Radio City is the second album by the American rock group Big Star. Released in 1974, Radio City was recorded during 1973 at Memphis' Ardent Studios. Though not a commercial success at the time, it is now recognized as a milestone album in the history of power pop music. Critically acclaimed upon its release, the record sold poorly, partly due to a lack of promotion and the distribution problems of the band's struggling record label, Ardent Records. The album included "September Gurls" and "Back of a Car", which remain among the most famous Big Star songs; both the Searchers and the Bangles have covered "September Gurls".
The original Ardent Records LP featured record-jacket photographs by noted photographer William Eggleston, including The Red Ceiling on the cover. Eggleston was a close friend of band member Alex Chilton's.
Radio City is notable for its unique, chewy guitar sound and live-sounding yet meticulous textures, and for its somewhat tortuous recording history. The album shows the influence of British Invasion bands such as The Beatles and The Kinks.
Some of the outtakes from the album include "I Got Kinda Lost", "Gone with the Light", "Motel Blues" and "There Was a Life" (an early version of "There Was a Light" from Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos CD). The singles released from the album were "O My Soul" and "September Gurls".
Radio City's reputation has grown since its release, with many critics and listeners of the opinion that it is not only the definitive power-pop album but one of the finest rock-music albums. As writer Richard Meltzer told an interviewer, "Big Star...is the means through which most bands today who are influenced by the Beatles get their dose of the British Invasion."
In late 1972, following the release of the debut album, #1 Record, founding member Chris Bell left the group and the band became inactive for four months. Bell had already contributed to the music and lyrics of "O My Soul" and "Back of a Car"—songs which Alex Chilton recalls were written "by committee"— but receives no official credit.
Chilton, aided by drummer Richard Rosebrough and at times by bassist Danny Jones, completed the recording of "Mod Lang", "She's a Mover", and "What's Going Ahn" without Jody Stephens or Andy Hummel. After performing at the Rock Writers Convention in 1973, the band returned to the studio to start work on Radio City.
On its release in January 1974, Radio City met with general acclaim. Record World judged the musicianship "superb"; Billboard described the album as "a highly commercial set", and Cashbox called it "a collection of excellent material". However, sales were thwarted by an inability to make the album available in stores.
Stax Records, primary distributor for the band's Ardent Records label, had recently placed distribution of its catalog in the hands of the much larger Columbia Records; Radio City's release coincided with a disagreement between Stax and Columbia, which left Columbia refusing to distribute the catalog.
Giving an "A" rating, Robert Christgau calls the album "Brilliant, addictive", observing meanwhile that ""The harmonies sound like the lead sheets are upside down and backwards, the guitar solos sound like screwball readymade pastiches, and the lyrics sound like love is strange.
Can an album be catchy and twisted at the same time?" Allmusic's William Ruhlmann considers that the band's follow-up to #1 Record "lacked something of the pop sweetness (especially the harmonies)" of the debut but captured "Alex Chilton's urgency (sometimes desperation) on songs that made his case as a genuine rock & roll eccentric. If #1 Record had a certain pop perfection that brought everything together, Radio City was the sound of everything falling apart, which proved at least as compelling.
01."O My Soul" – 5:40 (Chilton) [Mono; No stereo mix has ever been released]
02."Life Is White" – 3:19 (Chilton, Hummel)
03."Way Out West" – 2:50 (Hummel)
04."What's Going Ahn" – 2:40 (Chilton, Hummel)
05."You Get What You Deserve" – 3:08 (Chilton)
06."Mod Lang" – 2:45 (Chilton, Rosebrough)
07."Back of a Car" – 2:46 (Chilton, Hummel)
08."Daisy Glaze" – 3:49 (Chilton, Hummel, Stephens)
09."She's a Mover" – 3:12 (Chilton)
10."September Gurls" – 2:49 (Chilton)
11."Morpha Too" – 1:27 (Chilton)
12."I'm in Love with a Girl" – 1:48 (Chilton)