Big Star was an American rock and roll band of the early 1970s whose work is often cited as a prime example of power pop. Drawing upon the pop-music past--especially the Beatles, the Byrds, the Who, the Zombies, Moby Grape and the Beach Boys--Big Star re-invented literate, powerful and at times melancholic pop for the post-'60s generation. Their spare and elegant approach not only recalls the British Invasion groups but also brings to mind the minimalist, relaxed style of Stax Records, the Memphis soul label. In an era of singer-songwriters and heavy-metal groups, they played melodic, concise songs with hardly a wasted moment. Their reputation, negligible in 1974, has steadily grown, and they are today considered one of pop's classic groups. They were not the first power-pop group (that honor could go to any number of artists, including the Everly Brothers and Badfinger), but they are regarded by many critics and listeners as the quintessential group of the genre.
Originally called Rock City and Ice Water, the group was formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1971, consisting of Chris Bell (vocals, guitar), Steve Ray (guitar), Andy Hummel (bass) and Jody Stephens (drums). Ray didn't last long, and was replaced by the former singer of the Box Tops, Alex Chilton. Their first album, # 1 Record, was released in 1972, but distribution problems with their label (Ardent) meant the album barely sold. Bell, who seemed to resent the fact that many writers regarded Alex Chilton as the group's frontman, and who was bitterly disappointed by the failure of #1 Record to sell, left the group in 1972 for a solo career. Big Star soon disbanded for a brief period, but then reformed and released Radio City (1974), the group's magnum opus, which features two of Big Star's most famous songs, "September Gurls" and "Back of a Car." (Bell seems to have contributed to the album. In particular, Bell is thought to have contributed significantly to "O My Soul," "Back of a Car," and "Way Out West.") In spite of unanimous critical acclaim, the album did not sell well; Hummel quit and was replaced by John Lightman. After recording tracks for a planned double album in late 1974, Big Star, now consisting of Chilton, Stephens, and various studio musicians, again disbanded. This album was finally released four years later, on the PVC label, as Third. Although ramshackle and by all accounts left incomplete, Third (retitled Third/Sister Lovers for its 1992 CD release, and also known as Beale Street Green, which confusingly is also the title of a popular Big Star bootleg) combines the confessional approach of John Lennon with a distinct pop sensibility that recalls everyone from the Left Banke to the Velvet Underground. In addition, many listeners consider Third one of the most lyrical pop albums ever recorded.
In the late '70s, critics began to cite Big Star's albums as among the finest of the decade, and an important precursor to new-wave rock music. The 1980s saw a generation of new alternative bands, such as R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub and the dB's, citing Big Star as a major influence.
Chilton and Stephens reunited in 1993 with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the American pop band the Posies taking the place of Bell (who died in a car crash in 1978) and Hummel (who left music to go into engineering) at the University of Missouri. This was followed by tours of Europe and Japan, as well as an appearance on The Tonight Show.
Other Big Star releases include Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93, a recording of the first reunion show; Big Star Live, a 1974 radio broadcast from Long Island; and Nobody Can Dance, a recording of the last Big Star show, at Memphis' Overton Park .
Around 2000, Big Star was introduced to a whole new generation of fans after a version of their song 'In The Street ' was used as the title song for the sitcom That '70s Show.
The reunited Big Star returned to Ardent Studios in early 2004 to work on a new album. A biography of the group was published in the UK later that year.