Tag Archives: September Gurls

T.G.I.F. – Ten Chilton Classics

Not in sales, no - but in impact? Oh, yes.

“Thinking ’bout what to say / and I can’t find the lines…”   

Alex Chilton died the other day, and so did a piece of me. I first heard Alex when his booming gravel voice launched out of my transistor radio with “The Letter”, the brilliant Box Tops single that didn’t waste a second of it’s not quite two minutes. I was still buying singles then, and follow-ups like “Cry Like A Baby” and “Soul Deep” made it all the way from Memphis to my ears. 

From The Box Tops to Big Star

But most singles bands from the 60s had their moment and hit the wall when music turned towards FM radio and longer, more sophisticated album cuts. And although I was getting into progressive rock and glam and the beginnings of heavy metal with Black Sabbath, I retained my passion for short sharp pop songs. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the Box Tops weren’t a group of friends hanging out and writing songs like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were, but rather they were a staunchly controlled vehicle for a group of writers and producers and that a disillusioned sixteen year old was in fact that singer who sounded like he had already lived a hard life. I was half right. 

Thanks to someone’s insight in a rock magazine – I’ll wager that it was Creem – I was tipped that this new band was aces and I was able to grab a copy of the first Big Star album called #1 Record. What an audacious title, I thought, but dropping the needle on that album was an electrifying experience. Here was an album of impeccable chestnuts, from the rocking “Don’t Lie To Me” and “In The Street” to the sweet and fragile “Try Again” and  “Give Me Another Chance” (and when that crescendo of angelic vocals comes crashing in…oh, my God!). The fist fight between the tambourine and ringing guitar chords in “When My Baby’s Beside Me”. And that dagger-through-the-heart, “Thirteen”, which dripped with teenage angst. 

December Boys got it bad

The second album, sans Chris Bell, was almost as good, a little sloppier and esoteric with absolute standouts like “Back of A Car”, “September Gurls” and “O My Soul”. Meanwhile “What’s Going Ahn” and “Daisy Glaze” and “Morpha Too” hinted at the fragility that was to come in Third / Sister Lovers. Despite some genuinely upbeat sounding moments in “Thank You Friends” and “Jesus Christ”, it was painful to listen to “Holocaust” and “Big Black Car”, almost the soundtrack of a man falling apart. 

A perfect album title; he could have used it twice.

The post-Big Star years were a mixed bag; there were moments of pure joy and fun and others of witnessing painfully inept performances. I remember being in a club with my friend Bill waiting for a band to come onstage, and the most horrific atonal version of “The Letter” came over the sound system. As we cringed, the bartender informed us that it was a tape of a recent Alex Chilton performance; I remember thinking that he sounded like he would die mid-set. 

But in the coming years he regrouped and rebounded, issuing some solid EPs before getting talked into reforming Big Star with Jody Stephens and a pair of Posies in Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. When The Replacements blasted out the dynamic single “Alex Chilton” the legend was reborn; more indie bands started to admit the influence and at long last Chilton was getting the popular response to match the critical hurrahs. 

 

But Alex took it full circle and reunited The Box Tops, for as esoteric and varied as his playlists had been over the years – from soul to powerpop to MOR standards – the New Orleans via Memphis vibe never left. He seemed to enjoy the Box Tops shows more than the Big Star ones, and perhaps that’s why their reunion album In Space was a disappointment – his heart wasn’t in it anymore. 

But his soul and his heart and his pen and his voice came together often enough to leave behind an incredible legacy. So here are ten tunes that are a huge part of my life, songs that hit me like a ton of bricks or dovetailed with the emotions I was going through when I first heard them. They are fresh and timeless and will resonate with me no matter how old I am. I’m in love…with that song. 

And now the show for SXSW will go on as a tribute.

Icewater

 * September Gurls. December boys got it bad, I know, Alex, I know. Me too. 

* Cry Like A Baby. “Today we passed on the street/and you just walked on by/my heart just fell to my feet…” 

* The Ballad of El Goodo. “I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds” 

* Take Me Home and Make Me Like It. Is that the best pick up line ever? Hilarious and sloppy. 

* Soul Deep. Pop Soul Perfection. Neil Diamond shat himself when he heard this. 

* I’m In Love With A Girl. I can’t help but smile every time I hear this simple, fragile love song. There’s so much angst and pain in Alex’s catalogue; this is a nice exception. 

* No Sex. More for the fact that the EP signaled his return than the song itself. 

* Back of a Car. Thinking about what to say, and I can’t find the lines

* The Letter. The two minutes that started it all. 

* Thirteen Maybe the most poignant song about fumbling adolescence ever written. This one went through my heart like a spear, even though I was eighteen when I heard it. 

Rest In Peace, Alex.

All Music Guide tribute from Steven Thomas Erlewine 

Memphis Commercial Appeal says goodbye 

Some thoughts from pop critic Mike Bennett

Alex Chilton wiki with links to multiple discographies

The tribute at Popdose

Auditeer and music columnist John Micek remembers

Ed Ward from NPR chimes in

Anthony Lombardi talked to John Fry about Alex.

Others pay tribute from SXSW.

2 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Features and Interviews, Music

September, Gurls!

I Wanna witness...I wanna testify.

I wanna witness...I wanna testify.

We all know the joke…if  everyone who claimed to be a Big Star fan during their original run actually bought an album, they would have literally been big stars and not a cult band that has repeatedly risen from the ashes. Fortunately the bands who now claim them as an influence aren’t just trying to sound cool; the release of their material in digital form has allowed another generation and then some to see what all the fuss was about.

I believe I can thank Creem Magazine for tipping me back in the day, although the 70s is one of my foggydecades. I was as much into prog, glam, hard rock and twang as the next impressionable youth, and it was as likely that I was spacing out to an entire side of Close To The Edge as I was insisting to anyone who would listen that The Faces and The Kinks were way better than Wings would ever be, Macca be damned. But when albums like Something/Anything and #1 Record came along, these were eye-opening moments to musical genius that stood out from the pack.

I loved the Box Tops and could not believe that the same guttural voice behind “The Letter” and “Cry Like A Baby” was now warbling the fragile “Thirteen”, but how many Alex Chiltons could there be? I still argue (politely) with others whether the debut was better than the follow-up Radio City, but I’ve always held both in higher esteem than Third/Sister Lovers (which sounded like the historical documentation of a nervous breakdown). But like all fast burning candles, Big Star was soon gone and relegated to “you should have been there” status until the rediscovery and rebirth many years later. And now this, the public validation, in the form of a (long overdue) box set.

Whether or not this will awaken a new group of fans is up for debate, but at least Rhino is smart enough not to alienate those among us who already own pretty much everything available. Keep an Eye on the Sky is thankfully loaded with live cuts, outtakes and sidebars from related projects like Icewater and Rock City. There’s certain to be a boatload of great information in the liner notes as Jody Stephens is deeply involved with the project; he’ll bring both the band’s perspective as well as a good look at Ardent Records and the Memphis scene.

Of course, Big Star still exists in the 21st century. There was a new record (the disappointingly uneven In Space) and the band even plays occasionally with  Stephens and Chilton now backed by Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. But the current configuration will never capture the juxtaposition of innocence and magic that happened the first time around. But in fairness, what band can?

Whether you are new to the band or a lifelong fan excitedly awaiting the rarities, this box set is certain to be a classic retrospective. Rhino will release Keep An Eye On The Sky on September 15th as well as an expanded edition of Chris Bell’s solo album I Am The Cosmos. Here’s the complete track list for the skeptical, or those too lazy to link to Rhino! (But do follow that link to hear one of the previously unreleased songs.)

Tracklist:

Disc 1
1. Chris Bell: “Psychedelic Stuff”
2. Icewater: “All I See Is You”
3. Alex Chilton: “Every Day as We Grow Closer” (Original Mix)
4. Rock City: “Try Again” (Early Version)
5. Rock City: “The Preacher”
6. Feel
7. The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Mix) *
8. In the Street
9. Thirteen (Alternate Mix) *
10. The India Song
11. When My Baby’s Beside Me (Alternate Mix) *
12. My Life Is Right (Alternate Mix) *
13. Give Me Another Chance (Alternate Mix) *
14. Try Again
15. Chris Bell: “Gone With the Light” *
16. Watch the Sunrise
17. ST 100/6 (Alternate Mix) *
18. In the Street (Second Recorded Version)
19. Feel (Early Mix) *
20. The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Lyrics)
21. The India Song (Alternate Version) *
22. Country Morn
23. I Got Kinda Lost (Demo)
24. Motel Blues (Demo) *

Disc 2
1. There Was a Light (Demo) *
2. Life Is White (Demo) *
3. What’s Going Ahn (Demo) *
4. O My Soul
5. Life Is White
6. Way Out West (Alternate Mix) *
7. What’s Going Ahn
8. You Get What You Deserve (Alternate Mix) *
9. Mod Lang (Alternate Mix)
10. Back of a Car (Alternate Mix) *
11. Daisy Glaze
12. She’s A Mover
13. September Gurls
14. Morpha Too (Alternate Mix) *
15. I’m in Love With a Girl
16. O My Soul (Alternate Version) *
17. Back of a Car (Demo)
18. Daisy Glaze (Alternate Take) *
19. She’s a Mover (Alternate Version)
20. Chris Bell: “I Am the Cosmos”
21. Chris Bell: “You and Your Sister”
22. Alex Chilton: “Blue Moon” (Demo) *
23. Alex Chilton: “Femme Fatale” (Demo) *
24. Alex Chilton: Thank You Friends” (Demo) *
25. Alex Chilton: “You Get What You Deserve” (Demo) *

Disc 3
1. Alex Chilton: “Lovely Day (aka Stroke It Noel)” (Demo)
2. Alex Chilton: “Downs” (Demo)
3. Alex Chilton: “Nightime” (Demo) *
4. Alex Chilton: “Jesus Christ” (Demo) *
5. Alex Chilton: “Holocaust” (Demo) *
6. Alex Chilton: “Take Care” (Demo) *
7. Alex Chilton: “Big Black Car” (Alternate Demo) *
8. Manana *
9. Jesus Christ
10. Femme Fatale
11. O, Dana
12. Kizza Me
14. You Can’t Have Me
15. Nightime
16. Dream Lover
17. Blue Moon
18. Take Care
19. Stroke It Noel
20. For You
21. Downs
22. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
23. Big Black Car
24. Holocaust
25. Kanga Roo
26. Thank You Friends
27. Till The End of the Day
28. Lovely Day *
29. Nature Boy

Disc 4 (Live at Lafayette’s Music Room, Memphis, Tenn.)
1. When My Baby’s Beside Me *
2. My Life Is Right *
3. She’s a Mover *
4. Way Out West *
5. The Ballad of El Goodo *
6. In the Street *
7. Back of a Car *
8. Thirteen *
9. The India Song *
10. Try Again *
11. Watch the Sunrise *
12. Don’t Lie to Me *
13. Hot Burrito #2 *
14. I Got Kinda Lost *
15. Baby Strange *
16. Slut *
17. There Was a Light *
18. ST 100/6 *
19. Come On Now *
20. O My Soul *

* previously unreleased

They'll get what they deserve

You get what you deserve

1 Comment

Filed under Features and Interviews, Music