Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sonic Sunday: Remembering Alex Chilton

As promised, this Sonic Sunday honors the indie hero whom Paul Westerberg described as an "invisible man who can sing in a visible voice." And the tune that line is from is the perfect way to kick off this small tribute. It's kind of fitting that a song about a great pop songwriter turned out to be one of the best power pop songs ever written.

"Alex Chilton," The Replacements - Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round/They sing 'I'm in love. What's that song?/I'm in love with that song.'

Chilton began his career at 16, as the lead singer of blue-eyed soul band The Box Tops, best known for their #1 smash "The Letter." It's one of those enduring songs that has been covered by just about everyone, but I have to admit that I've never liked it. And I like "Cry Like a Baby" well enough, but my favorite Box Tops song has always been "Soul Deep."

"Soul Deep" - Darlin' I don't know much/I know I love you so much/My life depends on your touch/And my love is a river runnin' soul deep/Way down inside me it's soul deep/Too big to hide and it can't be denied/My love is a river runnin' soul deep

The Box Tops disbanded in 1970 and Chilton went back to Memphis, where he soon joined up with friend Chris Bell to form Big Star. There are a lot of great Big Star songs to pick from, so I've just selected my favorite from each of their three studio albums. (I'm not counting 2005's In Space, which is more like Alex Chilton featuring The Posies.)

"Thirteen" from (#1 Record) - 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 to the dance/And I'll take you

"September Gurls" (from Radio City) - September gurls do so much/I was your butch and you were touched/I loved you, well never mind/I've been crying all the time/December boys got it bad/December boys got it bad

"Blue Moon" (from Third/Sister Lovers) - Let me be your one light/And if you'd like a true heart/Take the time to show you're mine/And I'll be a blue moon in the dark

As for Chilton's solo work, I haven't heard a ton of it, but what I have heard has usually been kind of uneven. Outside of Big Star, I think I prefer when he delves into the blues/soul side of himself, as showcased in these two gems from the 1985 release Lost Decade. (The first, "I Can Dig It," is a re-recorded solo version of a Chilton song that first appeared on The Box Tops' record, Non-Stop.)

"I Can Dig It" - You got some love you wanna give it to me/Baby, I can dig it/A long time been sittin' 'round in your deep freeze, now/Baby I can dig it

"Come On Honey" - Come on honey, do what you wanna do/Come on honey, do what you wanna do/Nobody loves you baby/More than anyone else ever in the world could do

And now to close out this post, here are a couple of Big Star covers.

I'm not normally a huge fan of cover songs, and I'm not a huge fan of indie darling Bat For Lashes. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Natasha Khan's version of "Kangaroo." Her stark arrangement suits the lyrics much better, and it's one of those rare occasions when a cover tops the original.

"Kangaroo," Bat For Lashes - I first saw you/You had on blue jeans/Your eyes couldn't hide anything/I saw you breathing, oh/I saw you staring out in space

This last tune is country singer Kelly Willis' version of "When My Baby's Beside Me." It certainly doesn't improve on the original, but it's a pretty faithful cover. It's also worth a mention here because it's a good example of the far reach of Chilton's influence.

"When My Baby's Beside Me," Kelly Willis - Don't need to talk to my doctor/Don't need to talk to my shrink/Don't need to hide behind no locked doors/I don't need to think/'Cause when my baby's beside me, I don't worry/When my baby's beside me, all I know/When my baby's beside me, I don't worry/When my baby's beside me, all I know

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Anonymous said...

I think if you don't like "Thirteen" or "September Gurls" you'd have a screw loose. :) They are two of my faves for sure. My ultimate favourite Big Star song is "Battle of El Goodo". I love that damn song.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You picked some great songs to remember Alex Chilton by this Sonic Sunday.

He really was the invisible man with the visible voice, wasn't he?

words...words...words... said...

I really liked Big Star. It seemed like a few times their critical acclaim was going to metastasize into more popularity, but it never happened. You picked some great songs, too :)

elaine said...

I never knew that The Box Tops sang Soul Deep.

If you ever travel to Memphis, be sure to eat at Huey's Burgers, which was started by The Box Tops' late drummer, Thomas Boggs. I love their veggie burgers, and their hamburgers are supposed to be the best in town.

Billy said...

Excellent work. Chilton played in Chattanooga either last year or two years ago, and our town couldn't appreciate his history, and Chilton couldn't really cull enough verve to convert the clueless. So it was a slight downer... but it somehow important nonetheless!

carissajaded said...

Ahh nice post. Ahhh Alex Chilton. Great picks. As for Bat for Lashes, shes growing on me...


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