The further forward we travel in time, the more of a statement neon signs seem to make. It could be the cultural climate of the times — our keen sense of nostalgia set against the rapidly developing cult of technology. Maybe it’s the light that comes off of a glowing tube of electrified gas, which is the visual equivalent of a shrieking, attention-starved banshee — known fact: hipster neon was doing the harsh lighting thing decades before LEDs made it cool.
The thing that attracts me most to neon is how tactile it is. Like I said before, it’s a tube of electrified gas, and that concept seems so brutish and old-fashioned to wireless, cloud-sourced, touchscreen-infested millenials like me that it almost seems too steampunk to be true. Also, Blade Runner.
Looking into the reputation neon signs have garnered in the last century or so, it also seems to document the change of the city. Maybe back when it was bringing brighter lights to place that had survived on oil lamps and incandescent bulbs for years, it was an omen of the brightness of the future, but after visions of cosmopolitan utopia withered away, the neon was there to blind city-dwellers with urban loneliness — the kind of loneliness that strikes amidst a population of millions (think “character stumbles drunkenly as neon signs pass by”).
That idea is the one that seems to be coming through on Big Star’s first LP, #1 Record. That band, along with its iconic frontman Alex Chilton, is known for putting together a new sound from the fine-tuned songwriting of the 1960s and a precursory sort of nihilism that would be seen in full force in the thick of Generation X. The combination of optimism and pessimism jumps around all over the record, with crunchy guitars extolling the joys of adolescence mixed in with acoustic ballads that whimper and plead with total defeat.
To this day, 40 years after its initial release, it’s still a great record to soundtrack the city — both on blissful spring afternoons when the streets are filled with life, and on grimy winter nights when the buildings seem to absorb the dirty haze of orange streetlights.
“Watch The Sunrise”
Artist: Big Star
Album: #1 Record
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)