Thursday 17 March 2011

Alex Chilton

And there ain't no one gonna turn me 'round

We lost Alex Chilton a year ago today. We're still feeling it.

The world of Popular Music is littered with mavericks and misfits. Square pegs in round holes. Often, this contrariness is pose and posturing - a slightly more grown up version of ‘Mummy you're not watching me...'  Chilton was the real deal. 

My first exposure to his work (like yours too, I suspect) was during the mid-80's reappraisal of Big Star. His name was forever being dropped by the great and the good, so I finally gave in and traded in a couple of vintage Judas Priest concert programmes for the Big Beat records CD reissue of the first two Big Star albums. You know the rest. 

Those two albums, along with the dark, mythical third album, cast a shadow over the rest of his output. Bloodied by the poor sales of unarguably two of the greatest Rock albums of all time, his recordings became fragmented and scatter-shot. From an outsider’s point of view, he was being wilfully difficult and obtuse. Having got to know a little bit more about the man, he was actually just being Alex Chilton. 

The problem he faced was where could he possibly go following '#1 Record' and 'Radio City'? The pats on the back were killing him- but if you wanted to buy the records, the less than efficient distribution by an unsympathetic label, meant you had precious little chance of finding them in the shops. The frustration he felt manifested itself in alcoholism and idiosyncratic behaviour, resulting in some patchy albums, with the occasional diamond within.  He always seemed faintly bemused by the high regard that Big Star was held in - maybe he thought of those albums as 'juvenilia'. Maybe he associated them with failure. Maybe he preferred to play R&B songs. Maybe he was just being Alex Chilton. 


I got to see the later-day version of Big Star play in London a year before his death. I saw a man finally getting the rewards for a career like no other. A packed house cheered his every move - old songs and new songs alike. And quite right too, as without Chilton, dozens of our favourite bands (Teenage Fanclub, Replacements, Posies......) would sound a lot different. He wrote the PowerPop 'Louie Louie' in 'September Gurls' and set the bar for crafting a song so high that we're still reaching for it. 

Whether his best years were behind him is irrelevant. His legacy is enormous. As a role model...I'm not sure, but for attitude and bloody-mindedness, he's an example to everybody. 

If you haven't got '#1 Record' and 'Radio City', your record collection is incomplete. Rectify it. 

I've posted some odds and ends below, including a fantastic show from 1974. 

Everyone needs to play some Alex today. 

"I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song."

Go HERE to check out the progress of 'Nothing Can Hurt Me - the Big Star Story'


01 Feel (Rough Mix With Alternate Guitar) 
02 Ballad Of El Goodo (Rough Mix With Alternate Vocals) 
03 In The Street (Rough Mix With Alternate Guitar) 
04 In The Street (Alternate Take) 
05 Thirteen (Alternate Mix) 
06 Don't Lie To Me (Rough Mix) 
07 When My Baby's Beside Me (Alternate Mix) 
08 My Life Is Right (Alternate Mix With Intro) 
09 Give Me Another Chance (Rough Mix With Alternate Lead Guitar)
10 Another Time, Another Place And You (Instrumental Backing Track) 
11 There Was A Light (Demo With Chilton Vocals) 
12 I Got Kinda Lost (Demo With Chilton Vocals) 
13 Motel Blues (Demo)
14 Gone With The Light (Demo)
15 O My Soul (Rough Mix With Alternate Vocals)    
16 Mod Lang (Rough Mix With Alternate Vocals)    
17 You Get What You Deserve (Rough Mix)    
18 Unknown (Instrumental Backing Track)    
19 Way Out West (Rough Mix With Alternate Vocals)
20 Daisy Glaze (Instrumental Backing Track)    
21 She’s A Mover (Alternate Take) 
22 Morpha Too (Rough Mix)


1 Introduction
2 Back of a Car (Jon Auer)
3 in the Street (John Davis)
4 Don't Lie to Me (John Davis)
5 When my Baby‘s Beside Me (John Davis)
6 I Am the Cosmos (Jon)
7 Way Out West (Jody Stephens)
8 Mod Lang (Van Duren)
9 Daisy Glaze (Ken)
10 Jesus Christ (Mike MiIls)
11 For you (Jody Stephens w/Jimmy Stephens on Bass)
12 Give Me Another Chance (w/Amy Spence)
13 Lady Sweet (Jon w/Rick Steff on Accordion)
14 I'm in Love With a Girl (Sondre Lerche)
15 Introduction
16 The Ballad of El Goodo (Sondre Lerche)
17 Thirteen (Jon)
18 Feel (Ken)
19 Thank You Friends (Mike Mills)
20 Nighttime (Susan Marshall Powell)
21 Try Again (Amy Speace, Jon + Ken)
22 O My Soul (Brendan Benson)
23 September Gurls (Brendan Benson)
24 Take Care (Ken & Jon)
25 A Whole New Thing (Anyone and everyone)


01 In The Street
02 Baby Strange
03 Mod Lang
04 Candy Says
05 Til The End Of The Day
06 0h My Soul
07 Motel BIues
08 Thirteen
09 Way Out West
10 September Gurls
11 Come On Now


01 Oh My Soul
02 Thirteen
03 Jeepster
04 Kansas City
05 The End Of The Day
06 Duke Of Earl


01 In The Street
02 Don't Lie To me
03 I Am The Cosmos
04 Oh My Soul
05 Ballad Of El Goodo
06 Back Of A Car
07 Way Out West
08 Daisy Glaze
09 Thirteen
10 Baby Strange
11 For You
12 Feel
13 September Gurls
14 Thank You Friends
15 Slut
16 When My Baby's Beside Me


  1. Fantastic post Rushbo, couldn't agree with you more - although I was not lucky enough to see the man perform. I also recommend the Big Star 4-CD box-set "Keep an Eye on the Sky" - five hours of awesomeness that I keep playing again and again.

  2. Nice post oh great Rushbo one.

    Big Star were a revelation for me as they had me hooked whilst I was hooked at school in a prog cloud.

    My best mate said to me, "But it's oh so simple".

    I just thought, yes that's the point.

    It was great to listen to sing along songs that weren't made of movements or time changes.

    For me, the simple stuff is the best. A great song will stand up on an acoustic guitar and virtually all of Mr Chilton's stuff does just that.

  3. It was (of course) REMs Peter Buck who turned me on to Big Star. In almost every interview I read, it was 'Big Star this' and 'Big Star that...' As much as I love Yes and your beloved Rush, there's something about Chilton and Bell's writing that just distils an emotion so succinctly. It makes me sad that they (and Andy Hummel) have passed. I've been practicing my cack-handed version of '13' nearly all week. What a beautiful, simple tune.

    Best of luck with kicking the fags Don. (What our American cousins make of statements like that is anybodies guess!)

  4. Iwas just listening to chris stamey "thats why i hate the replacements" and the line jmps out (approx paraphrase) why'd you play that song? i never could take that song" clearly refering to "alex chilton" "i'm in love with that song" Its a sweet song about being defenseless to a strangers willingness to not hide or arm themselves. maybe thats just me though.
    its off of stamey's "alaska" every-but-2 songs are total winners. the remainding 2 only seem less by comparison.
    YonungMossTongue put two collections of my music up ther and i'd be happy if you got to hear'em- Our tastes intersect variously (be-bop deluxe-loudfamily go-between...)
    also...he said , wheedling--any chance of some anton barbeau or the one with Loud Family? thanks