Photo: Mark O'Brien
Big Star is one of those bands who had a brief, troubled existence and are now talked about more often by other music professionals than the general public. It goes without saying how unspeakably sad it is that the band’s two singer-songwriters are no longer with us, missing out on any long-deserved recognition the new film and soundtrack may bring. Bell, who was officially only part of their 1971 debut #1 Record, died in 1978 (at age 27) in a car accident. Alex Chilton, lead singer of The Box Tops (including the number one single “The Letter” and several follow-up hits) prior to Big Star, passed in 2010 at age 59. Bassist Andy Hummel also passed in 2010. Drummer Jody Stephens is only surviving member of the original band.
The glorious, moving, melodic power pop that Big Star specialized in is, of course, in abundant evidence throughout Nothing Can Hurt Me. Most of the 21 tracks are simply alternate mixes, many of them created specifically for the film. The best starting point for anyone new to Big Star remains the indispensable twofer CD release that pairs #1 Record with their 1974 sophomore effort Radio City. Neither of these sold well, but today it’s like listening to an album of greatest hits that never were. From the first album, the soundtracks contains alternate mixes of Chris Bell-sung classics like “Feel,” “In the Street” (much better known as the theme of That ‘70s Show, performed by Cheap Trick), “Don’t Lie to Me,” and the exquisitely poignant “My Life is Right” and “Try Again.”
The soundtrack opens with a demo of Radio City’s opening track, “O My Soul.” It closes with one of that album’s best-known tunes, “September Gurls” (sadly “Back of a Car” isn’t here). There are also “rough mixes” of a trio of tunes from Third/Sister Lovers (recorded in 1974 but not released until ’78), “Holocaust,” “Kangaroo,” and “Big Black Car.” Though perhaps talked about in hushed tones more than any of the group’s work, I prefer the sweet, hooky pop of the first two records to the proto-emo Third. As a result, it doesn’t bother me that the album is arguably under-represented, but many fans may feel it was shortchanged.
As a sampler set, Omnivore Recordings Nothing Can Hurt Me works well. Unfortunately (and somewhat shockingly), absolutely no effort was invested in providing liner notes. The CD insert is a single folded sheet with a picture of the original quartet and a few acknowledgements—definitely a missed opportunity to document the music for new converts.