Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hey everyone...Happy Rocktober (a cheesy phrase for sure but one I love nonetheless...) Frequent commenter Larry and a few other people have asked me what I think of the new Chris Bell deluxe reissue. My response is "I don't know." Or to be more specific: I'm not really sure if it's worth the money. Some time this decade I hit a wall as to how far I'm willing to go to buy reissues and concert tickets. A four CD box set of one of my favorite bands ever for $52? I'm in. 13 new / alternate tracks added on to an album, monumental high points aside, that I don't go back to anywhere near as much as any of the three Big Star albums, for $40 plus shipping? Naaaaah. Or at least I'll have to hear it all first to get over my resistance to reissues. I recognize that this is a different case than that of a hit album being reissued for the fourth time but overall I have this feeling that record companies are playing us for suckers as a way to cover up their own increasing ineptitude. Can't develop any new bands? Let's find a way to repackage someone's past success yet again!...Enough! But if you have the Bell reissue, please weigh in and tell us what your take is.

Same goes for concert tickets. Since my first concert (the Dave Clark Five in December 1964) until maybe five or six years ago, I never thought twice about going to a concert if I wanted to see a band and when I made that decision, I always bought the best seats. Now I pass on a lot of shows and have gravitated towards cherry-picking the best of the cheap seats (seats just behind the stage sold as obstructed view actually give you the feeling of being on stage with the band). Could I afford the top price seats? Probably. But next month I'll be sitting in the cheap seats for the last show of Springsteen's current tour (an arc that began for me when I booked him for two grand at my college in '73 and has put me in the front rows for many a show). $29 a seat feels about right in this economy. And given that last night there were entire empty sections at his show last night in Philly (home turf), I'm not the only one thinking this way. And recently I've passed on seeing some old favorites in a local club (Todd Rundgren, Robin Trower, Hot Tuna) not because of the ticket price (around $30 - reasonable for a small venue) but because the service fees jacked up the price to $40. Sorry Todd and Jorma....it wasn't your fault. But why should it take $10 just to sell me a ticket (and I love that they actually charge you more for printing at home even though you're using your paper and ink and saving them printing, labor and postage costs)??


Larry said...

I agree with you about the endless parade of repackaging, remastering ad nauseam. I generally don't indulge, with Big Star being the main exception. (For example, I'd love to get the later Beatles albums in mono, but I'm not going to pay $300 for the privilege.) It's too bad Rhino hasn't put the Chris Bell reissue on iTunes or Amazon/mp3, like they did with the Fun House and Headquarters boxes (or Keep Your Eye on the Sky, for that matter) - so you could just download the good stuff you don't already have.

Bill said...

I agree with you about ticket pricing. At this point in my young life there really isn't an arena show I'm interested in. The Center for the Arts at UB is as big a venue as I'll go to (or Shea's, I guess), and for $40 bucks I'd better be getting something pretty amazing. For good or for ill the state of the music industry right now is such that most artists are really only making money on live performance. (I've heard Lyle Lovett say that he's never made money on a record.) I'd like to go to more live shows, but the economics of it are limiting, and there are only so many hours in a week or a month.

ad said...

I'm in agreement on both counts. Luckily, my typical concert indulgences are less than $20 (the benefit of loving bands that nobody else knows about & who play small shows). I rarely spring for the big names or what I like to call the "nostalgia acts" (sorry guys) -- although I will always see Wilco when they're around and Neil Young last Winter was some of the best concert money I've ever spent.

As for this reissue, I have been holding off for the exact same reason -- money vs. necessity . . . with my music collection becoming unwieldy in size already, I wonder how much I will really listen to this and if I'll get $40 out of it (plus, I'm way less likely to buy an extravagant reissue when the artist isn't alive to benefit from it). Conversely, however, what continues to nag me is that once these Rhino Handmade jobbies are gone, that's it . . .$40 now seems like it may be worth it vs. never getting to hear these cuts ever (or being able to play them for my kids, etc.). Obviously I'm waffling.

It would be nice if, like Larry said, these showed up on iTunes, which they may do. Both the aforementioned "Fun House Sessions" and Television's "Live at the Old Waldorf" showed up there, but not until after the physical pieces were sold out, mind you. Still, I probably haven't listened to either of those more than once or twice.

what's a poor boy to do?

Larry said...

and I'm in total awe that you saw the Dave Clark Five live

Mike said...

I just found this blog while searching for some kind of Big Star forum that had anything approaching regular activity. Never heard about this book. Just ordered. really looking forward to reading it.

johnny thunders said...

Here's my review of the Chris Bell 2CD that will run in the next edition of London mag Bucketful of Brains. You can find more Big Star reviews, pics and an interview with Alex, Jody and John Fry at www.myspace.com/simonjcwright.
Keep up the good work!


Chris Bell – I Am The Cosmos (Deluxe)
Rhino Handmade 2CD Expanded Version

Much hoo-ha recently about Big Star as a result of the release of the box set. Many of the reviews (including ours) were keen to share credit between main-men Alex Chilton and the less well-known Chris Bell. Chris never released a full LP in his short life but in 1978 Chris Stamey’s Car Records released a single of his two best known tracks, I Am The Cosmos b/w You and Your Sister. Then in 1992 Ryko released a selection of tracks compiled by Chris’ brother David. This new release from Rhino Handmade adds further songs to give 27 tracks across 2 CDs, remastered and in superior sound.

The Handmade collection suggests an erratic but impressive talent. For me Chris Stamey got it right – the two tracks on the now very scarce Car single are the absolute pick of Bell’s songs. Both tracks are on CD1 with out-takes on CD2: a longer version of Cosmos with Clapton/Harrison guitar at the end and two versions of Sister, one acoustic and one where a mellotron replaces the original elegant string arrangement. There are other good songs –I Got Kinda Lost, Though I Know She Lies – but no real stunners. Of the out-takes and previously unreleased material some is manifestly inferior to what we’ve heard before, such as the remake of I Don’t Know. The only superior alternate version is The Speed Of Sound, where the original rather intrusive synthesiser solo is replaced by a guitar part that fits the song much better. Also worth hearing is the faux-British accent at the end ‘Clacton Rag’ – how on earth did a good ol’ boy from Memphis end up in Clacton ?

Anybody who doesn’t have I Am the Cosmos and You and Your Sister in their record collection is plainly nuts. And if you ain’t got ‘em this is a good place to get ‘em as there are other fine tunes included. However it is hard to avoid the conclusion that had Bell stayed with Chilton they could have collectively surpassed all but the very best songs here. Another rock’n’roll ‘What If…?”