Alex Chilton - post-Big Star solo work

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Andrew J, Oct 17, 2020.

  1. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    Was watching an interview with Alex Chilton at the Columbia University reunion of Big Star in 93 and feel it pretty much sums up his attitude to revisiting material that he's most acclaimed for.

    People ask him to sign Big Star records and to one he says, 'sure just keep buying them and I'll keep signing them', He clearly wasn't keen on talking about the band, and not sure how into playing Big Star reunion gigs he was. He knew it was paying the bills.

    When I saw their set at Reading festival around a year later, it felt like he was really going through the motions. Pretty sure it was Jody Stephens who kept those reformation gigs going.
    .
    But what of his solo career? It can hardly be said to be firing on all cylinders. He put out albums heavy with cover versions. Beyond the divisive and chaotic Like Flies on Sherbert, some of which I think is great, there isn't generally much discussion of his solo stuff. He was mainly known for producing The Cramps than anything else since then, but I still enjoy listening to him do his solo covers.

    What do others think. Do you go further than Sister Lovers and Bangkok?

     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2020
  2. hhjack

    hhjack Forum Resident

    Location:
    Oak Park, IL
    What about pre Big Star? The compilation album Free Again: The "1970" Sessions released on Omnivore is fantastic and contains perhaps his best song "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain".

    As for post Big Star, his work on Ork Records is wonderful, as well. As for his later work, while not up to his artistic heights, contains some fun stuff that's worth revisiting.
     
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  3. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    I like that a lot too. He still had that earlier throaty voice on it, as with the Box Tops, and I think the general ambiance and vibe of those sessions is great.

    As I remember, there are 2 versions of these sessions, and the one you mention seems to be the better.
     
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  4. Trashman

    Trashman Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    The Omnivore release of the "1970" sessions is more complete, with alternate versions of some songs made available, plus it includes songs that the previous version omitted, including the "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain."
     
  5. Trashman

    Trashman Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    I truly enjoy all phases of Chilton's career. I love the Box Tops and Big Star stuff. But I also really enjoy the solo years. In many ways, I feel the solo years were a more authentic reflection of the type of music that made him happy... especially in the years after he cleaned up. In the Box Tops, we was recording what the producers thought he should do. In Big Star, he often deferred to Chris Bell, who had the main vision for the band. As a solo artist, Alex played what made him happy, even if it wasn't what people wanted or expected from him.

    Having seen him live many times, I really enjoyed watching him play the music that made him happy. At first, I was just another guy who wanted him to play Big Star songs. But I eventually ended up appreciating what he was playing... to the point where his musical tastes started to rub off onto me. Plus, he was a highly underrated guitar player who was a pleasure to watch live.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing the documentary on Alex that is in the works. While it will cover the Box Tops and Big Star years, it will also be heavily focused on his solo years. I think more people will get an appreciation for where he was coming from once they see the film.
     
  6. muzzer

    muzzer Forum Resident

    Location:
    London
    Listed as being on Big Beat, correct?
     
  7. palisantrancho

    palisantrancho Forum Resident

    I love pre-Big Star. The Box Tops albums have some of my favorite songs. I pretty much stop at Like Flies On Sherbert, but would listen or give anything he ever did a chance. I just haven't found much I like in his later solo years. I'm always tempted t0 buy his solo albums when I see them, but then remember I don't really care for them. I like the Feudalist Tarts album cover. I'm not a big fan of his vocals in the 80s and 90s. His voice was so great in the Box Tops and Big Star while being completely different from each other.

    I went to see him live in the 90s and was mostly familiar with The Box Tops albums. He came out and I wasn't even sure if I was at the right concert. This is the guy who sang on those Box Tops albums? I was confused and a bit disappointed. The show was good and he played great guitar, but it wasn't what I was expecting. This was before internet and I didn't even know what he would look like. A few years later he toured with The Box Tops, so of course I went. I thought maybe his rough soul voice would make an appearance for some of those songs. I was wrong. I love Alex, but it was embarrassing. It was like bad karaoke on a cruise ship. I'm still a huge fan of everything he did in the 60s and 70s.
     
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  8. Jellis77

    Jellis77 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Brighton
    Pre Big Star solo, the Box Tops, Big Star, post Big Star solo, his recordings with Tav Falco’s Panther Burns - it’s all great.

    I have pretty much everything I have been a major Chilton head for over 30 years.

    High Priest, Cliches, A Man Called Destruction,
    Feudalist Tarts, Black List, Lost Decade - major recommendations.
     
  9. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    Also the one whose title got changed for the US!

    His guitar is great on this

     
  10. Lemon Curry

    Lemon Curry (A) Face In The Crowd

    Location:
    Mahwah, NJ
    Big Alex Chilton fan here. Box Tops, Big Star, some early solo stuff, even some Panther Burns stuff is interesting.

    I think though that his recorded work later on is less than satisfying. He really was an artist who got ground up by the music business, and I think what was left of him was best enjoyed in a live setting at that point. He wanted to play what he liked, and lost the desire to create his own material. Why bother? There was nothing but disasters in the past down that road.
     
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  11. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    It's understandable.
     
  12. tequeyoyo3000

    tequeyoyo3000 Forum Resident

    Location:
    maracaibo, vzla
    I think he considered his songwriting from 70-75 as experimenting with traditional guitar heavy pop and acoustic singer-songwriter kinda stuff. One that was out of his system he lost interest in songwriting.

    He stil was very much into music, mostly as a working musician but also favoring obscure r&b tracks. He lived playing what he wanted.

    From what I can tell from what Ken Stringfellow has said is that Alex considered Big Star a failed experiment, he had no interest in revisiting that style of song, and he refused to play most of the songs from Third. But that for most of the reunion years he was well-behaved, professional and enjoyed doing the gigs.
     
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  13. babyblue

    babyblue Pactches Pal!

    Location:
    Pacific NW
    I think the High Priest album is a late career highlight. Chilton fans should also check out the Carmaig DeForest album I Shall Be Released which Alex produced and plays guitar all over. Omnivore also recently reissued it with a bunch of bonus tracks.
     
  14. Chuckee

    Chuckee Forum Resident

    Location:
    Upstate, NY, USA
    Pretty sure I saw Panther Burns, didn't know much about them at the time, kind of 50s sounding.
     
  15. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    Haven't heard this, thanks I'll check it out.
     
  16. vamborules

    vamborules Forum Resident

    Location:
    CT
    I personally love Set aka Loose Shoes...

    All covers and a little on the raw side but still a great and very listenable album.

     
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  17. Collapsed Lung

    Collapsed Lung Forum Resident

    Location:
    New York, NY
    Like Flies on Sherbert is a stone cold masterpiece that continues to confound and enthrall in equal measure. There's nothing else like it...I can't claim to get inside his head, but from what I understand Chilton was obsessed with the fine line between mistake and intention -- how and what would you play if your reach exceeded your grasp. While it is something of a sonic aberration, it continues Chilton's lifelong streak of willfully defying the expectations of him.

    The problem is that the original (superior) Peabody Jim Dickinson mix is hard to get a hold of. They only pressed 500 or so of the original LPs, and those now trade for big bucks (my copy has some gnarly water damage to the sleeve, but the vinyl is in good shape). There was also a great Peabody CD with four bonus tracks, but apparently that has gotten scarce now as well. The more common German Aura pressing has the inferior Chilton-supervised mix... I feel like it's a record the world will be coming to terms with for a long, long, long time...

    Aside from Flies, I find it hard to get genuinely excited about his solo stuff...some is charming, some is capable, it's almost all enjoyable, but none of it gets under my skin in quite the same way.
     
  18. Lemon Curry

    Lemon Curry (A) Face In The Crowd

    Location:
    Mahwah, NJ
    I had no idea a Dickinson mix existed. Are there any links to any tracks on YouTube, etc?
     
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  19. Collapsed Lung

    Collapsed Lung Forum Resident

    Location:
    New York, NY
    Forum resident @TeddyB summarized it thusly way back in 2006:

    The recent Peabody [CD, 1998] version features an noticibly [sic] different mix and slightly different track listing than any previously released on CD, one originally prepared by Jim Dickinson for a limited release of 500 LP's back in '79 or '80 on Sid Selvidge's Peabody Records, which was some sort of vanity imprint for Sid and his friends in Memphis. IIRC, Alex had issues with Dickinson's mix and made changes, and it is Alex's mix that has been featured in all releases worldwide both vinyl and digital ever since.

    For me, Dickinson's version is preferable, though some may find it less anarchic, as it hangs together a bit more musically while retaining the semi-chaotic spirit of the performances. One assumes Alex, fresh from producing The Cramps and session work with Panther Burns, wanted to get out a little further on the dangerous edge. A rough analogy could be made with the self-titled third Velvet Underground album, Dickinson's version of Flies comparable to Val Valentin's mix of the Velvets in its nod to professionalism, or conventionality and Alex's remix comparable to Lou Reed's as an artist's more extreme vision of their own album. However, Dickinson's mix can hardly be called conventional.

    ...the Alex-approved version, with a different mix and different track listing, is what was released by Aura Records and seems to be the version that most collectors have, since the Peabody version was limited to 500 copies and apparently Peabody owner Sid Selvidge couldn't GIVE them away back in the day. He gave drummer Ross Johnson ten copies just to thin his inventory...

    No idea if there are YouTube links out there, but if it is taken from the Peabody LP or CD, it is most likely the Dickinson-approved mix/sequence. Other versions on various gray-market European labels, who knows...I've never done an A/B comparison myself...
     
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  20. Lemon Curry

    Lemon Curry (A) Face In The Crowd

    Location:
    Mahwah, NJ
    I of course raced over to Discogs after your original post, and they list the original Peabody LP and later CD release. Oh, to get my hands on a copy of that CD! But none are for sale at any price. Nor are any of the Peabodys on Ebay.

    The quick way to note the Peabody is the tracklist, which is in different order. I noticed My Rival is third on the Peabody - that's how I'm detecting it.
     
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  21. Gaslight

    Gaslight ⎧⚍⎫⚑

    Location:
    Northeast USA
    I have a heavy nostalgic appreciation for High Priest.
     
  22. Collapsed Lung

    Collapsed Lung Forum Resident

    Location:
    New York, NY
    ...none on Amazon, either (it's also confusing to tell which edition you are buying on Amazon). I'm a little surprised: The CD was fairly well-distributed back in its day. I would consider emailing the Shangri-La and Goner Records stores in Memphis: They occasionally get used copies of the CD and the LP, and they don't often list them on their websites. I got my original Peabody vinyl copy from Goner back in April at a very fair price, all by messaging them via Instagram. Great shops, well worth supporting right now.

    Same here...it's probably my favorite of his latter R&B/covers phase. It's a really fun record. I saw his trio a fair amount around this time, too, and the shows were usually very entertaining. I remember during one show (at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta), someone screamed "Play 'The Letter'!" and Chilton glared up and said, "Play 'The Letter'?? WHY??" He did do "When My Baby's Beside Me" at this show, which I remember being a little surprising, as it was pre-Big Star reforming and he didn't seem to have much interest in that part of his past...also, the opening act for the show was Hootie and the Blowfish!
     
  23. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    Despite his reputation and the ram-shackle nature of those initial post-Big Star releases, I actually think Alex Chilton is a fantastic role model for any aspiring musician or artist. The posthumous Electricity by Candlelight, was a recording of a New York Gig where the electricity blacked out, and he still performed with a borrowed acoustic guitar.

    What it lacks in sound quality (someone recorded it on some kind of cassette deck), it makes up for in spirit and ambiance with a lot of humour and impro. It is light years from the empty and chintzy Rod Stewart doing the American songbook, or those bands who have to have everything rehearsed in order to play. His choice of songs is great and the whole setting, one of relative humility should be a lesson to any wannabe singer songwriter with a youtube channel.
     
  24. Andrew J

    Andrew J Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    South East England
    This is what this Trouser Press article says:

    The 1980 British edition on Aura apparently utilized the wrong master tapes; the original mix from the tiny Peabody release, most widely available on a German Line issue, is far superior.
     
  25. I like “1970”. ‘Flies” is a mess. Most of the rest of his solo career is as well for me.
     

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