I wasn’t going to write about this. But after listening to it, I realize I owe it to everyone who might be curious and interested and following my ramblings to review the new 180-gram LP version of Big Star’s third album in its (arguably) definitive “test pressing” state. If you are a fan of rock and roll, a student of pop music history, or simply an audiophile wanting the best possible pressing of Big Star’s classic indie pop recordings, you probably should check this out.
Omnivore Records burst on to the scene last year on Record Store Day with a stunning offer of a reproduction of the actual third album “test pressing” by Big Star made from the master tape and using the same cutting lathe that was used to make the original run of test pressings back in 1975.
Big Star III is sort of the indie rock equivalent to Brian Wilson’s SMiLE — a recording that was made but never saw the proper light of day at the time, only to be leaked out over the years in various and sundry incarnations, re-ordered, remixed, recycled, and ripped from its original vision (which even that has been in question, asking whether it was indeed a Big Star record or an Alex Chilton record). The album never officially got released until 1978, when PVC records obtained the rights, beginning a long line of issues and reissues taking liberties with track running order, cover art, and such.
Whatever it is, the record is fascinating and way ahead of its time — at points it feels like a Tom Waits record, other times it feels like a lost Velvet Underground record, only to slap back with a slice of gorgeous pure pop.
Well, Omnivore Records, working with remaining Big Star original member Jody Stephens, not only found the third album master tape, but also Jody had five original copies he made available with this reissue series. Like a vinyl Willy Wonka chocolate bar, five lucky buyers on Record Store Day were treated to an original test pressing signed by Jody when they opened their limited edition box set.
I never had a chance to get a copy of the box, much less even see a copy of it. They are going for big $ on eBay now, as are a number of other original test pressings that have surfaced from the original promotional run back in the day.
So what am I writing about this here? Well, for those of us who were left out in the cold, Omnivore has made 500 more copies of this set on lovely 180-gram clear vinyl. I ordered mine late last week and it arrived the following Monday!
What is so stunning is not only have they reproduced the recording log sheets included in a archival quality plastic slip case style bag, but you also get a reproduction of what I have to assume is the original SHEET MUSIC the band made for the recordings and arrangements.Wow!
Then there is the vinyl, which is thick and perfectly centered and dead quiet. Songs like “Holocaust” and “Kangaroo” sound just amazing, with a great sense of dynamics I never really experienced on the CD versions! Big acoustic guitars crash up against a feeding back electric guitar amp and drums that pound out their beats like the last dying steps of a grand dinosaur before it crashed to the ground in exhaustion as the earth melted down around it. This song has been covered by many (including Jeff Buckley) and I’ve heard it many times before on CD, but its never jumped out at me like this. And it makes total sense coming right before the tear-jerking last gasps of the band on “Take Care”:
“This sounds a bit like goodbye
In a way it is I guess
As I leave your side
I’ve taken the air
Take care, please, take care”
The track running order is different than the Rykodisc CD reissue from the ’90s and the PVC/JEM CD from the ’80s (I have both), and I have to say that this 14 song version works the best as a start-to-finish listening experience.
Anyhow, this is a limited run and if it’s like Record Store Day was last year, this will sell out fast. From the label website they are saying “We’re doing this as a huge thank you for being in on the ground floor with us early. So, go get them now! When they’re gone, they’re gone for real. No, we didn’t do any other (or different) crazy color pressings.”
So act now and get yours here.
And while you are at it, order the Clear Vinyl copy Alex Chilton’s pre-Big Star album Free Again, which I reviewed here recently. Great stuff!