Stroke It Noel – Big Star (Third/Sister Lovers, 1978)
From the ill-fated third Big Star record, the lovely, stately “Stroke It Noel” is just over two minutes of heart-tugging, poignant perfection. I’ve scoured the internet for the songs backstory or meaning and have come up empty. For many years I’ve referred to this song simply as the “do you wanna dance?” song, since that’s the lyric that’s repeated throughout.
The song uses a lovely violin as a haunting baseline for this Alex Chilton beauty. There’s also some subtle guitar strumming and understated drums for percussion. Chilton sings some oblique lines about watching the skies for bombs, being lazy men drinking white wine and whatnot. But it’s the way the song unfolds that always formed a lump in my throat when it would catch me unaware.
Not even seeing the light-of-day until four years after it was recorded, due to the bands’ lack of commercial success, label ineptness (sorry Stax), the bands disintegration, Big Stars third album finally sputtered out into the public on little-known PVC records. On the original release this was the lead-off track but on the Rykodisc version I bought in 1995 this was buried on the disc and became a favorite of mine quickly and has remained on my short list for best all-time short songs ever since.
The continuing legacy of Big Star
Big Star never really got their just deserts while together but they have remained a cult-favorite band since R.E.M., the Replacements, et al cited them as key inspirations in the 80’s and tunes like “Stroke It Noel”, are one of the reasons why they have endured to this day. Any power pop band worth their salt owes the band some kind of debt (I’m looking at you Teenage Fanclub :P).