William Alexander “Alex” Chilton (December 28, 1950 – March 17, 2010) was an American songwriter, guitarist, singer and producer best known for his work with the pop-music bands the Box Tops and Big Star.
Chilton’s early commercial sales success in the 1960s as a teen vocalist for the Box Tops was not repeated in later years with Big Star and in his indie music solo career on small labels, but he did draw a loyal following in the indie and alternative music fields.
I moved to New York City August 1, 1988. It took awhile to get settled which really means not about to get evicted. When I finally had enough coin to buy a little baggie of weed and make a trip to the record store it was sometime in March, 1989. I know this because I have a cassette dated April 1, 1989, which I must have made within a week or two of buying Big Star’s Third. I’d heard of Alex Chilton, knew he’d been a Box Top, and that he was responsible for music I needed to hear. Mixed with this impression was also tragedy, and or failure, and that while he was still making music it wasn’t as it turned out more Big Star. I’d never run across any of his stuff until I found 3rd which I bought and loved on first listen. It was recorded in sessions produced by Jim Dickinson at Ardent in Memphis during 1974, but never properly sequenced and released until years later.
Of course I was back at the record store looking for more within days, where I purchased my second Alex album, Bach’s Bottom, which was an entirely different experience. I’m dense enough not to have realized until just now that the title was a pun on “Box Tops”.
The title wasn’t the only thing that mystified me. The vinyl record of 3rd didn’t have all the extra songs the cd’s come with, just ten of the best, most solid tunes. No “Downs” for instance.
How did the brilliant songwriter and performer who crafted this masterpiece follow it up with the junk on Bach’s Bottom (1975)? Exactly the question every Big Star fan wonders. I went back to the record store and bought High Priest. More lame, barely listenable crap, including a throw away “Volare”. After that I just zeroed in on the Big Star albums and avoided Alex’s solo work just like most post Velvets Lou Reed.
When I really liked something, I’d make a cassette copy to listen to every day and archive the vinyl. I’d read somewhere once that a record begins to sound different after about eight plays. I would have copied 3rd almost immediately. The blank cassette I had available was a C-60, so I filled the end of each side with “highlights” from those other albums.
One song from Bach’s Bottom I couldn’t stop listening to was “Take Me Home (And Make Me Like It)”. Before posting this I did a little research and found that there are three versions altogether on the 1993 Razor and Tie version of the album. I think the one I like is #2, but on Amazon, the sample you can hear has so much banter at the top that it cuts off before the song actually kicks in. The version posted is dubbed from the cassette. It’s the only thing I really remember about Bach’s Bottom, maybe my copy had more than one version, I don’t know. It took me half a day to find the cassette, which disintegrated while I made the transfer, in fact about 2:30 in you can hear where it was almost eaten. The spirit captured by the recording is so great, I love Alex’s instructions about the headphones and the helpful advice at the end. Everyone is obviously lit up like a tree, the performance’s sub demo quality get’s by on charming exuberance and the song still comes through, even though he’d just previously sung “It’s The Singer Not The Song”, which by the way, isn’t true.
It’s got this great tension between what it is and what it could have been which is the story of Alex Chilton’s career. That’s why I’m posting this and not one of the Big Star classics which I figure everyone else is doing.
I meant to get this up days ago, but I became suddenly busy with Globular Cluster.
Here is a very brief video by William Eggleston shot in Memphis about the same time as sessions for 3rd (Sister Lovers) (1974). Captures perfectly the studio ambience of Memphis nightlife found on “Take Me Home And Make Me Like It”, I think.
Eggleston has contributed the cover photos for both Big Star and Alex solo albums Radio City, Columbia, Like Flies On Sherbert, and others probably as well. I’ll have to check later.