ARTIST: Big Star
TITLE: Third (a/k/a Sister Lovers)
YEAR RELEASED: 1978
CHART ACTION: None
SINGLES: Jesus Christ, Kizza Me
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: There are a few covers. For You may have been the best known otherwise.
LINEUP: Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens. Lesa Aldridge (Alex’ girlfriend) sings on this, and many Memphis session players are on it somewhere. Maybe.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Dark, haunting, shambling third album by the seminal band seems to be the sound of breaking apart – mentally, physically, and as a band.
SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Probably the most famous ‘lost album besides the Beach Boys’ Smile, Big Star’s Third (also known as Sister Lovers, though that could have been the name of the band, maybe) is a haunting stroll from power pop oddness to absolute bleakness. From the off kilter but fun “Kizza Me” to the haunting and devastating “Holocaust” is just one half of the album, yet it feels so complete.
Listening to this closely (the only way to really hear it), you find production effects and sounds all over. Cellos creeping from the back. Piano played low and soft. Guitars in and out. Mysterious crackles. Time signatures steady or wavering. Vocals either ebullient or tragic. By the end of the first half, the hope seems gone, and Chilton and Jody Stephens are left wandering around in the devastation. “Kanga Roo” begins side two with a totally obtuse lyric, and slowly they pull themselves out of it, somehow, with Stephens’ “For You” being absolutely romantic and lovely.
All through Third, you get the feeling that this was a record that needed to be made, but not necessarily released, though test pressings were done in 1975. A release in 1978 came out, but by then Chilton and Stephens moved on. In 1992, producer Jim Dickson released a version he claimed was the true running order plus bonus tracks. We don’t know, but that 1992 release was clear, clean, and you were able to hear the madness, the gentleness, and the heart and mind of the band.
NOTES & MINUTIAE: There are so many notes here that I need to direct you to the various articles about the album, and books on Big Star and Alex Chilton. Basically, he purposely self-destructed some tracks to get back at…someone.
IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The 1992 Rykodisc release had five bonus cuts (all covers but the bonkers “Downs”) and there’s a box set with pert near every demo and finished take.
GRADE A+: Not for everyone, but dang it’s compelling.