Thursday, 18 March 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton, singer/songwriter with the Box Tops and Big Star has died of suspected heart failure in New Orleans, days before performing with Big Star at SXSW. He was 59 years old.

Something of a child prodigy, Chilton scored his first hit record with the Box Tops, The Letter aged 16. He will probably be best remembered, however, as a founder member of power pop legends Big Star, a band he formed with Chris Bell, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens in 1971.

Big Star is the sound of four Memphis kids trying to ape the sound of their beloved Beatles, and in failing, discovering a sound (via the legendary Ardent studios) unique to them, a kind of clean glam that, for me, chrysalises the sound of the romance of the 1970's and the feeling of being young, with all the excitement and frustration that brings.

Jewels in Chilton's song writing (with co-songwriter Chris Bell) cannon include 'Battle of El Goodo' which for my money is the greatest protest song ever recorded. The contrast between the the shiny, almost rustically relaxing music and lyrics with images of dead soldiers being zipped up in body bags is a devastating one. 'Thirteen' is a ballad about a young man trying to impress a young woman, which of course has been done a million times, but never so tender or honest or real. The band went on to influence a wide spectrum of artists such as Jeff Buckley, the Bangles, Teenage Fanclub, REM, Ryan Adams to name but a few.

For me personally, Big Star will always have a place in my heart for being one of the bands that i had to get out of my comfort zone to listen to. I felt a bit more grown up and musically wise after listening to Big Star. Once, i went swimming with some friends in lake. It was a beautiful summer day, and i was asked to bring a CD to listen to while the water was still and peaceful and reflected the sun on to our young bodies. The CD was, of course, Big Star.

Alex Chilton will be sadly missed.