Big Star "Extended Versions", BMG Encore Collection

BMG Music has recently reissued many live albums from artists too numerous to mention, each under the title Extended Versions. This series of reissues is called the Encore Collection, and the CDs are budget priced at $6.98 to $7.99. At least one of the albums reviewed on my site, Lou Reed's 1975 release Lou Reed Live, has been reissued as part of this series.

Another CD that has fallen under this blanket is the 1993 reunion album by Big Star. This was originally titled Columbia: Live At Missouri University 4/25/93. I had mistakenly thought that this album was out of print altogether, and it nearly became the subject of Rarebird's Spotlight Album Review #8.

For those who are unfamiliar with Big Star, they were an early-'70's power-pop band led by Alex Chilton, who had formerly been the teenage lead singer of the Box Tops. The band received plenty of critical praise in its day, but they were a commercial failure. Part of the reason for this was that their distributor, the Stax soul label, was falling apart. In any case, Big Star's three studio albums contain some of the best Beatles/Byrds-type music that was ever recorded post-Beatles and post-Byrds. Their 1972 debut album #1 Record was professionally polished rock and roll entertainment, with all four band members (Chilton, Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens) taking vocal turns. Their second album, 1974's Radio City, was dominated by Chilton. Bell had left the band, disillusioned by the first album's commercial failure, and Big Star's power-pop sound was beginning to take on quirky dimensions. Their third album, alternately titled Third and Sister Lovers, was recorded in 1974 but unreleased until 1978, by which time the band had broken up. It was a strange and moody musical dream, recorded by Chilton, Stephens, and other various musicians. The album found a following in '78; the pain and confusion Chilton expressed on this bizarre album may have struck a chord with the punk crowd. In any case, Big Star's albums attracted a growing cult of admirers. The Bangles covered the song "September Gurls" in 1985, and the Replacements recorded a song called "Alex Chilton" in 1987.

Posthumous interest in the band seemed to reach its peak in the early '90's, when numerous alternative rockers acknowledged the band's influence. At least two star-studded tribute albums were planned but scrapped. When Big Star drummer Jody Stephens visited the University of Missouri in 1993, he was asked if Big Star would do a reunion show on campus. He said he would be willing if Chilton was; when Chilton was contacted, he unexpectedly agreed. So, nearly 20 years after Big Star's demise, the pair reunited, with two members of the Posies replacing Chris Bell (who died in a 1978 car crash) and Andy Hummel. They played for a small crowd at the university on April 25th of that year, and the performance was released on CD as Columbia: Live At Missouri University 4/25/93. (Apparently, they got the name of the university wrong). It's a good CD, featuring the quartet playing spirited, if often flawed, renditions of 11 Big Star songs, one song from Chris Bell's sole solo album, and covers of Todd Rundgren and T.Rex songs from the same early-'70's period that Big Star existed in.

BMG has deleted the Columbia title and reissued it under the aforementioned Extended Versions title. I must say that the album has been given a raw deal. There is no information about the concert in the packaging. The front cover shows a photo of Chilton and Stephens, both of the original members who participated. If the consumer does not note that the photo is from 1993 instead of 20 years earlier, they could mistake Extended Versions for a live album from Big Star's original early-'70's time. Worse yet, it only contains 10 tracks instead of 14, and the missing tracks are essential to the album! "I Am The Cosmos" was the title song from the late Chris Bell's posthumous solo album, sung here by the Posies' Jon Auer. "Way Out West" features one of only two lead vocal turns by Stephens in the set. "Daisy Glaze" is sung by Ken Stringfellow (the other participating Posie), and has more audible lyrics than the studio version. And Chilton sounded like he was having a ball singing the bawdy T. Rex song "Baby Strange".

Here is the strangest thing about this CD: two of the tracks are actually not live tracks from Columbia. "In The Street" and "Feel" are the original studio versions from 1972, no different from the versions on #1 Record. What was the point of that?

My advice: forget about Extended Versions and search out the original Columbia CD instead, because the album is incomplete without those six omitted songs. As for the folks at BMG: whose brilliant business decision was this?

3/8/16 Update: For Record Store Day 2016, Legacy Recordings is releasing this album on vinyl in a 2-record set titled Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri 4/25/93. This limited edition set contains the concert in its entirety, adding 5 previously unreleased songs.

Big Star - Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93

Big Star "Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93" (Zoo 72445 11060 2) 1993

Track Listing:

1. In the Street
2. Don't Lie to Me
3. When My Baby's Beside Me
4. I Am the Cosmos
5. The Ballad of El Goodo
6. Back of a Car
7. Way Out West
8. Daisy Glaze
9. Baby Strange
10. For You
11. Feel
12. September Gurls
13. Thank You Friends
14. Slut

Big Star - Extended Versions

Big Star "Extended Versions" (Collectables COL-CD-8945) 2005

Track Listing:

1. In the Street
2. Don't Lie to Me (Live)
3. When My Baby's Beside Me (Live)
4. The Ballad of El Goodo (Live)
5. Back of a Car (Live)
6. For You (Live)
7. Feel
8. September Gurls (Live)
9. Thank You Friends (Live)
10. Slut (Live)

Big Star - Complete Columbia: Live at Missouri University 4/25/93

Big Star "Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri 4/25/93" (Legacy 88875195041) 2016

Track Listing:

DISC 1 - Side A

1. Into the Street (With Intro)
2. Don't Lie to Me
3. When My Baby's Beside Me
4. I Am the Cosmos
5. O My Soul

DISC 1 - Side B

1. The Ballad of el Goodo
2. Back of a Car
3. Way Out West
4. Daisy Glaze
5. Thirteen

DISC 2 - Side A

1. Baby Strange
2. Jody Rap
3. For You
4. Feel
5. September Gurls
6. Thank You Friends

DISC 2 - Side B

1. Slut
2. Jeepster
3. Kansas City
4. Till the End of the Day
5. Duke of Earl


pogo said…
You do same mistake as many people who write about Chris Bell. He never issued an album but just a single before die in 1978.
Later on, when everybody rediscovered Big Star around 1992, in the same time as Rykodisc issued "Third/Sister Lovers" they also compiled an album of some past songs done by Chris Bell... but in 1992. Sorry but I notice many time this information about a supposed Chris Bell's album, it's just a posthumous compilation, even good too.