Big Star vs The Raspberries


A response the following article in Cleveland’s Scene

We (Cleveland) need a double shot of ethanol, washed down with a tallboy of sodium pentothal… they(The Raspberries)’re no ‘power-pop masters.’ … And they sure as hell couldn’t touch Big Star, a band that was as good as the Beatles. Justin F. Farrar Scene 8-15-07

This is what happens angry young teens read a lot of Rolling Stone Record Guides and sort of hate the hometown they grew up in without actually listening to the records.

One second Mr. Ferrar is telling us that Eric Carmen and company were, in fact, successful, and the next second he is tearing them down, because they weren’t as successful as the Beatles, which last time I checked included … every other group in the history of mankind.

To top of his hyperbole sundae, he makes the ultimate Rock Snob claim that Big Star, which released two albums during their real lifetime and recorded only three, are, in fact ever bit as good as the Fab Four, a claim absurd enough on it’s face that it would make any Kool-aid drinker immediately regurgitate himself back to health.

Here’s the truth, hack critic do love something more than unsuccessful bands who sound like the Beatles. Dead guys (Chris Bell) and odd, talented guys, who disappear into semi-insanity and waste (Alex Chilton). I know that The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg wrote a great song about Alex, but here’s the truth. Big Star is perhaps the most overrated band in history and the Raspberries despite what the wonks tell you were the kings of power pop. Sure, Eric Carmen recorded the despicably awful Hungry Eyes. Elvis Presley recorded some of the worst dross in pop history; he’s still the King of Rock and Roll.

The category here is power pop and it’s a term that’s been misused about Big Star too many times. Power pop is something that leaps from the radio at you as if it had been indeed recorded by Lennon and McCartney in their mid-60s prime. Big Star has one song that fits that description, the magnificent September Gurls. The rest of the Big Star catalogue is way too ragged and quirky to fit that description, even the beautiful Thirteen and The Ballad of El Goodo.

I’m the first person to say that A Day in the Life isn’t 1000 times better than She Loves You just because it took that much longer to conceive and record, but musically Chilton and Bell can’t even approach the complexity of Carmen. Sure it’s not as cool these days to be influenced by Paul McCartney more than John Lennon like Carmen was, but the Raspberries love of the Kinks and the Who infused their music with as much edge as Lennon’s presence did on McCartney rockers like I’m Down and Helter Skelter.

“They wrote only two kinds of tunes: sappy ballads about getting it on and anthemic rockers about rocking hard, driving cars, and getting it on.”

Even if this were true – so what? That’s twice the range of AC/DC and a pretty good non hearing description of pop music in general. Listen to Carmen’s If You Change Your Mind, and I mean more than once. First listen – sappy ballad. Tenth listen – The greatest stalker song of all time.

Carmen starts out quiet like all please don’t destroy my will to live talks do. He rationally explains how he knows that it’s over despite the fact that he’s spent every single moral ounce of energy doing everything he could to be the man she dreamed about in the quieter corners of her mind. Of course, despite his overwhelming need to be near her, he’ll selflessly leave her be out of the pure selflessness of his love. Oh yeah, in the mean time he will be waiting for her to come to her senses every second of every slow turning agonizing day. Pretty soon Carmen’s in agony filled orgiastic screaming cries of BABBBBY DOOONNNNN’T GOOOOOOOOOs in an ending that comes closer to McCartney’s triumph in Hey Jude than anything recorded since.

Sure the Greatest Hits package has been endlessly re-released, but that’s because it’s a monster from beginning to end. Nirvana and the Pixies have been lauded for their soft loud soft dynamic, but no one has ever matched Carmen’s Go All the Way, in terms of effortlessly shifting back and forth between harmonic beauty and kick ass hard rock, and you can hear it even before you notice that the song’s lust comes out of the mouth of an underage girl, something so eccentric and rare that it’s still hair raising.

The geek books have it right though, Overnight Sensation, is Carmen’s masterpiece and sonically comparing it to anything in the Big Star catalog collection is similar to comparing The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan to Highway 61 Revisited, it’s no contest. Carmen spent long hours and tons of money in a studio the Beatles would have killed to have had access to doing his best to make the climax of his pop classic sound exactly like the cheap radio in his mid ‘60s convertible, something so insane and lovable it should be lauded until the day he dies.

Far from the embarrassment of the numerous half hearted Big Star reunions, the Raspberry’s House of Blues shows were a triumph of tight harmony and rock power. Tonight, Nobody Knows, Let’s Pretend. It’s not the catalog of Lennon/McCartney, but it’s extensive enough that it lasts two hours without a chance to sneak away to the bathroom.

Sure, people mourn the loss of Beatlesque pop. In Ferrar’s own words “the Fab Four’s breakup traumatized the pop world for years.” There’s a reason for that. They wrote great songs and since then few have come close to their level of simplicity, beauty, and power. On a good day Carmen and The Raspberries came as close as anybody ever.

One Response to “Big Star vs The Raspberries”

  1. You probably know, but count Paul Westerberg as a huge fan of the band.

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment