Big Star fans have gone from famine to feast in the last few years. With the release of the box set, Keep An Eye On The Sky, and now the soundtrack to the excellent, if not quite essential documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me (see my Blogcritics review of the movie here), completists can eat up dozens of unreleased tracks that have surfaced, some of which may be unfamiliar, even to bootleg collectors.
Most of the alternate versions are not as strong as the released tracks. This version of “When My Baby’s Beside Me” lacks a central guitar solo. The soundtrack’s version of “Try Again” includes a twangy fill wisely left in the vaults. One of the more redefined tracks is one of the best: The movie mix of the anthemic “In The Street” takes a drastically alternate mix (one that may be familiar to fan club collectors) and smooths it out.
It is startling not to hear a familiar guitar line in the aching ballad “Thirteen,” but who is to say this gentler alternate is not just as beautiful? Those who don’t know the albums may have no reason to dip into this collection, but listeners who may be facing this material for the first time will have a different ear on the classics. If some of these tracks are sloppier than canonic takes, they paint a portrait of a band that, by the time of Third, could no longer hide the chaos that was to come full force in Alex Chilton’s erratic solo career.
The soundtrack was originally released as a limited Record Store Day vinyl edition. One could kvetch about the artificial collector’s items produced as siren songs, luring buyers to hurl themselves upon the jagged rocks of these vinyl promotions. But Omniverse, who produced a demo-tape box replica version of Third, knows how to package a 12″ album, and you can buy a vinyl version of the Nothing Can Hurt Me soundtrack for more than twice the cost of mp3s. Music consumers with less disposable income who don’t have any of this music should just get the three canonic Big Star albums and Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos. If they do have them all, then they will probably want to hear this anyway. The rarest track on this set, a remix of Chilton’s pre-Big Star solo recording, “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain,” is little known for a reason. But on headphones, you can hear the plaintive lament over a running track of traffic noise. If you can imagine that one of those passing cars led to Big Star, and musical history, it sounds better.