William Eggleston and Big Star revisited


Now that Rhino Records has released the glorious Big Star box set Keep An Eye On The Sky, it seems like a good time to revisit the topic of William Eggleston and Big Star that I blogged on a few months ago…

The first time I wandered into a retrospective of Eggleston photos, I thought, ‘Jesus, this guy’s photos remind me so much of Big Star’s music, I can’t get over it’… and this was a few minutes before I ran into the Red Ceiling image that Big Star used for the cover of their seminal Radio City album. The point being, I can’t think of another example of pop music sounding so much like a visual artist, or of photographs looking so much like a band’s songs…. and judging from the Radio City cover, the band agreed. Well, one thing I learned from the Pitchfork review of the box set is that the kinship between the two ran deeper than I’d known: the reviewer mentions that Eggleston is actually playing piano on one of the tracks off the third album, ‘Nature Boy’ (not a great or important Big Star song, to be sure… but still).

Reading about Eggleston’s piano cameo reinvigorated my curiosity about the connection between these two, and I spent a few minutes looking through Eggleston photos on Flickr and trying to match them to Big Star songs in terms of mood and subject matter. Obviously a pretty dorky and subjective exercise, but fun nevertheless. This one, for example, make me think right away of the song ‘Thirteen“:


A few other things about Keep An Eye On The Sky:

1. It sounds great to me, and all my audiophile friends who are really into remasters and whatnot give it the stamp of approval. The acoustic songs, in particular, seems to benefit from the remastering treatment, as songs like “Thirteen” no longer have this muffled quality that previously allowed the considerable sentimentality of the song to outshine the prettiness of it. Now, it just sounds so damn good that who cares if he’s crooning wondering “would you be an outlaw for my love?” Also, the alternate versions of songs are honestly often really different and revelatory and good, all of which is pretty unusual.

2. There’s the interesting matter of the third album, Sister Lovers, having a different song order than we’re used to from the previous official version. The little vaudevillian, clowny opening to ‘Jesus Christ’ starts the album, but this time it’s stretched out into a whole song of it’s own. Then, ‘Friends’ and the great ‘Femme Fatale’ cover follow before the rocker ‘Kizza Me’ which is the opening track on the old version. Now, I’ve always been a more of a Sister Lovers guy than a #1 Record or Radio City fan– it’s really one of my favorite albums and has a whole dimension of smacked-out introspection that I think the other two records lack somewhat (to me, the other two have always sounded like studio transcriptions of a live set, faithful and brilliant recreations but somehow soulless compared to Sister Lovers), so this reshuffling of the song order is all pretty interesting to me. I couldn’t find any explanation for this in reviews, but I like to think that the order on the box set is the ‘real’ song order that the band intended. ‘Kizza Me’ is a good song, but it has elements of the obligatory knee-jerk rocker, the kind of song that a record label wants to have the album start with, and seems like filler before ‘Friends’, ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Femme Fatale’- the real marrow or the album- come marching in. Then again, both the record label and the band mates were reportedly in total tatters (suffering from bankruptcy and heavy drug abuse, respectively) by the time the album was finished, so who really knows who intended what or when.

3. The Pitchfork reviewer makes a few disgusted remarks about past attempts to anthologize the band which have resulted in some pretty badly-assembled best hits albums. Nothing, however, could beat the decision made back in the early CD days to combine the band’s first two albums into one album but leave off ‘On the Street’ in order to fit them into one CD. ‘On the Street’ was only so catchy and rocking that That Freaking 70s Show even used it for their opening theme.

3 thoughts on “William Eggleston and Big Star revisited”

  1. We have already discussed this on the Spiritualized board. We have a whole thread based on remastering. Also check out the Mono Beatles box set.

  2. Thanks for noting the “new” official sequencing of Third/Sister Lovers–the near-total lack of critical wonderment about this was, well, strange. It would be less of a big deal had the box set been issued by yet another label. But Rhino now has the dubious honor of having two “official” running orders for Third/Sister Lovers, with the 1992 edition seemingly still being touted as Chilton’s preference.

    I regard Third/Sister Lovers as a masterpiece, so it would be helpful if a “blessed” sequencing was announced by its creators–even if it is retrofitted to the collection . . .

  3. That is strange indeed (the lack of critical wonderment).

    My point about the sequencing got very long-windy, so here it is again more concisely: “Kizza Me’ always seemed miscast to me as the ‘kick-ass opening rocker’, so I prefer the new sequence a great deal (it’s actually reinvigorated my appreciation of that particular song, which I used to tune out a bit when it opened the album). Also, I like me ‘Manana’, so it’s nice to see it as its own distinct track. There was something inherently dismissive about the decision to stick it onto the beginning of ‘Jesus Christ’, as though the band was saying, ‘Don’t worry… we’re just being goofballs for a few seconds… but we will momentarily return to rocking out.”

    So, Chilton prefers the old version? That’s interesting. Do you have a preference?

Leave a Reply