Song of the Week – O My Soul, Big Star


I have to write about Big Star this week. Why? Because it was meant to be. I’ve been stumbling across Big Star/Alex Chilton references for several weeks now and I can take a hint.

In August I came across The Onion’s A.V. Club article on the band. A few weeks later I saw a Salon article called Mike Mills: “I discovered Big Star the same way I discovered much of the music I love ¬— by listening to Peter Buck’s record collection”.

Finally, the reunited Replacements appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on September 9th, and what did they choose to perform? You got it – the song they wrote for their hero “Alex Chilton”.

My choice for a Big Star SotW today is “O My Soul.” It could be something different tomorrow because I love this band so much I have a new favorite every time I listen to their albums.

Mark Deming captures the beauty of this song in his review:

On Big Star’s second album, Radio City, the departure of co-founder Chris Bell left Alex Chilton as the group’s sole guitarist, and the album’s first cut wasted no time in pushing his ragged-but-right instrumental style to the forefront. “O My Soul” is a gloriously messy hodgepodge of slashed-out R&B rhythms, psychedelic chord twists, and smart pop melodicism; the melody, fractured as it is, swerves all over the place, but Chilton’s breathless forward momentum (as well as the propulsive energy of drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel) keeps the tune on track, and the cut is one of the most exciting (and most curiously funky) in the Big Star catalog. As for Chilton’s lyrics, he seems to be having as much fun with his words as with his music: “I can’t get a license/To drive in my car/But I won’t really need one/If I’m a big star” is typical of the cheeky, surreal wit, though the refrain, “Never you mind/Go on and have a good time,” sums up whatever “message” he has to offer.

If you enjoy this song and want to learn more about Big Star and Alex Chilton, be sure to click on the links provided to read the articles. Also, there’s a very good documentary about the band that came out last year called Nothing Can Hurt Me. It’s available to stream on NetFlix and here’s a review of the movie from The New Yorker.

Enjoy… until next week.

4 thoughts on “Song of the Week – O My Soul, Big Star

  1. Their first two albums are always discussed as of a piece, but they are very different. It’s hard to see how #1 Record was ever considered “power pop” since it’s rather anemic, not to mention wandering. Radio City is much better, but I still don’t hear why critics orgasm over it while giving short shrift to Badfinger and the Raspberries, who both did it first and more powerfully. Not knocking Radio City at all, I had it at the time and still listen occasionally. September Gurls gets more attention but I always liked O My Soul better, and this one. Good drummer:

  2. I’ve never really understood Big Star. I was a huge Chlton fan from the Box Tops, as I’ve written about here, and when I waded into No. 1 Record, enthusiastically, I was left tepid.

    The funny thing about unpop pop songs after 40 years is that the plays start to add up. Every few years I go back into the Big Star catalog and I start to see the reasons why these pop songs didn’t pop. And I also appreciate them more for all the stuff they were doing, time sig changes for instance, that might not add up to pop stardom.

    Gene’s reference to Badfinger and the Raspberries is apt, however. Making it work as pop music is win. And Radio City is way stronger.

  3. And baby makes three. Can’t think of a RR thing we’ve agreed more on (moron).

    When I think Big Star, I think, “so underrated, they’re overrated.”

  4. funny, I was a box tops fan, but big star didn’t really register here. 20 years ago, though, I bought a double disc that had both No 1 record and Radio City, specially packaged together.

    I like em ok (love the bangles cover of sept gurls, too) but I am more with badfinger and eric carmen (as the member of a band) I guess.

    but, I love the replacements better than any of them, and somehow with them, the mats might not have been the same?

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