Big Star was an American power pop band formed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1971 by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel. Despite exceptional reviews from critics and widely acknowledged influence upon numerous notable musicians, Big Star attained only cult status, lacking commercial success. The group broke up in 1974, but reorganized with a new line-up nearly 20 years later. In its first era, the band's musical style drew on the vocal harmonies of The Beatles, as well as the swaggering rhythms of The Rolling Stones and the jangling guitars of The Byrds. To the resulting power pop, Big Star added dark, existential themes, and produced a style that foreshadowed the alternative rock of the 1980s and 1990s. Before it broke up, Big Star created a "seminal body of work that never stopped inspiring succeeding generations" in the words of Rolling Stone, as the "quintessential American power pop band" and "one of the most mythic and influential cult acts in all of rock & roll".
Big Star's first album—1972's #1 Record—was met by enthusiastic reviews, but ineffective marketing by Stax Records and limited distribution stunted its commercial success. Frustration took its toll on band relations: Bell left not long after the first record's commercial progress stalled, and Hummel left to finish his college education after a second album, Radio City, was completed in December, 1973. Like #1 Record, Radio City received excellent reviews, but label issues again thwarted sales—Columbia Records, which had assumed control of the Stax catalog, likewise effectively vetoed its distribution. After a third album was deemed non-commercially viable and shelved before receiving a title, the band broke up late in 1974. Four years later, the first two Big Star LPs were released together in the UK as a double album. The band's third album was finally issued soon afterward; entitled Third/Sister Lovers, it found limited commercial success. Shortly thereafter, Chris Bell was killed in a car accident at the age of 27.
The Big Star discography drew renewed attention in the 1980s when R.E.M., and The Replacements as well as other popular bands cited the group as an influence. In 1992, interest was further stimulated by Rykodisc's reissues of the band's albums, complemented by a collection of Bell's solo work. In 1993, Chilton and Stephens reformed Big Star with recruits Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, and gave a concert at the University of Missouri. The band remained active, performing tours in Europe and Japan, and released a new studio album, In Space, in 2005. Chilton died on March 17, 2010, after being admitted to a New Orleans hospital with heart problems. Hummel, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, died on July 19, 2010. These deaths left Stephens as the sole surviving founding member.