Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rock City- S/T (2003) MP3 & FLAC

"I feel like I'm dying, never gonna live again. You better stop your lying and think about what's in the end."

By the time Chris Bell teamed up with Alex Chilton in 1971 to form the nucleus of what eventually became Big Star, Bell had been active on the local Memphis music scene since the mid-sixties. At the tender age of sixteen, obsessed with the sounds of the British Invasion, he played lead guitar for a band called The Jynx, which is how he first crossed paths with Chilton, who regularly attended The Jynx's shows (and even briefly sang for them) before joining The Box Tops along with Jynx bassist Bill Cunningham. Toward the end of the sixties, Bell had gravitated into the orbit of Ardent Studios and its founder John Fry, eventually becoming a part-time engineer at Ardent (he was also attending college at the time). In 1969, Bell, by this point writing his own material, developed a fateful friendship with one of Ardent's full-time engineers, Terry Manning, who, strangely enough, recorded a solo album around the same time, Home Sweet Home, for legendary Memphis R&B label Stax Records, which regularly bought studio time at Ardent. Bell and Manning formed a loose-knit band with a revolving cast of characters (including several future members of Big Star) that was known, at various points, as Rock City and Icewater. As Manning recalls, "During all of this, I, of course had the 'day job' at Ardent Studios: engineering for the rental clients. But when there was free time, John Fry was most gracious in allowing, and helping, everyone to try something new on their own." In essence, what this meant was that Bell and Manning were able to record and mix their own songs using a state-of-the-art recording studio without the support or limitations of a recording contract. The plan was to record an album under the moniker Rock City, which at this point was comprised of Bell, Manning, Tom Eubanks- who contributed the bulk of the songs- and future Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. Despite never having been released until a few years after it was rediscovered in a storage room in 2001, Rock City is an important recording because it provides a detailed glimpse into the formative days of a band that would eventually metamorphose into Big Star; however, more than that, taken on its own terms, the album contains some very good, if occasionally derivative, guitar-pop that every so often hints at something exceptional. An example of the former is the opener, Eubanks' "Think It's Time to Say Goodbye," a solid piece of Power-Pop that, despite limping in places due to Manning's limited vocal abilities, manages to do a respectable imitation of Badfinger. The album's flashes of originality occur when Bell takes center stage, as on "Try Again," a song that would be rerecorded to even greater affect for Big Star's debut, #1 Record. While Bell's vocals are a little shaky in places, they are unmistakably Chris Bell, and the song itself belies its guitar-pop foundation, offering up a dark, soul-searing sense of isolation that is miles ahead of anything else on the album in terms of distinctiveness. While Rock City pales in comparison to the greatness that was just around the corner after Bell jettisoned the modestly talented Eubanks and subsequently brought Alex Chilton into the fold, it nevertheless offers a fascinating glimpse of Bell taking his first significant strides toward the muse that would eventually destroy him.

Rock City  
(Lucky Seven ~ 2003)

 1. Think It's Time to Say Goodbye  (4:02)
 2. I Lost Your Love  (3:16)
 3. The Wind Will Cry for Me  (3:07)
 4. My Life Is Right  (3:07)
 5. Lovely Lady  (3:12)
 6. The Answer  (3:32)
 7. Introduction  (1:50)
 8. Sunday Organ  (3:16)
 9. The Preacher  (3:38)
10. Shine on Me  (2:30)
11. Try Again  (3:46)
12. Thomas Dean Eubanks- Oh Babe  (2:39)
13. Thomas Dean Eubanks- Try a Little Harder  (3:59)
14. Icewater- Feel  (3:41)

Ardent Studios, Live Room, Studio A


  1. Nice review and now I'm interested. Thanks!

  2. Didn't know this album. Have albums by Bell and Manning (home sweet home, which is highly recommended too)... thx for offering...

  3. Had no idea this existed. Thanks!

  4. scurfie, thanks; it's definitely worth a listen for Big Star connoisseurs

  5. peter, I'll be posting the Manning album soon and a few other super-rare Ardent power-pop recordings in the near future

  6. Thanks For This Missing Piece In Big Star's History. Sometimes Chris Bell Gets Oveshadowed By Chilton's Charisma, But He Was A Goddamm Good Writer...I'll Be Waiting For Those Ardent Recordings, They Sure Will Be Good Ones...

  7. ArnoldPaole, I've got Japanese remasters of two of Big Star's power-pop contemporaries on Ardent. Cargoe (released just before #1 Record) and The Hot Dogs (released in 1973), both of which are stunningly gorgeous recordings

  8. I bet a lot of people want to hear the Terry Manning, make sure you post the 2007 version with 11 tracks. I've just listened to Rockcity and it's another good album:) Thx

  9. peter, I'm pretty sure I have the 2007 version of the Manning album. It's the next Big Star-related title that I plan to post. Glad you liked Rock City

  10. The verses you started this post with are poignant. It must have been an issue for Bell, since the first part is repeated on the song «feel» from #1 Record.

  11. mother, I agree. Bell's lyrics seem to focus quite a bit on emotional isolation and the inability to connect with other people. Very sad, but something that everyone can relate to on some level

  12. Please excuse and ignore me if I'm out of line, here... What's in the end for you?

  13. mother, I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean what do I get out of doing this blog?

  14. No, not at all. I was thinking about the lyrics you chose. My feeling is that the author makes us stand naked in front of a mirror, the mirror is at the end of the line, so we cannot hide, and although I was asking you what do you feel is in the end of life and what do you get out of it, I think what the author means is what's our inner truth, that's what we have to face, and that's how life is meant to be... Ahh, just ignore me!!

  15. I think what's in the end is the realization that all we are and all we really "have" is how we've been with others, in other words, the ways we've touched (and changed, if only imperceptibly) the lives of others. I'm not a religious man and I do not necessarily believe in an afterlife; for me, it's the web or lattice of interconnectedness between us all that I see as truly miraculous. Back to Bell, we spend so much of our lives "lying" in the sense that we strive toward goals and material rewards that are ultimately meaningless "in the end." Very thoughtful lyrics

    1. Tom Eubanks sang "Think It's Time To Say Goodbye," not Terry Manning. Otherwise, a nice review.

  16. Aww, just found this and links are dead. any chance for a re-upload?


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