Alex Chilton and Big Star


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Big Star: #1 Record (1972), 6/10
Big Star: Radio City (1974), 7/10
Big Star: Third (1978), 7/10
Bach's Bottom (1981), 5/10
Like Flies On Sherbert (1979), 4/10
High Priest (1987), 4/10
A Man Called Destruction (1995), 5/10
Loose Shoes And Tight Pussy (1999), 3/10
In Space (2005), 4/10
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Throughout the ages of hard-rock, progressive-rock, punk-rock and the new wave, Alex Chilton has been the prophet of power-pop, of unadulterated melody, of four-part vocal harmonies, of jingle-jangle guitars, of hard-rock riffs, and of crystal-clear production. His retro` ideology eventually came to permeate the new wave and exerted a huge influence on Brit-pop of the 1990s.

Born in Tennessee, Alex Chilton was the guitarist and vocalist for the Box Tops, a Memphis-based band. Their elegant variant of "blue-eyed soul" yielded the hit The Letter (Mala, 1967), written by Wayne Carson Thompson, when Chilton was only 17 years old. After a few more hits in that vein (Cry Like A Baby, 1968; Soul Deep, 1969, another Thompson composition), and a last album, Dimensions (Bell, 1969), featuring Chilton's first compositions, the Box Tops disbanded, and in 1970 Chilton joined Chris Bell's Big Star, another Memphis band, that played ebullient, straightforward pop music. #1 Record (Ardent, 1972) is very much the product of Bell's passion for the catchy refrains and engulfing choruses of Mersey-beat, although the band used jingle-jangling guitars a` la Byrds (The Ballad Of El Goodo, Watch The Sunrise). On the other hand, a rebel-rocker, proto-punk stance permeates Feel, Thirteen, In The Street.

After Bell left the group, Chilton became the undisputed leader. Radio City (1974) is the quintessential power-pop album, on which the Big Star fuse Beatles, Byrds and Who (September Gurls, Back Of A Car, O My Soul, Mod Lang, What's Going Ahn, You Get What You Deserve). Chilton's style is different from Bell's: Chilton's pop relies on a (rebellious) philosophy of life, on a (pessimistic) vision, on (disturbing) psychological depth, whereas Bell was all sound for the sake of sound.

Third (PVC, 1978 - 4 Men With Beards, 2006), recorded in 1974 but released only four years later, and reissued with additional material as Sister Lovers (Rykodisc, 1992), was harder and bleaker (Holocaust, Kangaroo< Kizza Me Big Black Car, Dream Lover, Thank You Friends). It was, in many ways, Chilton's first solo album. Chris Bell, in the meantime, did not manage to release an album before dying in a car accident (1978). The material he had recorded was collected on I Am The Cosmos (Rykodisc, 1992), and shows a far superior songwriter than Chilton.

Big Star broke up in 1975 and Chilton, relocated to New York, began a solo career with the EP Singer Not The Song (Ork, 1977), the single Bangkok (1978) and the album Bach's Bottom (Line, 1981 - Razor & Tie, 1981), a 1975 session that includes part of the EP. Like Flies On Sherbert (Peabody, 1979) contains Rock Hard, but otherwise it is fairly insignificant. On the other hand, Chilton helped rockabilly-influenced bands such as Cramps and Panther Burns. Thanks to the new wave's re-appreciation of the classics, Chilton was rediscovered and became a cult star. The problem is that there was a reason if he had been forgotten: he was not the most original or prolific of composers. His talent is best displayed in the countless covers that dot his albums. Chilton is a late-night entertainer in the tradition of saloons and road-houses, not a singer-songwriter in the tradition of the Greenwich Village. His obsession with Brian Wilson's depressed pop is the most interesting feature of his songwriting.

In fact, the following decade produced very little. Moving his base to New Orleans, Chilton began writing music about the roots of American music: soul and rhythm'n'blues. The EP Feudalist Tarts (Big Time, 1985) includes his own Lost My Job among several covers. The EP No Sex (1986) contains two top-notch Chilton compositions: No Sex and Underclass. Even more covers appear on High Priest (New Rose, 1987), but the originals (Dalai Lama, Thing For You) are hardly memorable. The mini-album Black List (New Rose, 1990) adds Magnetic Field and Jailbait. Cliches (Ardent, 1994) collects some of his favorite oldies. He had become mainly famous as a "revivalist", not as an "author". Most of these albums sound terribly dated.

Lost Decade (1985) is a bad anthology.

A Man Called Destruction (Ardent, 1995) has an unusual good dose of original. Chilton shows his off both as a tough rocker (Devil Girl, You're Looking Good) and as a witty entertainer (It's Your Funeral, What's Your Sign Girl).

1970 (Ardent, 1996) collects the recordings that Chilton prepared for his first solo album, before he joined Big Star. They are vastly inferior to both Box Tops and Big Star.

Loose Shoes And Tight Pussy (Last Call, 1999), reissued as Set (Bar None, 2000), is another dreadful set of covers.

Story (Rykodisc, 2003) is an anthology.

Big Star returned with their first studio album in 27 years, In Space (Rykodisc, 2005). The new line-up (Alex Chilton, drummer Jody Stephens and the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow) randomly sample the pop landscape of the early 1970s with Dony, Turn My Back on the Sun and Hung Up With Summer. Thankfully, the disco anthem Love Revolution offers something different.

Keep An Eye On The Sky (2009) contains disposable remnants of their career (demos, alternate tracks, live versions).

Throughout the ages of hard-rock, progressive-rock, punk-rock and the new wave, Alex Chilton has been the prophet of power-pop, of unadulterated melody, of four-part vocal harmonies, of jingle-jangle guitars, of hard-rock riffs, and of crystal-clear production. He had already pocketed a hit with the Box Tops, The Letter (1967), when he joined the Big Star. Their Radio City (1974) is the quintessential power-pop album, on which the Beatles' vocal harmonies, the Byrds' jingle-jangle and the Who's power riffs become terms of the same equation. Third, recorded in 1974 but released only four years later, was harder and bleaker. Chilton's retro` ideology eventually came to permeate the new wave and exerted a huge influence on Brit-pop of the 1990s.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Marco Marraccini)

Attraverso le epoche dell’hard-rock, del progressive-rock, del punk-rock e della new-wave, Alex Chilton e’ stato il profeta del power-pop, di melodie genuine, di armonie vocali a quattro, di chitarre jingle-jangle, di riffs hard-rock, e di produzioni cristalline. La sua ideologia retro’ col tempo e’ arrivata a pervadere la new wave e ha esercitato una enorme influenza sul Brit-pop degli anni ’90.

Nato nel Tennessee, Alex Chilton era il chitarrista ed il cantante dei Box Tops, un gruppo di Memphis. La loro raffinata versione di "blue-eyed soul" frutto’ l’hit The Letter (Mala, 1967), scritta da Wayne Carson Thompson, quando Chilton aveva soltanto 17 anni. Dopo qualche altro hit in quel filone (Cry Like A Baby, 1968; Soul Deep, 1969, un’altra composizione di Thompson), ed un ultimo album, Dimensions (Bell, 1969), caratterizzato dalle prime composizioni di Chilton, i Box Tops si sciolsero, e nel 1970 Chilton si uni’ ai Chris Bell’s Big Star, un altro gruppo di Memphis che suonava un esuberante, schietto pop. #1 Record (Ardent, 1972) rappresenta senz’altro il prodotto della passione di Bell per i ritornelli orecchiabili ed i cori travolgenti del Mersey-beat, benche’ il gruppo usasse chitarre jingle-jangle a la Byrds (The Ballad Of El Goodo, Watch The Sunrise). Dall’altro lato, un atteggiamento rock-ribelle e proto-punk permea Feel, Thirteen, In The Streets.

Quando Bell lascio’ il gruppo, Chilton divenne il leader indiscusso. Radio City (1974) e’ la quintessenza dell’album power-pop, all’interno del quale i Big Star fondono Beatles, Byrds e Who (September Gurls, Back Of A Car, O My Soul, Mod Lang, What’s Going Ahn, You Get What You Deserve). Lo stile di Chilton e’ diverso da quello di Bell: il pop di Chilton si fonda su una filosofia di vita (ribelle), su una visione (pessimistica), su una profondita’ psicologica (turbata), laddove Bell suonava unicamente per il piacere di suonare.

Third (PVC, 1978), registrato nel 1974 ma distribuito soltanto quattro anni piu’ tardi, e ripubblicato con materiale aggiunto col titolo di Sister Lovers (Rykodisc, 1992), e’ piu’ duro e piu’ lugubre (Holocaust, Kangaroo< Kizza Me Big Black Car, Dream Lover, Thank You Friends). Sotto molti punti di vista rappresenta il primo album solista di Chilton. Chris Bell, nel frattempo, non riusci’ a pubblicare un proprio album prima di morire in un incidente d’auto (nel 1978). Il materiale che aveva registrato venne raccolto in I Am The Cosmos (Rykodisc, 1992), e mostra un compositore di gran lunga superiore rispetto a Chilton.

I Big Star si sciolsero nel 1975 e Chilton, trasferitosi a New York, comincio’ la carriera solista con l’EP Singer Not That Song (Ork, 1977), il singolo Bangkok (1978) e l’album Bach’s Bottom (Line, 1981 - Razor & Tie, 1981), una session del 1975 che include parte dell’EP. Like Flies On Sherbert (Peabody, 1979) contiene Rock Hard, ma per il resto e’ completamente insignificante. D’altronde, Chilton ha dato una mano a gruppi influenzati dal rockabilly quali Cramps e Panther Burns. Grazie alla rivalutazione dei classici da parte della new-wave, Chilton venne riscoperto e divenne una star di culto. Il problema e’ che c’era una ragione per cui egli era stato dimenticato: non era il piu’ originale ne’ il piu’ prolifico dei compositori. Il suo talento fa miglior mostra di se’ nelle innumerevoli covers cosparse nei suoi album. Chilton e’ uno showman da notte fonda nella tradizione dei saloons e delle road-houses, non e’ un cantautore nella tradizione del Greenwich Village. La sua ossessione per il pop triste di Brian Wilson e’ la piu’ interessante caratteristica del suo stile compositivo.

Di fatto, la decade successiva produceva molto poco. Spostandosi a New Orleans, Chilton comincio’ a comporre musica sulle radici della musica americana: soul e rhythm’n’blues. L’EP Feudalist Tarts (Big Time, 1985) include il suo brano Lost My Job tra diverse covers. L’EP No Sex (1986) contiene due ottime composizioni di Chilton: No Sex e Underclass. Ancora piu’ covers sono presenti in High Priest (New Rose, 1987), ma i brani originali (Dalai Lama, Thing For You) sono a malapena memorabili. Il mini album Black List (New Rose, 1990) aggiunge Magnetic Field e Jailbait. Cliches (Ardent, 1994) raccoglie alcuni vecchi pezzi tra i suoi preferiti. Egli era divenuto famoso soprattutto come un "revivalista", non come un "autore". Molti di questi albums suonano terribilmente datati.

Lost Decade (1985) e’ una brutta antologia.

A Man Called Destruction (Ardent, 1995) contiene una insolita dose di buoni pezzi originali. Chilton sfoggia entrambi i suoi aspetti di duro rocker (Devil Girl, You're Looking Good) e di brillante showman (It's Your Funeral, What's Your Sign Girl).

1970 (Ardent, 1996) raccoglie le registrazioni che Chilton aveva preparato per il suo primo album solista, prima di unirsi ai Big Star. Si tratta di cose ampiamente inferiori sia rispetto ai Box Tops che ai Big Star.

Loose Shoes And Tight Pussy (Last Call, 1999), ripubblicato come Set (Bar None, 2000), e’ un’altra terribile raccolta di covers.

Story (Rykodisc, 2003) e’ un’antologia.

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