Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Day I Discovered Alex Chilton

Last night while I was assembling a silly little mix of Irish rock for this blog, news surfaced that one of my musical heroes, Alex Chilton, had passed away. I didn't have the heart to write about it. Instead, I went to bed and thought about how I discovered his work. For those of a certain age, he was the guy from the Box Tops that had a monster hit with "The Letter" back in the '60s. For me (and probably quite a few of you if you were a teen in the '80s), I first heard his name with the Replacements tune "Alex Chilton" back on the 1987 album 'Pleased to Meet Me.' Unfortunately, I did not do my homework. I just liked the song.

Fast forward to 1993. I was working at a record store when a curious album was released under the band name Big Star. It was a live LP called 'Columbia.' I probably wouldn't have given it much thought, but then I read it was Chilton backed by power-pop darlings the Posies. Well, I liked the Posies, and I certainly knew Chilton's name from the Replacements. So, I opened up this new release and put it on in the store while I read more about the record.

What? Let me get this straight. Some kids at the college radio station in Columbia, Mo., just asked Chilton to come and play... and he agreed to do it? That's pretty cool. Only a few hundred people were there under the big striped circus tent on April 25, 1993, as he and the Posies ripped through the best of Big Star's catalog, as well as "I Am the Cosmos," from fellow Big Star mate Chris Bell's solo album of the same name. As I stood behind the counter listening, I began to get angry. If I hadn't been so lazy, I could have been listening to this beautiful power pop since at least '87! Lesson learned. Within a matter of weeks I had every Big Star album, and now I consider them one of my favorites.

This is certainly an unorthodox place to have begun my Big Star education, but I thank those kids from the University of Missouri who took a chance and, in turn, helped me discover one of the greats. Rest in peace, Mr. Chilton. If you haven't listened to Big Star, here is your chance to start at the same place I did:

Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (mp3)
Big Star - September Gurls (mp3)
Big Star - I Am the Cosmos (mp3)

The album is out of print, but you can still buy Big Star's 'Columbia' from sellers on Amazon for as little as $4.86. Also, here are details of Chilton's death from his hometown newspaper.

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