A Comprehensive Reissue Of Big Star’s Third Album

Complete Third, a three volume (CD) reissue of Big Star’s convoluted but brilliant third album is out now on Omnivore Recordings. The set features loads of demos and outtakes and is an illuminating look at an album I thought I knew inside-out. A fine article from A.V. Club explores the album’s inception:

Due to the heavy amounts of alcohol and pills that were being consumed by all concerned in the fall of ’74, the accounts of the Ardent sessions differ. In the broadest sense, this appears to be what happened: After Big Star finished another disappointing tour, {Alex} Chilton returned to Memphis and put together acoustic demos of some offbeat new songs, then recruited respected local musician/producer Jim Dickinson to help bring them to fruition at Ardent. {Jody} Stephens came along for the ride, as the only other remaining original member of the band, and contributed one song (the gorgeous “For You”) plus some string arrangements; because Chilton didn’t share what he was doing with his drummer, the percussion tracks were sometimes improvised. The sessions were long and contentious, with engineer John Fry often begrudgingly spending his days cleaning up whatever madness a stoned Chilton churned out in the middle of the night.

The project just sort of trailed off when no one could stand each other’s company any more, after which Dickinson and his Ardent cohorts shopped around their finished versions of the songs without Chilton’s input. Whenever he deigned to talk about the record at all, Chilton would often say that no released version of Third represents what he had in mind. Sometimes he’d even say that the sessions was never meant to be for a Big Star album. The original tapes were labeled as “Alex Chilton,” “Alex & Jody,” or “Sister Lovers”—the latter of which may have actually been a proposed new band name, referring to the fact that Stephens was dating Lesa Alderidge’s sibling, Holliday.

I was lucky to meet and have a short chat with Alex Chilton on a few occasions. The first time I was introduced by a mutual friend who warned me beforehand to not mention the Third album, and especially not the song “Holocaust”. “Alex is a bit touchy about that period,” my friend said, and alluded to having made this dire mistake previously. Regardless, despite his moody reputation, Chilton was always warm to me. He remains one of my favorite songwriters.


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