Sunday, March 28, 2010

Show #29 March 27, 2010

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton...

Alex Chilton- The Replacements Pleased To Meet Me
Free Again- Alex Chilton Bach's Bottom
The Happy Song- The Box Tops Soul Deep: The Best Of The Box Tops
September Gurls- The Bangles Different Light
Don't Lie To Me- Big Star Nobody Can Dance
Mine Exclusively- Big Star In Space
Back Of A Car- Gin Blossoms Big Star Small World
Take It Off- Alex Chilton Top 30
^The Letter- The Box Tops Soul Deep: The Best Of The Box Tops
Interview- Big Star Live
The Ballad Of El Goodo- Big Star Live
That 70's Song- Cheap Trick That' 70's Show Presents That 70's Album: Rockin'
No Sex- Alex Chilton Top 30
When My Baby's Beside Me- Kelly Willis Big Star Small World
*Feel- Big Star #1 Record
*Thirteen- Big Star #1 Record
*Watch The Sunrise- Big Star #1 Record
*Give Me Another Chance- Big Star #1 Record
Hey, Little Child- Tommy Keene The Real Underground
Take Me Home And Make Me Like It- Alex Chilton Bach's Bottom
She Might Look My Way- Young Fresh Fellows Not The Singer But The Songs- An Alex Chilton Tribute
Life Is White- Big Star Radio City
I'm In Love With A Girl- The Popes Not The Singer But The Songs- An Alex Chilton Tribute
Baby Strange- Big Star Nobody Can Dance
>Neon Rainbow- The Box Tops Soul Deep: The Best Of The Box Tops
Jesus Christ- Teenage Fanclub Small World Big Star
Bangkok- Alex Chilton Top 30
Dony- Big Star In Space
Nightime- The Afgan Whigs Big Star Small World
Motel Blues- Big Star Live
Volare- Alex Chilton Top 30
Thank You Friends- Big Star Big Star's 3rd: Sister Lovers

^Power Pop Peak: #1 Billboard Hot 100 8/12/67

*SacroSet: Big Star's #1 Record

>Power Pop Prototype: 1967

Only three months in and 2010 has already been a rough year for Power Pop legends. First, Doug Fieger of The Knack, who wrote "My Sharona," arguably the biggest Power Pop hit of all time, dies on Valentine's Day. Then we lose Alex Chilton just over a month later on St. Patrick's Day. (Needless to say, this makes me anxious about the upcoming Easter, Mother's Day, 4th of July, etc., especially as I remember Peter Case had major heart surgery last year.) It's hard to think of a better reference point for Power Pop than Alex Chilton's group Big Star; initial critical acclaim, enormous historical impact, zero commercial success. Of course, Alex already had been down the pop star road a few years earlier and he didn't seem to care much for it.

In 1966, Memphis band The Devilles were looking for a lead singer and drafted 16 year old William Alexander "Alex" Chilton after hearing about his stand out performance at a Central High School talent show. The group later changed their name to The Box Tops and within a year recorded and released "The Letter," which was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks and the top record of 1967. The song was also a huge hit around the world, hitting #1 on the charts in Chile, Israel, Norway and Poland while reaching the Top 5 in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Malaysia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden and the UK. The Box Tops would go on to release six more Top 40 hits including "Cry Like A Baby" and "Soul Deep." At 16 years old Alex Chilton was an international superstar, which seemed to leave a lasting negative impression on him the rest of his life.

After The Box Tops broke up in 1970, Blood, Sweat & Tears offered Chilton the lead vocal position in their group but by then he'd had enough so he rejected the offer as "too commercial." Instead he set himself to the task of learning to play the guitar, recording some demos in Memphis before moving to New York City. Returing to Memphis in 1971, Chilton asked local musician Chris Bell to join him in a folk duo, but Bell declined as he was playing in a band with Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel called Icewater. After seeing the group live, Chilton played some of his songs for them and was asked to join. Copping the name from a local supermarket chain, Big Star was born.

The ironically named group released the ironically titled #1 Record in June of 1972 to rave reviews but label Stax Records did a poor job promoting and distributing the record so it sank without a trace. Here's the thing, though- #1 Record is perhaps the single greatest Power Pop album of all time. I first heard the record in 1986, buying the British import CD at Tower Records in Boston. Chris Bell's "Feel" gets the album off to a rocking start, but it's the second and fourth songs, Chilton's "The Ballad of El Goodo" and "Thirteen," that really blew me away. I'm a sucker for underdog stories like "El Goodo" and "Thirteen" is a beautiful story of young love:

Won't you let me walk you home from school
Won't you let me meet you at the pool
Maybe Friday I can, get tickets for the dance

and I'll take you

Won't you tell your dad, "Get off my back"
Tell him what we said 'bout 'Paint It Black'
Rock & Roll is here to stay, come inside where it's okay

and I'll shake you

Won't you tell me what you're thinking of
Would you be an outlaw for my love
If it's so, well, let me know, if it's "no", well, I can go
I won't make you

These lyrics, combined with Alex's plaintive voice and finger picking make "Thirteen" one of my all-time favorite songs. The third song on #1 Record, "In The Street" was used as the theme song for the first season of TV's "That 70's Show," replaced in subsequent seasons by Cheap Trick's version, re-named "That 70's Song," which I played on tonight's show.

Chris Bell left Big Star after #1 Record, but made some contributions to the group's second album Radio City, which is also a great record that critics loved but Stax failed to distribute. In my opinion, that was the end of Big Star because even though Third/Sister Lovers was released under the group's name, I consider it more of an Alex Chilton solo record. A lot of bands cite Third/Sister Lovers as a work of staggering genius but to me it's all over the place, which pretty much sums up rest of Alex Chilton's recording career.

On his own it seems like Chilton's demons sometimes got the best of him which often didn't translate into great music. Alex was an eccentric guy and you'd hear about him living on the streets of New York or Paul Westerberg's story about the difficulty Alex had trying to get young ladies to accompany him "back to his tent" in Memphis. On a trip to New York City in the late 80's I convinced my then girlfriend, Laura Zurowski, to go to the Knitting Factory to see Alex perform. I was very excited to see him and had pretty big expectations going in. Unfortunately, the show was a total mess- Alex was loaded and played mostly sloppy versions of obscure R&B tunes for about 45 minutes before stumbling off stage. My problem was I'd convinced Laura to forego seeing whatever trendy indie rock band was playing that night, so I had some 'splaining to do. Thanks Alex.

Despite that negative experience, I ponied up again for the Big Star "reunion" (Alex & Jody along with Jon & Ken from The Posies) at The Fillmore in 2004 and boy am I glad I did. Alex was sober, in fine voice and he played brilliantly. Getting to hear those songs performed live, especially Alex's solo version of "Thirteen," made for a night I'll never forget. I don't think he ever reached the heights of Big Star but still, as tonight's show proves, Alex Chilton recorded quite a few great songs over the last 30 years. He will be missed.

Here are the links to download this week's show (right click and "Save Target As")

Hour 1
Hour 2

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Show #28 March 13, 2010

She's some kind of angel, you know what I mean...Evangeline!

Evangeline- Matthew Sweet Girlfriend
Woman's World- The Jags Woman's World 7"
Gotta Tell Me Why- The Slickee Boys Gotta Tell Me Why 7"
Without You- Rudi Big Time
She Say Yea- The Scruffs Wanna Meet The Scruffs
Knew You- Neats 1981-84 The Ace of Hearts Years
I Can See It Now- The Wigs File Under: Pop Vocal
Tourist Information- Tours Tourist Information 7"
^Dreaming- Blondie The Complete Picture
Southern Streets- The Nice Boys The Nice Boys
Lost Angels- The Sweet The Collection
I Need Somebody To Love- The V.I.P.'S I Need Somebody To Love/Beat Crazy EP
Places That Are Gone- Tommy Keene Songs From The Film
Page 3- The Lambrettas Beat Boys In The Jet Age
*Talking Loud- Suspects It's Up To You 45
*Beach State Rocking- Alternate Learning Painted Windows
*Macy's Window- Thin White Rope Exploring The Axis
*Two For One- Meantime Two For One 45
Gold Into Straw- Brendan Benson The Alternative To Love
You- X See How We Are
Life Is A Song- The Rousers A Treat Of New Beat
Run Away- Critical Mass It's What's Inside That Counts
If It Were Up To Me- Rooney Rooney
Confidential- Modernettes Teen City E.P. 12"
>Gotta Keep Movin'- MC5 High Time
Everybody Loves A Loser- Battered Wives Battered Wives
Eloquent Spokesman- The Spongetones Beat & Torn
Hungry For Love- The Revillos Rev Up
Perfect Life- Boy's Life Boy's Life vs. The Outlets EP
Hit the Floor- Earthquake DIY Come Out And Play: American Power Pop I (1975-78)
Hormones In Action- The Neat Hormones In Action 7"
So Long Baby Goodbye- Blasters The Blasters

^Power Pop Peak: #27 Billboard Hot 100 9/29/79

*SacroSet: Davis, California 80's Music Scene

Power Pop Prototype: 1971

When I first got into rock & roll growing up on Massachusetts' south shore in the early 70's it seemed like there were a limited number of bands, most from exotic places like London, New York and Los Angeles. Aerosmith were from Boston (and now a couple of the guys in the group have homes in Duxbury, where my Mom lives), but even they seemed a million miles away.

When punk rock broke, it also seemed geographically remote but then a very cool thing started happening. My Cousin Rich and I started hearing about bands playing in the Boston clubs that were as good as, if not better than, a lot of the London and New York bands whose records we were buying. Thanks to college radio stations like MIT's WMBR and WERS at Emerson College (where I would eventually go to school) we heard seven inch singles and unreleased radio tapes by Boston bands like La Peste, Pastiche, Lou Miami & The Kozmetix, The Neighborhoods, Classic Ruins and more.

The new Boston Rock magazine gave the local bands as much coverage as those from other places and a fanzine called The Noise (which is still going today) was dedicated exclusively to Boston rock & roll. It seemed like every "record run" into Boston and Cambridge, Rich and I would find a new release by a local band, sometimes sold to us by a member of the group. I once bought a Human Sexual Response album from Rich Gilbert, the band's guitarist, at a store called Looney Tunes. I tried to act cool at the time, but my mind was blown. Aimee Mann (Young Snakes, 'Til Tuesday) and WMBR DJ Tami Heidi (who would go on to work at WBCN and legendary LA station KROQ) worked at Newbury Comics, while Barrence Whitfield was over at Planet Records, so you never knew who'd be behind the record store check out counter. (Even two years ago, Mission of Burma drummer Peter Prescott sold me some records at Looney Tunes in Cambridge, which I still found VERY cool.)

When the "all-ages show" was born we actually got to see groups like Del Fuegos, The Atlantics and The Real Kids (whose opus "All Kindsa Girls" is this radio show's namesake) play live in the clubs. It was amazing to buy a group's record one day and see them play live the next- up close too, not from row NN in the balcony.

It wasn't until a few years later that I realized this was not a rare phenomenon. Between 1978 and 1982, there were local music scenes sprouting up across the country. Bands inspired by punk rock's do-it-yourself aesthetic were putting out records and packing the clubs. Compilation albums released at the time and subsequently, documented scenes in place like:

Akron, OH (The Akron Compilation)
Atlanta, GA (Standardeviation)
Buffalo, NY (This Is It! Greater Buffalo's Greatest 1977-1984) Milwaukee, WI (History In 3 Chords)
Minneapolis, MN (Big Hits of Mid-America Vol. III)
New Haven, CT (It Happened But Nobody Noticed)
New Orleans, LA (N.O. Experience Necessary)
Portland, OR (Trap Sampler)
Seattle, WA (Seattle Syndrome Volume 1)
St. Louis, MO (Test Patterns)
Washington, DC (Connected)
Toronto, ON (And Now Live From Toronto...The Last Pogo)
Vancouver, BC (Vancouver Complication)

How cool is that? 100's of bands playing for thousands of people in sweaty, packed clubs all over the country...all over the world. If we'd had the Internet back then, some of the bands might have been able to actually make some money for their efforts.

Davis, California is a small city between Sacramento and the Bay Area that is home to the University of California Davis, a school probably best known for its agriculture program. Like the cities above, Davis had a thriving music scene in the late 70's/early 80's. College station KDVS and campus paper the California Aggie attracted student Steve Wynn who, after seeing the Sex Pistols infamous Winterland 1978 show in San Francisco formed a band called The Suspects. After moving to LA, Wynn and Kendra Smith of The Suspects went on to form the legendary Paisley Underground group The Dream Syndicate. Fellow Suspects member Russ Tolman joined Meantime, also in tonight's SacroSet, before forming True West with Gavin Blair, another Suspects alumni. True West were another big group of the 80's college rock era and their first 12" was co-produced by Steve Wynn. I have to say I never really got Thin White Rope's appeal, but they were one of the most successful Davis groups. More to my liking is Alternate Learning, Scott Miller's first band before he went on to Game Theory and The Loud Family. Alternate Learning, or ALRN, also included Joe Becker who was a member of Thin White Rope.

Steve Wynn, Scott Miller and Russ Tollman are all still making music today. Davis, California in the late 70's/early 80's never got its own record compilation, but I'd be hardpressed to name another city it's size that had as much long term musical impact.

Here are the links to download this week's show (Right click and "Save Target As):

Hour 1