This two-disc compilation is a fascinating look into the ’60s and ’70s sounds of the Memphis label that brought us the brilliant and influential but quickly imploding Big Star. On the first disc we get the Before: Ardent’s British Invasion garage bands, which were part of the phenomenon that spawned Big Star. The second disc brings us the behind the scenes and the After: Big Star album and alternate mixes and solo work by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell.
Disc One is a nice introduction to some bands that I hadn’t previously heard, but Disc Two is what really prompted me to pick up this collection. The Big Star tracks that are pulled straight from the original albums are nothing interesting (I can turn to those releases to hear them in their original context), but the alternate mixes and demos are great nuggets for a big Big Star fan (I think I’m one). We get the demos for “Back of A Car,” “I Got Kinda Lost,” “Lovely Day aka Stroke It Noel,” “Big Black Car” and “Downs” and alternate mixes of “My Life Is Right” and “Mod Lang,” as well as an alternate recording of “She’s A Mover.”
The most interesting of these are the tunes from Third/Sister Lovers, Big Star’s last album, which was never officially completed but is nonetheless the band’s most astounding work. Alex Chilton’s demo of “Lovely Day aka Stroke It Noel” gives the bare bones strumming of what became “Stroke It Noel.” The demo of “Downs” reveals the much more normal song that was twisted and deconstructed into the version that appears on Third. These, along with the version of “Big Black Car,” aren’t really better than the album versions, but they offer a new peek into an album that is full of a lot of unspoken emotional weirdness.
And I’ll conclude with one more little gem from this collection: Disc Two closes with an amazing fragment of Alex Chilton covering the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby,” harmonies and all. It may be a stretch, but I’d say this compilation worth it just for those 55 seconds.