I just heard that Alex Chilton passed away last week on Wednesday, the 17th of March. He was 59. I didn’t follow Chilton closely but his work with Big Star was epic like The Velvet Underground was: seriously undervalued in it’s time but it inspired countless musicians that most people have heard of (R.E.M. anyone?). I didn’t start a band after hearing #1 Album for the first time but I definitely sung along, and got what so many other people have about Chilton and Big Star: they very possibly wrote the best power-pop songs of all time. If you want a quick overview (one I cannot really provide) head here.
Chilton knew some fame and fortune, but it was at the beginning of his career. Even if you have never heard a Big Star or Chilton solo song it is difficult to avoid his work with the Box Tops. Here he is in 1967 singing their biggest hit at the age of 16! Holy shit that voice should not belong to a 16 year-old.
I love in that video how the band fucks around with the show and exposes the lip-synching done by most TV music programs in in the 60’s and 70’s. They look like they are having fun and they look like real, dorky dudes from Memphis (except Chilton, he looks like he might be possessed.)
After The Box Tops split Chilton did some solo recording and then joined up with Chris Bell forming Big Star in 1971. They released 2 records during their career (#1 Record and Radio City) with a 3rd shelved record Third/Sister Lovers was released in a half dozen years after their break-up. They had the unfortunate luck of being on Stax records near it’s demise and neither Stax nor Columbia (who took control of Stax) knew what the hell to do with Big Star (even though their albums were in demand and critically acclaimed).
I have to admit I haven’t really listened much to their third record, but I have spent many nights in my room or in the car with the first two. My favorite song by them is definitely Thirteen, but everything else on these albums is gold. They are good all the way through. Thirteen is a great story, it’s a perfect little slice of young love and I have to sing along whenever I hear it. I feel this track like few others.
Then there is The Ballad of El Goodo and September Gurls and, well, I could include a dozen great Big Star tracks but I think this is where you have to go start buying their records and falling in love all on your own. And please, for the love of no god, buy the ALBUMS (or CDs or tapes). These albums are of that rare breed that need to be consumed whole. Unless they are being sprinkled into a mix tape for your special girl/guy, of course.