What makes someone a star? Talent? Charisma? Or is it something more ineffable? One of the eternal mysteries is why some exceptionally talented people don't ever quite make it big. As we've been going through this series, we've identified a number of really good bands that never quite made it. The Anonymous Truck Driver put his finger on probably the best example by naming Big Star, who came out of Memphis in the 1970s and were either 10 years ahead of their time or 10 years behind. They had a tremendous frontman in Alex Chilton, who briefly tasted fame with the Box Tops in the late 60s, but they were never able to get much attention during their time together. They were so much better than the competition - just compare anything they performed with something like "Billy Don't Be a Hero" or "The Night Chicago Died" and the injustice of it seems almost cosmic in scope.
But as unjust as Big Star's fate was, sometimes I think it would have been worse to be in the position of the two bands I'm featuring today. They are very different bands who emerged in the early 1970s who played in very different styles. But they had some things in common -- amazing musicianship, strong songwriting and a great reputation among other musicians. Oh, and some very interesting album cover art. But neither band quite made it to stardom, at least in America.
Few bands had the talent of Roxy Music, which emerged in Great Britain during the height of the glam movement of the early 1970s. They had a charismatic frontman in Bryan Ferry, a hot guitarist in Phil Manzanera and at least initially were the place where Brian Eno plied his trade. Later on they added talented bassist John Wetton and violin virtuouso Eddie Jobson. In Europe, they were huge. In America, not so much. Ferry ran a concurrent, successful solo career and when he wasn't making music dated some of the most beautiful women in Europe, including model Amanda Lear and Jerry Hall, who later dated Mick Jagger for many years. Despite a remarkably consistent body of work and critical acclaim, it really didn't happen in America.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, a former member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention was looking for a new gig as the 60s came to a close. Guitarist Lowell George met keyboardist Bill Payne when Payne auditioned for Zappa. They formed a friendship and soon thereafter a band, Little Feat. George had wide-ranging tastes and the ability to play in a variety of styles, including country, blues, r&b and funk. The inventive Payne was able to play it any way you wanted. After adding a powerful rhythm section, Little Feat released two albums to critical acclaim and minimal sales. In 1973 they briefly broke up, but then reformed and added a second superb guitarist and vocalist in Paul Barrere. This was the lineup that should have made Little Feat stars. They released a number of superb albums during the period and gained a reputation as one of the most fearsomely talented live acts in rock and roll. Time and again Little Feat would open for a better known band and would blow them off the stage. But for reasons that remain mysterious, they never could get over. George eventually died in 1979 and the band was never really the same, although the band continues to this day in a variety of inferior configurations.
So who do you pick? Well, let's find out.
First, we have Roxy Music with "Out of the Blue" from their 1974 album Country Life, featuring a virtuoso bass performance from Wetton, some amazing playing from Jobson on a crystal violin and reed man Andy Mackay wailing away on an oboe, of all things. The cover from the Country Life album appears at the start of the video -- let's just say it's PG-13.
Or, you might prefer Little Feat's "Dixie Chicken," featured in a 1977 appearance on the Midnight Special, featuring two guest backup singers you may have heard of.
The polls are now open. Next time -- what's wrong with being a singles band, featuring a recomendation from our friend Daria of Boots On fame.