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Bevis Frond

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Bible Black
Big Boss Man

Big Sir
Big Sleep
Big Star


Louis Bertignac  (France)

Louis Bertignac, 'Longtemps'

Longtemps  (2005,  41.14)  ***/½

Rêver d'L
Je Joue
Elle Pleure
Les Frôleuses
Audimat
La Saga des Gnous
Sous la Pluie
Sans Toi
J'Ai Pas l'Temps
Tant Pis pour Tout
Rendez-Vous là-Haut
Longtemps

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Algerian-born Louis Bertignac is a French singer-songwriter, once a member of both Shakin' Street and Téléphone, two of his country's premier late '70s outfits. Including the two albums he made with Bertignac et les Visiteurs, 2005's Longtemps is his sixth solo studio release, a perfectly acceptable vaguely roots-rock effort, although, as with so many similar, I'd imagine you'll get more out of it should you speak the language. It shifts between the expected rock-with-acoustic guitars through the ethnic-ish La Saga Des Gnous to the folk-blues of J'Ai Pas L'Temps and the straight folk of the title track, making for a decent level of stylistic variety on the kind of album that, all too often, is rather one-dimensional. Best track? My personal favourite is the lengthyish Longtemps itself, but only because it has a slight psych feel to it.

Johan Ledoux plays background Mellotron flute chords on J'Ai Pas L'Temps, albeit not to any great effect. This an unexpectedly decent singer-songwriterish effort, then, although non-French speakers should probably approach with caution.

Official site

See: Carla Bruni | Joyce Jonathan

Besnard Lakes  (Canada)

Besnard Lakes, 'The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night'

The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night  (2010,  46.33)  **½/T

Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent
  Pt.1: The Ocean
  Pt.2: The Innocent

Chicago Train
Albatross
Glass Printer
Land of Living Skies
  Pt.1: The Land
  Pt.2: The Living Skies/font>
And This is What We Call Progress
Light Up the Night
The Lonely Moan

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

The Besnard Lakes are the husband/wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas, who play a rather gloomy form of indie. On their third album, 2010's The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, they are toweringly unambitious, clearly content to make the most unimaginative music they can, er, imagine, waffling along for three-quarters of an hour, although it feels longer. The nearest the album gets to highpoints are two-part opener Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent, mainly due to their style having not yet become completely tedious and the slide guitar opening to Albatross, although it slumps into their default slough of despond all too soon.

Lasek and Goreas both play Mellotron, with uncredited flutes on part one of Land Of Living Skies, The Land, although both are credited with the strings on Light Up The Night. Do you like waif-like indie? Really? Well, you stand a good chance of going for this, then. I don't, so I'm more than happy never to have to hear this again. A little Mellotron, but really not enough to be worth the bother.

Official site

Philippe Besombes  (France)

Philippe Besombes, 'Cesi est Cela'

Ceci est Cela  (1979,  40.16/79.09)  ***/T

Princesse Lolita
Géant
Pawa 1
Ceci est Cela
Seul
[CD adds:
Traversée
Trio
L'or des Fous 4
L'or des Fous 2
PFJ 159
PJF 137]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

After working with Jean-Louis Rizet on Pôle and making two albums with Hydravion, Philippe Besombes released Ceci est Cela in 1979, although there seems to be some dissent over not only its year of release, but even its title. Now-defunct Israeli label MIO reissued the album as a greatly-expanded CD, but misspelt its title Cesi est Cela and gave its year of release as 1979, although it may well be from 1976, pre-dating Hydravion. To add to the confusion, opening spoof disco number Princesse Lolita is sequenced in such a way that you have to wind back from the beginning of track 'one' to hear it at all. Once you get past that horror/joke/selling point, most of the album, unsurprisingly, largely consists of atonal electronic hums and squawks, although the odd tuneful bit sticks its head above the ramparts in paces. As with Pôle (below), this isn't an album for the faint-hearted, or the 'standard' EM fan (aren't these one and the same thing?).

Obvious Mellotron on one track only, with an ominous string part on Géant that forms the bedrock of the piece, and while it's possible that the screechy noises on a couple of other tracks are 'Tron-related, it seems unlikely. So; avant-EM. Isn't that how it should be? Borders listenable in places, to be honest, but one decent 'Tron track for the (should be) committed.

Besombes-Rizet  (France)

Besombes-Rizet, 'Pôle'

Pôle  (1975,  75.49)  ***½/TT½

Haute Pression
Evelyse
Armature Double
Lundi Matin
Montélimar
Rock à Montauban
Synthi Soit-il

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Philippe Besombes and Jean Louis Rizet were French experimental musicians who only properly collaborated once, on 1975's Pôle (named for the independent label on which it was released), a double album of electronic music, sometimes cited as the best French album in the genre. Despite superficial similarities, don't think Tangerine Dream here; Besombes-Rizet were far more percussive, and the music has a completely different feel - comparisons with another French electronic duo, Heldon, are more relevant. Much of the music spread across the album's four sides is quite harsh, albeit interesting; lush melodies and Mellotron soundscapes are notable by their absence, substituted by brittle synth work and manic percussion.

Philippe Besombes (?) at the Mellotron

I've really no idea who plays what here; a whole raft of gear was used, including Rhodes (principally on Evelyse), Mellotron M400, MiniMoog, ARP Odyssey and various EMS equipment, mostly to good effect, with several modular-sounding percussive patches finding their way onto various tracks. On the Mellotron front, Haute Pression features male choir throughout much of its length, plus a smattering of strings, but on the side-long Armature Double the duo go completely overboard, utilising Mellotron vibes and percussion, with some vicious tympani and tubular bell work (!), after a rich string intro. Montélimar only has a brief burst of strings on the intro, and that would seem to be your lot.

So; you're not going to find a vinyl original of this, and the excellent Israeli RIO label have gone under, so once their pressing of Pôle has sold out, it's gone. EM fans who wish to venture beyond their 'Berlin School' comfort zone or anyone who wants to hear Mellotron percussion used in anger would do well to invest in a copy while they still can.

Better Than Ezra  (US)

Better Than Ezra, 'How Does Your Garden Grow?'

How Does Your Garden Grow?  (1998,  58.26)  **/½

Je Ne M'en Souviens Pas
One More Murder
At the Stars
Like it Like That
Allison Foley
Under You
Live Again
Happy Day MāMā
Pull
Particle
Beautiful Mistake
Everything in 2's
New Kind of Low
  Low
  Coma

Waxing or Waning?
Better Than Ezra, 'Closer'

Closer  (2001,  42.44)  ***/TT½

Misunderstood
Extra Ordinary
Closer
Rolling
A Lifetime
Recognize

Sincerely, Me
Get You in
Briefly
Juarez

I Do

Current availability:

Chamberlin/Mellotron used:

Although they apparently started life as a proto-Americana outfit in the late '80s, by their fourth album, 1998's How Does Your Garden Grow?, Better Than Ezra had turned into a whiny indie act, with Kevin Griffin's vocals being particularly worthy of opprobrium. It's saying something when a song as weak as the two-part New Kind Of Low can be hailed as the album's highlight, although its first part, Low, provides a much-needed burst of energy just when you'd given up all hope. Griffin is credited with Chamberlin, spelt properly for once (hurrah!), but amongst a cluttered production, with real strings and something called a 'metasynth', the only places it's at all obvious are a rude outburst of brass in the middle of Happy Day MāMā (dunno why the accents) and a brief flute part (possibly a rhythm track?) at the beginning of the next song, Pull.

Their follow-up, 2001's Closer, is better than its predecessor, although no classic, better tracks including Extra Ordinary (sample lyric: "Just like that AC/DC song/I wanna shake you all night long"), the title track and the funk/blues of Recognize. The very first sound we hear is someone (Griffin again?)'s Mellotron (Chamberlin?) flutes on Misunderstood, with a thin string line on Rolling, polyphonic strings on A Lifetime, Get You In, Briefly and Juarez and more flutes on Recognize, making this a far better tape-replay proposition than its predecessor.

How Does Your Garden Grow? really isn't worth it for either the music or the Chamby, although Closer's a distinct improvement on both fronts.

Official site

Bettie Serveert  (Netherlands)

Bettie Serveert, 'Lamprey'

Lamprey  (1995,  49.27)  ***/T

Keepsake
Ray Ray Rain
D. Feathers
Re-Feel-it
21 Days
Cybor*D
Tell Me, Sad
Crutches
Something So Wild
Totally Freaked Out
Silent Spring

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Bettie Serveert ('Bettie serves', from a Dutch TV show) coalesced properly in 1990, after a failed dry-run in the mid-'80s. Although usually described as 'indie', their sound, at least on their second album, 1995's Lamprey, has more than a touch of the Neil Youngs about it, if you can imagine a female-voiced Neil transplanted to 1990s Holland. It's actually pretty good, particularly opener Keepsake, although a bit of dead wood could've been trimmed with no ill-effects.

One (uncredited) Mellotron track, with flutes and strings on D. Feathers from drummer Berend Dubbe, to reasonable if not earth-shattering effect. Incidentally, Mr. Dubbe left after their fourth album and has gone on to form the retro- and Mellotron-happy Bauer. So; Lamprey: much better than expected, if slightly overlong and not really worth it for its 'Tron input.

Official site

See: Bauer

Beulah  (US)  see: Samples

Bevis Frond  (UK)

Bevis Frond, 'Son of Walter'

Son of Walter  (1996,  79.26)  ***½/T½

Plastic Elvis
Beautiful Sister
Red Hair
You Saw Me Comming
Barking or False Point Blues
Forgiven
All Hope is Gone With You Away
Dead Man Sitting on a Train
It's Not Like You
Garden Aeroplane Trap
Driven Away
Raining on TV
Requiem
Winner's Way
Goodnight From the Band
Bevis Frond, 'Valedictory Songs'

Valedictory Songs  (2000,  71.29)  ****/½

Godsent
By the Water's Edge
Early Riser
Let Them Beautify You
High on a Downer
Artillery Row
We Are the Dead
Portobello Man
Can't Feel it
Sugar Voids
Back on My Star
The Speed of Light
Old School Rock
Child
Living in Real Time
China Fry
Confession

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

I'm ashamed to admit that, prior to this, I've never actually heard a Bevis Frond album all the way through, even though I saw him/them live years ago. The Bevis Frond is essentially Walthamstow native and 'Countdown' regular Nick Saloman (don't worry about this stuff if you're not a native Brit), who writes, sings and plays guitar on everything, ploughing his own lonely psychedelic furrow through the murk of what is laughably known as The Music Biz. In his own quiet way, he's a real star, refusing to bow to 'commercial reality' (a.k.a. 'The Man') while managing to keep his head above water far enough to carry on making his own unique brand of psychedelic guitar-driven rock. A whole slew of his albums used to be available on London-based Reckless Records' (legendary and now late small second-hand chain) own imprint, but the rights seem to've long-reverted to his own label, Woronzow, which also seems to be linked to excellent obscuro fanzine the Ptolemaic Terrascope (with me so far?).

Son of Walter is something like Nick's 13th album in nine years (!) and it's a double (although I'm aware that several of his early releases consist of older material); believe me, this guy doesn't mess about, although his output has slowed of recent years. It covers several different bases, from the acoustic singer-songwriter fare of Winner's Way and Dead Man Sitting On A Train, through the grunge madness of Barking Or False Point Blues to the (short) side-long killer jam of Garden Aeroplane Trap. It's this last that interests us the most, as Nick (who plays everything, by the way) overdubs tons of 'Tron flutes and strings, although I've zero idea where he might've found a functioning Mellotron in 1996. In fact, there's so much on the 12-minute track that it actually gets a full T½ rating, despite not being heard anywhere else.

Four years on and Nick released Valedictory Songs, potentially the band's last album, although, thankfully, this has turned out not to be the case. Another double, it's full of the curiously affecting likes of By The Water's Edge, Artillery Row and the wry Portobello Man, alongside the more full-on fare of slightly Cardiacs-esque opener Godsent, We Are The Dead and Can't Feel It. Despite being credited with the mighty 'Tron, it's pretty much absent here, certainly in comparison to Son of Walter, with naught but high flutes, doubling the restrained Hammond on High On A Downer.

So; Nick Saloman needs and deserves your support, so buy these albums. Only one decent 'Tron track between the pair, but it's a) good and b) long, so Son of Walter's a borderline 'worth it for the 'Tron' one, I think.

Excellent fan site

Bi Kyo Ran  (Japan)

Bi Kyo Ran, 'Parallax'

Parallax  (1983,  38.29)  ****/TTT

Silent Running
Prediction
Suite Ran
  Prologue: The Sky Distorting Too Much

  A Klaxon of Dr. Strange-Love
  Parallax Company
  Great Parallax
  Epilogue: Crimson Children
Bi Kyo Ran, 'Ran: Live Vol.3'

Ran: Live Vol.3  (1994, recorded 1983,  53.42)  ***½/T½

Psycho (Part I)
Warning
Suite "Ran"
Double
Bi Kyo Ran, 'A Violent Music'

Kyobo Na Ongaku  [a.k.a. A Violent Music]  (1998,  53.18)  ***½/TT

A Violent City
Feet on the Ground
A Violent Party
A Violent Fort
A Man of Hand to Mouth

Creep Funk
A Violent Nightmare

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

I believe noted Japanese King Crimson imitators Bi Kyo Ran's second album, 1983's Parallax is fairly typical of their oeuvre. Opener Silent Running isn't actually that great, starting off in arena rock mode, although it improves over its near-eight minute length, but Prediction is a lot better, operating in laid-back 'I Talk to the Wind' mode, with little Mellotronic interjections here and there. Side two's Suite Ran is definitely the album's highpoint, opening with Mellotron flutes before lurching into a Crimsonesque riff that sets the tone for the rest of the track. Mellotron strings in (I think) part 3, Great Parallax which pounds the listener into submission with a hypnotic cycling riff for seven or eight minutes, with flutes and (real) violin in the following gentle Epilogue: Crimson Children (are you sure?!). This is pretty fine stuff, actually, if rather lacking on the originality front, but since when was that necessarily a problem?

I haven't (yet) heard the band's first Mellotronic archive live release, 1987's 1978 recording, Live Volume I: Fairy Tale, but Ran: Live Vol.3, recorded in '83, taking the form of one short(-ish) piece and three very lengthy ones, presumably gives us a good idea what the band sounded like on stage at the time. Opener Psycho (Part I) sounds a lot like exactly what it is - a Japanese band heavily influenced by King Crimson - while Warning opens with a several-minute quiet section, followed by something best described as 'noisy Crimson' and a fittingly Japanese-influenced part, before slipping back into 'noisy Crimson' mode to finish off, the last two tracks fitting broadly into the same mould. Although Kunio Suma and Masaaki Nagasawa are both credited with Mellotron, their regular roles as guitarist and drummer make the Mellotron use fairly sparse, with a flute solo opening Warning, reiterating throughout its first section, closer Double having an even more overt flute part a few minutes in, although there's nothing to be heard on Suite "Ran", even though it's present on the studio version.

Well, in fifteen years, it seems that Bi Kyo Ran haven't changed noticeably, still sounding an awful lot like King Crimson. Kyobo Na Ongaku, or A Violent Music, is well-named, slightly resembling Crimso's Starless & Bible Black (album) in its relentlessness and angularity. It's difficult to pinpoint 'best tracks' on an album like this, as there's little stylistic difference between most of them; suffice to say, if you like their previous work, there's a good chance you'll like this. Mellotron strings on most tracks, from Noriyuki Kamiya, though never that much, and I'm not entirely convinced they're real. As so often, though, it's devilishly hard to tell, and certainly on opener A Violent City, it sound 'wobbly' enough to just possibly be real. Kamiya's 'Tron technique seems to consist of waiting until maybe 40% of the way into each song, then bringing in some nicely Crimsonesque, ever-so-slightly dissonant chords, which are played for about 30 seconds before he switches to another instrument, which he sticks to on every highlighted track above.

So; a good, if pretty derivative band. If you like Crimson, and don't mind someone else ripping off their sound wholesale, you may well go for this, unless you're dead set against imitators. These are all good, remarkably consistent albums, not bad on the Mellotron front without being at all outstanding.

Official site

Bible Black  (Japan)

Bible Black, 'Bible Black'

Bible Black  (2012,  44.40)  ****/T

Mist
Vampires Blood
Watershed
Helix
Wuthering Heights
Hydra
In the Dark of Madness

Current availability:

Bible black's Chamberlin M1

Mellotron used:

Bible Black's eponymous 2012 debut rather unsurprisingly owes a major debt to '70s King Crimson, although far less so than several Japanese copycat prog outfits I could name. Effectively an instrumental trio (the keyboard player doubling on guitar), the music is (thankfully) far less ELP-like than you might expect, while the Crimso influence only crops up on occasion (Hydra being a notable example), other obvious pointers including Camel's melodiousness and anyone who ever experimented with 'Eastern' scales (fair enough, given their location). Despite some tracks' heaviosity, they avoid the prog-metal label, to their credit, while throwing a few fusion moves around in places, particularly at the end of Wuthering Heights (no, of course it's not that one).

Although photos exist of this lot sporting a Chamberlin M1 (right), we're apparently hearing a 'Mellotron Archives' MkVI machine here, played by a guesting second keys man calling himself Iwanov, who concentrates exclusively on vintage 'boards. Despite several false alarms, the only obvious use is some strident strings work on closer In The Dark Of Madness, although it would've fitted in nicely elsewhere. Overall, then, Bible Black's a confident debut, if a little derivative in places. More, please.

MySpace

Bible of the Devil  (US)  see: Samples

Big Big Train  (UK)  see:

Big Big Train

Big Boss Man  (UK)

Big Boss Man, 'Winner'

Winner  (2005,  46.56)  ***/T½

Kelvin Stardust
Fall in Fall Out
Complicated Lady
Tu as Gaché Mon Talent Ma Chérie
Reach Out
Oh My Gawd!
B.O.O.G.A.L.O.O.
Fever Special
Everybody Boogaloo
Jackson 16
The Hawk
Got it So Bad
Deception

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Big Boss Man apparently formed after randomly meeting on a ferry (as you do); given that two members were the boat's house band, it's hardly surprising that a broad 'lounge' streak runs through their music. Their second album, 2005's Winner, opens with a pretty cool soul/funk instrumental, the amusingly-titled Kelvin Stardust, several other tracks mining a similar lounge/Latin vein, although the vocal tracks tend to let it down a little, largely due to organist Nasser Bouzida's frankly rather weak voice. Best tracks? Kelvin Stardust, Everybody Boogaloo and closer Deception, although pretty much any of the instrumentals are worth hearing.

Morgan Nicholls and Bouzida play Mellotron, with what I take to be a harmony cello part on Fall In Fall Out (which cops a riff from Status Quo's early hit Pictures Of Matchstick Men) and a flute line on Tu As Gaché Mon Talent Ma Chérie from the pair, flute chords and melody on B.O.O.G.A.L.O.O. from Nicholls and vibes on Jackson 16 from Bouzida. The album's best features, though, are Bouzida's Hammond work and the overall vibe, rather than its fairly minor Mellotron use. Take a copy to the next '60s mod night at your local dance emporium.

Official site

Big Sir  (US)

Big Sir, 'Und die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer'

Und die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer  (2006,  53.02)  **½/T

Blutrausch (Smooth Interlude)
Rejoice the Rig
The Freeways of My Mind
Song Bong Blue
Hey, Soldier
Saticoy Street
'Cause That Shit's Too Evil (and
  She's Just a Gangsta Bitch)
Get Off the B
Saxophone
Pelo de Elote
I Lie Down
Hammer on Pull Off
Eastside Westside Blue
Speedy's Rejoinder

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Big Sir are essentially the duo of bassist Juan Alderete (Racer X, The Mars Volta) and vocalist Lisa Papineau, 2006's Und die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer ('And the Shit Always Changes') being their second album. I'm not honestly sure where they're coming from on this, most tracks consisting of drums, bass and ethereal vocals, with little real harmonic content, other instruments relegated to supporting roles. I'll admit it's original, but is it any good?

Matthieu Lesenechal plays Mellotron on opener Blutrausch (Smooth Interlude), his cello line being the first sound heard on the record, with a skronky flute part later in the track. I can't say I got much out of this album, sadly, but its one 'Tron track is worth hearing, if you get the chance.

Official site

Big Sleep  (UK)

Big Sleep, 'Bluebell Wood'

Bluebell Wood  (1971,  45.01)  ***/T

Death of a Hope
Odd Song
Free Life
Aunty James
Saint & Sceptic
Bluebell Wood
Watching Love Grow
When the Sun Was Out

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

The Welsh Connection ran deep in Big Sleep, who were, essentially, a renamed Eyes of Blue, the new name chosen by a record company exec, although they never played under it and split soon after. 1971's low-key Bluebell Wood is one of those psych-into-prog albums that were fairly prevalent at the time, later described by keyboard player Phil Ryan as, "Making Lou Reed look like the Bay City Rollers!" While not half as bad as that suggests, nor is it the most exciting thing you're ever going to hear, the title track being the nearest it gets to 'prog', while jaunty closer When The Sun Was Out would've improved the album by its absence.

Someone (probably Ryan) plays Mellotron on the title track, with a pleasant string part that enhances the song nicely without being overbearing (sadly), although the strings on a couple of other tracks are clearly real. Various Eyes of Blue/Big Sleep alumni went on to bigger and better: Ryan to Man, vocalist Gary Pickford-Hopkins to Rick Wakeman (OK, maybe just bigger), while drummer John 'Pugwash' Weathers played on most of Gentle Giant's albums before becoming Man's longest-serving drummer. Now Bluebell Wood's available on CD, do you bother? It's a pleasant enough effort, but without any really outstanding material and with so little Mellotron, I'd leave it on your 'B' list if I were you.

See: Eyes of Blue

Big Star  (US)

Big Star, '#1 Record'

#1 Record  (1972,  37.09)  ****½/T½

Feel
The Ballad of El Goodo
In the Street
Thirteen
Don't Lie to Me
The India Song
When My Baby's Beside Me
My Life is Right
Give Me Another Chance
Try Again
Watch the Sunrise
ST 100/6
Big Star, 'Radio City'

Radio City  (1973,  36.11)  ****/T

O My Soul
Life is White
Way Out West
What's Going Ahn
You Get What You Deserve
Mod Lang
Back of a Car
Daisy Glaze
She's a Mover
September Gurls
Morpha Too
I'm in Love With a Girl
Big Star, 'Sister Lovers' Big Star, '3rd'

Sister Lovers: the Third Album  (1978,  50.30/55.15)  ***½/T

Stroke it Noel
Downs
Femme Fatale
Thank You Friends
Holocaust
Jesus Christ
Blue Moon
Dream Lover
You Can't Have Me
Big Black Car
Kizza Me
For You
O Dana
Nightime
Whole Lotta Shakin' Going on
Kanga Roo
Take Care
[CD adds:
Nature Boy
Till the End of the Day]
Big Star, 'Keep an Eye on the Sky'

Keep an Eye on the Sky  (2009, recorded 1968-75,  300.24)  ****/TT

Psychedelic Stuff
All I See is You
Every Day as We Grow Closer
  (orig.mix)
Try Again (early version)
Feel
The Ballad of El Goodo
In the Street (alt.mix)
Thirteen (alt.mix)
Don't Lie to Me
The India Song (alt.mix)
When My Baby's Beside Me
  (alt.mix)
My Life is Right (alt.mix)
Give Me Another Chance
  (alt.mix)

Try Again
Gone With the Light
Watch the Sunrise (single)
ST 100-6 (alt.mix)
The Preacher (excerpt)
In the Street (alt.single mix)
Feel (alt.mix)
The Ballad of El Goodo
  (alt.lyrics)
The India Song (alt.version)
Country Morn
I Got Kinda Lost (demo)
Back of a Car (demo)
Motel Blues (demo)
There Was a Light (demo)
Life is White (demo)
What's Going Ahn (demo)
O My Soul
Life is White
Way Out West
What's Going Ahn
You Get What You Deserve
Mod Lang (alt.mix)
Back of a Car (alt.mix)
Daisy Glaze
She's a Mover
September Gurls
Morpha Too (alt.mix)
I'm in Love With a Girl
O My Soul (alt.version)
She's a Mover (alt.version)
Daisy Glaze (reh.version)
I am the Cosmos
You and Your Sister
Blue Moon (demo)
Femme Fatale (demo)
Thank You Friends (demo)
Nightime (demo)
Take Care (demo)
You Get What You Deserve
  (demo)
Lovely Day (demo)
Downs (demo)
Jesus Christ (demo)
Holocaust (demo)
Big Black Car (alt.demo)
Manana
Jesus Christ
Femme Fatale
O, Dana
Kizza Me
You Can't Have Me
Nighttime
Dream Lover
Big Black Car
Blue Moon
Holocaust
Stroke it Noel
For You
Downs
Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' on
Kanga Roo
Thank You Friends
Take Care
Lovely Day
Til the End of the Day (alt.mix)
Nature Boy (alt.mix)
When My Baby's Beside Me
My Life is Right
She's a Mover
Way Out West
The Ballad of El Goodo
In the Street
Back of a Car
Thirteen
The India Song
Try Again
Watch the Sunrise
Don't Lie to Me
Hot Burrito #2
I Got Kinda Lost
Baby Strange
Slut
There Was a Light
ST 100-6
Come on Now
O My Soul

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Big Star formed in Memphis when Alex Chilton (ex-Box Tops, of The Letter fame) joined Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens in Ice Water, changing their name during their initial writing sessions. They played what was, for the early '70s, deeply unfashionable intelligent pop, with a soul influence from Chilton creeping in here and there, leading to the group being included in the infamous 'B's; Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger, Byrds... There honestly isn't a bad song on either #1 Record or Radio City, so yet another great band ignored during their lifetime have gone on to, if not fortune, at least posthumous fame.

#1 Record doesn't put a foot wrong, from the opening pure pop of Feel, through rockier numbers (Don't Lie To Me, When My Baby's Beside Me), or ballads (Give Me Another Chance, Try Again). Plenty of other writers have written about this album far more eloquently than I ever could, so I'll concentrate on my usual speciality. Bassist Andy Hummel's only solo composition on the album, India Song, is a beautiful acoustic number, with a richly original Mellotron flute part, played by him, making it one of the album's highlights (against stiff competition), while Give Me Another Chance has some rather unsubtle strings from friend/studio owner Terry Manning, although the end result is still well worth the effort.

By Radio City, Bell had left, producing demos that would appear as I am the Cosmos long after his death in a car crash in 1978. Big Star seemed to function just as well as a trio, at least in the studio, as live dates were apparently a disaster. The songwriting is still fabulous, with songs like Way Out West and You Get What You Deserve equalling those of their influences. Hummel's (if Hummel it is) Mellotron is only obviously heard on one track; opener O My Soul has some stabbed string chords, with some slurred pitchbend work at the end, and despite a couple of other 'possibles', it's the only definite 'Tron track here.

Hummel departed after the album's release, leaving the remaining duo to record another album with a new bassist, although The Third Album, sometimes known as Sister Lovers, wasn't released until 1979, long after the band's demise. It's a messy affair, to be honest, with every different release seemingly containing a different track selection, the one above being from the UK 1987 Dojo/Castle vinyl version, which claims to contain every track recorded at the sessions. It's unsurprisingly less focussed than their first two albums, but there are still many excellent tracks, if little of quite the same quality as before. The Mellotron on Kanga Roo could have been played by either Chilton or producer Jim Dickinson, opening with a wobbly flute melody, before some string chords in the verses; note the alternate sleeve above, with (reversed) 'Tron surprisingly in shot.

2009's four-disc Keep an Eye on the Sky answers the question I'm not sure anyone asked: "How do you fill a four-disc box set of a band who only ever released two albums in their lifetime?" And the answer is... Demos, alternate mixes (and occasionally versions) and a live disc. In some ways, you could buy this instead of the studio albums, as both #1 Record and Radio City are represented, track-by-track, with a mixture of the original versions and demos or alternate takes, while all of Sister Lovers is here, although not in sequence. The set touches on Chris Bell's I am the Cosmos, too, without in any way removing the committed fan's need to buy it. Of course, committed fans are going to buy this on top of the original albums, although the alternate mixes really aren't that different, while acoustic demos can't match the studio versions in intensity. The live disc (recorded in January '73) is from the post-Bell era, but is still worth hearing for the faithful.

On the Mellotron front, disc one has several relevant tracks, including the flutes on both the alternate mix and version of The India Song and the strings on alternate mix of Give Me Another Chance. The really interesting tracks, though, are the previously-unavailable acoustic Gone With The Light, with a nice flute part and the infuriatingly-edited excerpt from The Preacher, with strings that almost convince the listener they're real. The other three 'Tron tracks are already available, being the one each from Radio City (O My Soul) and Sister Lovers (Kanga Roo) and the title track from Bell's album, leaving precisely two unheard tracks over four discs.

So; two great albums, one reasonable one and one expensive-yet-necessary box, all in the 'intelligent pop' vein. Four Mellotron tracks spread over three albums; you decide. As a sad postscript, halfway through listening to Keep an Eye on the Sky, I heard that Alex Chilton had died at the age of 59, mere months after producer Jim Dickinson.

See: Chris Bell


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