Don't let the barriers you have built to define who you are blind you from appreciating the unfamiliar.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton of The Box Tops and Big Star

Alex Chilton died today of a heart attack. You may not recognize his name, but you have heard his music. Throughout his nearly sixty year music career, he has not made a single music video, so his live performances will have to suffice.

Chilton started early. At 16 years old, he recorded international number one hit with his band the Box Tops. In a year that Beatles, The Doors, and Rolling Stones were dominating the charts, The Box Tops' first hit, The Letter, stayed number #1 for over a month, all while Chilton was still in high school. Here is a performance on an early music television show. Alex Chilton is the lead singer.

In the 70s, Chilton did some solo work and then joined a pop rock group called Big Star. They released two albums through an independent label called Stax. Unfortunately Stax had some distribution issues due to a failed contract signed with CBS and legal issues due to an owner being arrested for bank fraud charges. Eventually Stax went bankrupt and was bought out by another indie label called Fantasy records.

Unfortunately, Big Star was never really given a chance to become big stars (I am sure I am not the first to make that pun). Their first two albums were not widely promoted or distributed and their third album got shelved by the new label.

Four years later, the first two albums were re-released and the third album, called Third/Sister Lovers finally came out. Their popularity was ramping up and the third album got great reviews. But soon after the third album's release, unfortunate circumstances again set the band back. Founding member and long-time friend of Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, died in a freak car accident.

In 1993, the band reunited to play a set for spring music festival at the University of Missouri. The show was a success and the performance was released a live record. They toured for a year and disappeared once again.

Here is a song from that live show at the University of Missouri.

In 2005, Big Star released the final album. It was no record breaker, but it was good. In the recent years they stuck around. They had been playing more shows and festivals, releasing old albums and a box set. At least Big Star was beginning to get more widespread recognition for their contribution to music before Alex Chilton passed.

The music of Big Star has influenced several generations of music. REM claimed that Big Star was one of their biggest influences. Three decades of musicians from a range of genres have covered Big Star songs including Cheap Trick, The Bangles, This Mortal Coil, Garbage, Superdrag, Elliot Smith, and Wilco.

Big Star's most famous song is In the Street, even though most people have no idea that it is Big Star that wrote it. It was on their first album, but it didn't gain popularity until much later. Here is a clip of them singing it on The Tonight Show at the height of their stardom in 1993. You probably know the Cheap Trick cover version from the intro for That 70's Show.

I will leave you with a short piece from one of the most important music shows on MTV, 120 Minutes, back when MTV was relevant before it became a reality television network. Alex Chilton walks around a graveyard with an acoustic guitar, playing a bluesy song and two of his songs from The Box Tops.

RIP Alex Chilton.

ZWNN9G7742SJ Share/Bookmark

No comments:

Post a Comment