disc features a complete live performance from January 1973, which is revelatory in its own right. (Listen to the first disc here.)

“Keep an Eye On the Sky” doesn’t go quite as far back as Alex Chilton’s Box Tops days, but it’s an otherwise chronological account of the band’s development.

Starting with singer/guitarist Chris Bell’s rambling studio jam “Psychedelic Stuff” (the label found written on the master tape), the music runs through alternate mixes from Big Star’s 1972 debut, “#1 Record,” to unreleased versions of songs from the 1974 follow-up, “Radio City”  and demos from 1978’s “3rd” (released, in truncated form, four years after the band broke up) to a few of the tunes from Bell’s solo album “I Am the Cosmos” (recorded in 1978 and not released until 1992).

It’s a comprehensive compilation, and the sound simply sparkles. Chilton might as well be sitting next you as he plays on the alternate mix of the already-gorgeous puppy-love song “Thirteen,” and the chiming guitars on “September Gurls” are bright as morning sunshine.

Acoustic demos, including “Thank You Friends,” “You Get What You Deserve” and “Jesus Christ,” strip the songs bare for a clinic in pop song structure, while the live disc shows how well the tunes came off in concert by a band that had never intended to spend much time on stage.

The collection also comes with a gorgeous 100-page book with reminiscences,, photos and an account of the disjointed, star-crossed history of Big Star, along with detailed notes on the songs.

It’s thrilling and wholly appropriate summation of one of the best bands of its, or any, generation.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by John Fry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *