#569: Chris Bell – I Don’t Know

You might remember that the title track of Chris Bell’s posthumous album I Am the Cosmos started of the ‘I’ section of this ongoing song series. Well, here is Mr. Bell again with another song from that album – the tenth one on there – entitled ‘I Don’t Know’.

Earlier this year I had a phase of listening to Big Star, after really enjoying the band’s first LP #1 Record and ended up reading about the band’s history and watching a documentary detailing the group’s career which is a good watch and one I would recommend to anybody interested. Just doing the general stuff you do when you really get into an artist you’ve properly listened to for the first time.

Making a long story short Chris Bell left Big Star after their first album release, disillusioned with the lack of its success and being in a band in general, and embarked on solo endeavours. His material wasn’t released in album form until 1992, over a decade after his tragic death. Listening to I Am the Cosmos and then hearing Radio City, the album Big Star made after Bell’s departure, it becomes apparent who may have been behind the band’s large, clean and anthemic sound that made #1 Record such a bold effort.

‘I Don’t Know’ explodes right out of the gate with a soaring intro of jangling guitars, crashing cymbals and powerful drums that segue into Bell’s vocals. The track sees the man in a state of confusion as to why he’s sticking around in a relationship that he doesn’t really want to be in, but still finds himself very much attracted to his lady. It’s a song of contradiction and inner conflict, themes that appear throughout the entire album, but it’s a blast to listen to – an energetic and cathartic three and a half minute wonder.

Another strange thing to note is that this song actually appears twice on the album, appearing with a slower tempo and completely different arrangement under the name ‘Get Away’. Now why Bell chose to do this no one will ever know. Isn’t that cheating in some kind of way? Then again… he wasn’t around to pick what songs went on his album. As a result, the deluxe version of the I Am the Cosmos album contains four takes of what are essentially the same song.

Obviously, the vibes are different between the two but maybe the lyrics are to be taken differently even though their completely the same in both songs. I don’t know. Just a guess.


My iPod #559: Chris Bell – I Am the Cosmos

Working for a year at a music magazine gave me a lot of opportunities. I interviewed Tiken Jah Fakoly. Received free tickets to festivals. Some manual labour thrown in there. A space to get my creative juices flowing, generally. It was also there that I was able to explore my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify which, to anyone not so familiar, compiles a two-hour or so list of songs based on a user’s preference of genres they listen to when using the application. It was one week that today’s song made it on there; had it not…. well, I wouldn’t be talking about it now. Funny how things can work out.

Chris Bell was a founding a member of the 70s power pop band Big Star, a group who didn’t get its just dues in its day but have since been recognised by many a cool musician person as one of the best of its time. Bell only appeared on the band’s debut album #1 Record, a great album and a favourite of mine but that’s talk for another time, before departing after its 1972 release to pursue a career of his own.

During this time he laid down ‘I Am the Cosmos’, a beautiful song concerning loneliness, longing and inner turmoil. The narrator of the track tries to come back around at the end of a relationship by telling himself that he is the universe and the wind, but knows that in doing so his partner is unlikely to return. It is a downer, but the production here shines. It feels like I’m flying through a California blue sky when I hear this song on some good headphones, especially when the guitar solo comes in. It sounds like the album cover. But there’s a lingering sense of melancholy to the whole thing which can make it hard to listen to on some days. I really appreciate this song. Love it to bits.

Sadly, Bell was never able to witness the acclaim his music would receive as the years rolled on, he passed away in a tragic car crash in the winter of 1978. The music lives on.