Big Star – Complete Third
Reviewing Third/Sister Lovers is like reviewing The Basement Tapes. There have been so many interpolations of this material already, and it has been discovered and rediscovered, that the mythology is almost too massive to make a dent. This collection of songs has lived many lifetimes, and if you’re reading this, your relationship to the original album is already well-established. By the same token, if you’re reading this, you’re probably also a bit of a completist (seems to come with the territory of being a Big Star fan). So this may be all you need read – this is a three-disc collection of 69 tracks, 29 of them never before released, comprising every currently-known recording from the legendarily strange sessions that produced Third. You can skip down to the track listing below and go from there.
In the accompanying booklet, music journalist Bod Scoppa notes that Big Star was just Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens going into Third, after Chris Bell and Andy Hummel left. In a later interview quoted in the booklet, Chilton said he was just throwing ideas at the wall and called the album “a great hash of demonic sound.” At some point, he claims he was pushed out of the decision making for the final mix and sequencing, and he and Stephens hadn’t even intended to call it a Big Star record. Who knows what this album would have sounded like had Chilton been able to finish it the way he wanted.
The closest we may get is the collection of demos on disc one. They are the purest and most coherent views of the songs, just Chilton singing with a guitar or a piano. This is what Third might have sounded like as a Chilton solo album, with no other players. As many instrumental changes these songs might endure as the sessions go on, the vocal melodies for most of them are remarkably stable. “Big Black Car” is represented five times, and while some versions have more aggressive guitars compared to the final version, the dirge-like feel never changes. The main difference in Chilton’s vocals is that he sounds even more resigned on the final product.
Take this collection in its original running order, and it feels like a three-act play where the characters change and grow, starting in a simple state and arriving at a place of fractured beauty. They never get to where they thought they were going, but where we leave them is maybe a more compelling place.
Truly obsessive fans can rearrange the tracks and create their own insightful playlists. Put all the instances of “Downs” or “Femme Fatale” together, or mix the demos and the final versions together in the same running order to see what they sound like side-by-side. Take all of the oddities like Chilton and then-girlfriend Lesa Aldredge covering the Beatles “I’m So Tired,” one of the previously unreleased tracks, and George Jones’ “That’s All It Took.” Put all of John Fry or Jim Dickinson’s mixes next to the final album. No matter how you put it together, there will always be new sparks.
VOL. 1: Demos To Sessions To Roughs
1. Like St. Joan (Kanga Roo) * (Demo) 2. Lovely Day (Demo) 3. Downs (Demo)
4. Femme Fatale (Demo) 5. Thank You Friends (Demo) 6. Holocaust (Demo)
7. Jesus Christ (Demo) 8. Blue Moon (Demo) 9. Nightime (Demo)
10. Take Care (Demo) 11. Big Black Car (Demo #2/Acoustic Take 1)
12. Don’t Worry Baby 13. I’m In Love With A Girl *
14. Big Black Car (Demo #3/Acoustic Take 2) 15. I’m So Tired * – Alex & Lesa
16. That’s All It Took * – Alex & Lesa 17. Pre-Downs * 18. Baby Strange *
19. Big Black Car (Demo #1/Band) 20. Kizza Me * (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal)
21. Till The End Of The Day * (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal, kept as final vocal)
22. Thank You Friends * (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal)
23. O, Dana * (Dickinson Rough Mix) 24. Dream Lover * (Dickinson Rough Mix)
Vol. 2: Roughs To Mixes
1. Big Black Car * (Dickinson Rough Mix/Alex Guide Vocal)
2. Whole Lotta Shakin’ GOin’ On * (Dickinson Rough Mix)
3. Take Care * (Dickinson Rough Mix) 4. Holocaust * (Dickinson Rough Mix)
5. Nightime * (Dickinson Rough Mix) 6. Thank You Friends * (Dickinson Rough Mix)
7. Nature Boy * (Dickinson Rough Mix) 8. After Hours * – Lesa
9. Stroke It Noel (Backwards intro) 10. Lovely Day * (FRY Rough Mix)
11. Nightime * (FRY Rough Mix) 12. Blue Moon * (FRY Rough Mix)
13. Till The End Of The Day (Alternate Mix #1) 14. Big Black Car (FRY Rough Mix)
15. Holocaust (FRY Alternate/ROugh Mix) 16. Downs * (FRY Rough Mix)
17. Kanga Roo (FRY Rough Mix) 18. Femme Fatale * (FRY Rough Mix)
19. For You * (Alternate Version/Alex Vocal) 20. Thank You Friends * (FRY Rough Mix)
21. Take Care * (Alternate Version/Alex Vocal) 22. Kizza Me * (FRY Rough Mix)
23. Till The End Of The Day (FRY Rough Mix #2) – Lesa
24. Nature Boy (FRY Rough Mix) 25. Mañana
VOL. 3: Final Masters
1. Stroke It Noel 2. Downs 3. Femme Fatale 4. Thank You Friends
5. Holocaust 6. Jesus Christ 7. Blue Moon 8. Kizza Me 9. For You
10. O, Dana 11. Nightime 12. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On 13. Kanga Roo
14. Take Care 15. Big Black Car 16. Dream Lover 17. You Can’t Have Me
18. Till The End Of The Day 19. Lovely Day 20. Nature Boy