Monday, December 23, 2013

third / sister lovers

Big Star documented their disintegration during the desperate and dichotomous sessions for this uncommercial, unfinished, shambling, rambling, cult classic.  The band had gone from a quartet on their debut '#1 Record' to a trio on their second album 'Radio City'but for the recording of their third album, they were to the duo of Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens.  

They returned to Ardent Studios in Memphis to work with producer Jim Dickinson and a revolving door of studio and guest musicians.  Chilton and Stephens were dating sister Lesa and Holliday Aldredge at the time; and the tapes were labelled 'Sister Lovers' as a joke.  The sessions featured Alex Chilton on vocals, guitars, and keyboards; and Jody Stephens on drums and vocals;  with Lesa Aldridge on vocals; Tommy Hoehn on backing vocals; Jim Dickinson on bass guitar, drums, and mellotron; Lee Baker and Steve Cropper on guitar; Richard Rosebrough and Tarp Tarrant on drums; William Murphey, Jimmy Stephens, Tommy Cathey, and Tommy McClure on bass guitar; and Carl Marsh on reeds, woodwinds, synthesizer, and string arrangements.  

Stephens remembers:  “On ‘Third’, the band definitely took a turn.  I was so in the frame of mind of the songs from ‘#1 Record’ and ‘Radio City’, that it took me a while to warm up to some of the new songs. ‘Downs’ was a little out there for me, an exercise in percussion imagination. There was a deflated basketball being hit with stick as a bass-drum effect. The off timing of it all -- and yet it somehow hangs together. With some of those songs, Alex submitted demos with just him singing and playing acoustic guitar, and there were moments when he’d slow down, speed up -- Alex being human in expressing that through his guitar. Jim built things around Alex’s playing. There was a moment when Alex came into the studio with the demo for ‘Kanga Roo’ and said to Jim, ‘OK, produce this, Mr. Producer.’ Jim built the chaotic stuff around it, instead of having Alex adjust his m├ętier so that it was more steady. It’s the only way those songs hung together...There are definitely dark aspects -- ‘Downs,’ ‘Holocaust,’ ‘Kanga Roo’ -- everything has a melancholy air to it. It took me a minute to come around to that record for some of it, but it was a brilliant statement of where Alex was emotionally at the time...I brought in a friend, Carl Marsh, to arrange a string section for a song I wrote, ‘For You’. Carl and Alex hit it off, and Alex started having ideas for strings on other songs. It was the combination of Alex’s imagination for strings and Carl’s arranging talents that created this atmosphere. In ‘Nightime,’ the icy strings set up what Alex’s lyrics were saying...(Ardent engineer) John Fry and Jim Dickinson took a trip to New York to play it for label people like Jerry Wexler and Lenny Waronker in hopes of finding a deal...One of them said, ‘I hope I don’t have to listen to that again.’ It wasn’t warmly received...There was a thought that maybe the album wouldn’t come out, so Alex and I went our separate ways...I thought it was a great record – I thought we made three really good records, but we were pretty much ignored."

Chilton would later confess:    "I didn’t do the billing. That album was sold by the production company, to a record company, that called it what they wanted to. We never titled the record, and we never decided what the group name was. Those things were decided upon three or four years later, as a marketing decision, by the record company that released the album. We certainly were not intending to call ourselves Big Star, if in fact we were intending to call ourselves anything...I think Jody [Stevens] and I were going to hang together, and call ourselves something or other, but we never got around to actually making any final decisions about it...I was just throwing ideas at the wall. The idea was to choose, at the end, what to use. But then, in the end, I was pushed out of the process. The producer, Jim Dickinson, took over the entire thing, and then he chose. That project was taken out of my hands at the critical moment where all decisions about what to use and what not to use were being made. I mean, I was just writing things, and doing things. The plan was to cooperatively decide what got used, but I got pushed out...Nowhere does it conform to what I had in mind at all...I would’ve done a ton of things differently. I could give a thousand examples. There are so many, it’s futile to even start. It has to do with everything, from every mix to every selection of voice track to use, to the selection of tunes. I could probably pick six or seven or eight tunes I would have used, but I think it suffices to say that I was pushed out of the process as soon as the mix-down began...The entire idea of the album was ruined a long time ago...I’m just saying it wasn’t the record I intended to make. I’m not sure what record I did intend to make. I was going to make that decision in the end. As I said, I was throwing ideas left and right, and I was going to choose them later. But I was never allowed to do that. "

'Third / Sister Lovers' wasn't released for four years.  The test pressings that Ardent made were deemed to have no commercial potential and shelved.  When PVC acquired the tapes, they gave the album its first official release in 1978.  It never charted; but has gained acclaim as an influential underground masterpiece.  

'Third / Sister Lovers'
full album:

Big Star: Third/Sister Lovers (Full Album) by afieled

00:00 Kizza Me
02:44 Thank You Friends
05:51 Big Black Car
09:28 Jesus Christ
12:08 Femme Fatale
15:39 O, Dana
18:15 Holocaust
22:05 Kangaroo
25:52 Stroke It Noel
27:58 For You
30:42 You Can't Have Me
33:53 Nightime
36:46 Blue Moon
38:54 Take Care

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