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 http://sonomasunfm.com/showarchive/public/2010-03-27__20_59_57.mp3
Hour 2 http://sonomasunfm.com/showarchive/public/2010-03-27__21_59_57.mp3