“Holocaust” – Big Star

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From Big Star’s album “Third/Sisters Lovers” album, which was recorded in 1975 but not released until 1978, “Holocaust” is one of those songs you really don’t want to listen to if you’re in a particularly dark mood, especially after a breakup with someone. The song is notorious for being one of the most depressing songs from one of the most depressing albums ever recorded and a departure from the power pop of Big Star’s first two albums. It was later covered by This Mortal Coil on their classic album “It’ll End in Tears.”

“Thirteen” – Big Star

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A sweet acoustic ballad that beautifully conveys the experience of love when you’re in middle school, you don’t have a license to drive, and your big social events with your significant other are walking each other home from school and going to the middle school dance. I don’t know how much of that has survived in these increasingly jaded times, but I feel sorry for anyone who leapfrogs over a stage like this.

This is an alternate version of the song that wound up on Big Star’s “#1 Record.” There’s some very nice and (I’m sure) extremely rare footage of Big Star in this clip. I know “Radio City” is the critic’s favorite in Big Star’s oeuvre, but I have to say I love “#1 Record” more. The song was recently heard on “That 70s Show” when it underscored the romance between Eric and Jackie.

“Alex Chilton” – The Replacements

The Replacements’ loving tribute to power pop pioneer Alex Chilton.  Chilton had many hits as a teenager as a member of the Box Tops and was later a pivotal member of Big Star, one of the best bands of the early 1970s.

Many alt-rock legends loved Chilton.  My favorite story involves the Butthole Surfers.  From Michael Azerrad’s wonderful history of American 1980s alt-rock, “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” Azerrad related that one night, Surfers lead singer Gibby Haynes was having one of his usual, violent, acid-drenched freakouts backstage at a gig in Holland.  Allegedly, Haynes was completely naked and having multiple altercations with the security of the gig, to the point where 10 people had to hold him down.  As Haynes was freaking out back stage, a man asked if he could borrow a guitar.  Haynes lit into him, yelling “BORROW A GUITAR??!! WELL, WHO THE F–K ARE YOU??!!” itching for an fight.  The man calmly said “I’m Alex Chilton.”  Haynes immediately calmed down, opened all the guitar cases one by one, and said “Take anything you want.”  That, my friends, is what we call the power of ethos.

“I Am the Cosmos” – This Mortal Coil

One of the things I love discovering music-wise are unique and cool covers of great songs.  Today’s model:  a cover of Chris Bell’s mopey, but brilliant mid-1970s pre-emo classic “I Am the Cosmos” by the 4AD masters of mope (not meant to be an insult, by the way), This Mortal Coil.   I never thought I’d say this about This Mortal Coil, but this kind of rocks a little.  Not so much you’d put a lighter and fist in the air, but it’s a bit peppier than “Song to the Siren” or “Holocaust.”  And I really like the double-tracked vocals that reminded me of Grand Funk Railroad’s cover of “Locomotion.”  (Yes, I know, I’m making this sound dreadful, but trust me, it’s really very very cool).  It’s better than Scarlett Johannson’s decent, but pedestrian Fiona Apple-esque take with Pete Yorn.   Color me impressed.

“Try Again” – Big Star

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A lovely ballad from the early 1970s that blows Bread and other similar artists from the period out of the water. It boggles the mind why Big Star wasn’t one of the biggest bands of the era. Nearly every one of the songs from their first two albums could have been a Top 10 hit. The failure to break it big probably explains why their 3rd album (albeit great) is one of the most depressing, despairing things ever recorded.