Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why didn't Big Star or Anvil become...big stars?

Big Star and Anvil. Two bands from two very different genres. One thing in common: they heavily influenced superstar groups that came after them, but lacked commercial success themselves.

big star movie
Big Star
Have you heard of Big Star and Anvil? If not, you definitely have heard of the groups that they influenced. For power-pop group Big Star, that list includes Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Wilco, The Posies, The Replacements and more. Bands that consider Anvil an inspiration include a who's who of heavy metal: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Guns N' Roses.

The answer to why Big Star and Anvil didn't have commercial success is not easily answered. Each band has a documentary that I would highly recommend: "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me" and "Anvil: The Story of Anvil."

From 1971 to 1974, Big Star released three influential records: "#1 Record," "Radio City" and "Third/Sister Lovers." While the records earned critical acclaim, commercial success was elusive. According to "Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me," poor distribution was a key factor in the dismal sales. Hard to buy a record when it wasn't in stores.

In Anvil's case, no one in "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" knows why the band wasn't successful.
anvil band
However, the documentary is intriguing from a personality standpoint. Anvil's two main members, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, encounter several situations similar to "This Is Spinal Tap" in the film, although fortunately no drummer spontaneously combusts.

Obviously the odds are stacked against bands making it big in rock 'n' roll...there's no farm system to develop talent, like in baseball.

In 1994, I met Matt Wilson (of Trip Shakespeare) at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. I asked him what it was like to make it big. His response, "I don't feel like I've made it big yet."

Maybe not, but his brother Dan Wilson (also of Trip Shakespeare) sure has. Have you heard of Trip Shakespeare? Just another group influenced by -- you guessed it -- Big Star.
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