Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Memorium: Alex Chilton

Sadly as many already know, Alex Chilton of Big Star has passed on today. His death is sad news as his band was to reunite at SXSW this weekend for the first time in some time. Big Star has become a large part of my life. It marked an important time when I was fully delving into their albums. I was living in West Philadelphia at the time in a hole in the wall apartment and the bright sounds of Big Star's pop infused sounds really resonated for me. In honor of this great man and his excellent run in Big Star, here is my tribute. As I only have Big Star's three major albums, I will stick to those. I know them very well and the recordings mean a lot to me. Enjoy.

#1 Record (1972) Big Star's debut record, #1 Record, is a fantastic start to the power pop genre. After The Beatles break-up, the end of the flower generation and the sharpening of the teeth of bands like The Rolling Stones or the grandiosity of The Who, it seemed strange that Big Star would embrace a sound more akin to the late 60's then to the early 70's. Where some bands expanded and got bigger and the sound became huge, Big Star stripped it back down to the basics. A guitar jangle rocker like "Feel" would sound bloated in the hands of anyone else. Instead it's a luscious song filled with amazing harmonies, dazzling yet simple guitars and a falsetto cry of a lustful angel. "In The Street" is a stripped down arena rock track built for singing along. On the other hand, #1 Record has a lot of heart. "Thirteen" which was part of the Rock of Ages songs list, is a beautiful and timid infatuation song that is sweet and honest. Songs like "The India Song" with it's intricate flute sound could find itself on a Wes Anderson movie soundtrack. Other rockers like "When My Baby's Beside Me" and the rollicking "Don't Lie To Me" are just stellar classics that would herald the power pop movement and influence bands from The Cars to Weezer and solo artists like Beck, Jeff Buckley and Elliot Smith. There is no denying the impact of this record.

Radio City (1974) Very little changed from Big Star's debut and Radio City. Maybe a little reverb was added, but for the most part it's consistently good songwriting and great driving power pop. The opening track "O My Soul" is one of the more intricate Big Star songs for this time. It's structure is constantly changing, the reverb laden guitar parts are complex and the overall song structure is unique to most else in the Big Star catalog. The most famous song, "September Gurls" is a fantastic pop track that is a direct predecessor of much of the 90's alt rock movement, such as The Lemonheads or Teenage Fanclub. Heartfelt lyrics and simple guitar melodies make it a memorable track. "Life is White" and "Back of a Car" are stellar tracks as well with the former being one of my favorite. It has loads of harmonica and a great driving chorus. It's not a bad album by any stretch, but compared to the debut and their finale record, it lacks anything new to the table.

Third: Sister Lovers (1978) After another founding member left, Big Star took a long time in between albums here and Third: Sister Lovers. The result is a drastic departure in sound. Gone for the most part are the happy melodies and soaring harmonies and in their place is a dark and gloomy atmosphere. It's a beautiful record throughout but one rife with melancholy and darkness. A song like "Holocaust" is a raw odes with poetically dark lyrics about death and insignificance. Although there is an air of darkness, some beacons of hope come pouring through. A love song like "For You" filled with fantastic string arrangements and some great lyrics, care of drummer Jody Stephens, we see a little different side of where the band was at. "Kizza Me" is one of the most covered Big Star songs and one of Alex Chilton's finest songs. "Take Care" is a beautiful finale to the album and now with Alex's passing is a perfect track to say farewell to. The albums is haunting from start to finish but it is a must own record. Start to finish it's one of the most beautiful albums I've ever have listened to.

Here are the lyrics to "Take Care" and a video in honor of Alex Chilton. You will be missed dearly, but your music will live on.

Take care not to hurt yourself
Beware of the need for help
You might need too much
And people are such
Take care, please, take care
Some people read idea books
And some people have pretty looks
But if your eyes are wide
And all words aside
Take care, please, take care
This sounds a bit like goodbye
In a way it is I guess
As I leave your side
I've taken the air
Take care, please, take care
Take care, please, take care

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