Spotlight Album Review #17

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Contrary to what the Replacements said in their song "Alex Chilton", there probably were never "children by the million" waiting for Alex Chilton, except maybe during the late-1960's heyday of the Box Tops. Chilton gained temporary fame as the gruff-voiced teenage vocalist of that blue-eyed soul group. The Box Tops are best remembered for their 1967 #1 smash "The Letter", which was one of seven singles that placed the band in the American Top 40. After Chilton walked out on that commercial enterprise in 1970, he helped form the Memphis-based power pop band Big Star. Big Star were revered by critics, but they failed commercially, only to acquire a fervent cult following during the decades that followed their early-'70's existence. Big Star's sound was far removed from the popular r&b sound of the Box Tops; their main influences appeared to be the Beatles and the Byrds, and the once gruff-voiced Chilton began to bear more vocal resemblance to Roger McGuinn than to any soul singer. After Big Star's 1974 demise, Chilton had a most obscure and sporadic career as a solo artist. He released peculiar indie recordings that mostly contained covers of largely unknown songs from various genres. He also frequently participated in live Big Star "reunions", which eventually led to the creation of a 2005 Big Star studio album called In Space. That album turned out to be Chilton's studio swan song. In March 2010, Chilton died from an apparent heart attack at the age of 59.

In between the breakup of the Box Tops and the formation of Big Star, Chilton played the Greenwich Village folk circuit, and recorded a set of studio tracks in Memphis. Some of those tracks turned up on an album called Alex Chilton's Lost Decade in 1985, but a more thorough collection titled 1970 was released in 1996. (Contrary to the title of the CD, the tracks were actually recorded in 1969, while Chilton was still a member of the Box Tops). The 13 tracks on 1970 were intended to launch Chilton's solo career shortly after his time in the Box Tops, but a record distribution deal was never finalized, and the album was left sitting on the shelf after Chilton became involved with Big Star. The master tapes were rediscovered in the '90's by Terry Manning, the album's producer and multi-instrumentalist, who avoided the temptation to add modern overdubs to the contemporary mix. 1970 was reissued in 2012 in an expanded edition titled Free Again: The "1970" Sessions. The album is worthwhile for anyone who seeks the missing link between the Box Tops and Big Star.

11 of the 13 tracks on 1970 were written or co-written by Chilton, who had done little of the writing for the Box Tops. Four of his compositions made it onto the last two Box Tops albums; two of them, "I Can Dig It" and "The Happy Song", are reprised here. Chilton often sings in his Box Tops voice on this album, and it may have been the last time he ever sang in that voice. "Something Deep Inside" sounds like a great lost Box Tops tune, and it had the potential to be a hit. A few other selections could have easily become Big Star songs, particularly "Every Day As We Grow Closer" and "The EMI Song (Smile For Me)". The latter song is an endearing ballad which Chilton sings in his higher register. Of course, 1970 also has much in common with Chilton's other solo works. "Come On Honey", "I Wish I Could Meet Elvis", and the boisterous Stones and Archies covers would fit in on some of his more esoteric albums. And "Free Again", a song which turned up in much rawer form on two other Chilton releases, is given a fully realized country-rock feeling here. Another thing that 1970 shares with other Chilton solo efforts is a certain stylistic confusion, as it wavers between spontaneous hippie rock ("I Can Dig It", "All I Really Want Is Money"), and more presentable pop. No matter. 1970 is a surprisingly good "lost" album from a major talent, and it makes one wonder what kind of career Chilton may have had if it were released in 1970.

Note: In January 2012, the album was reissued by the Omnivore label as Free Again: The "1970" Sessions. The CD edition of the reissue contained eight bonus tracks, including two demos, alternate mixes of five songs, and the previously unissued track "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain". Two alternate versions of that track were featured on a 7-inch single (Omnivore OVS7-14) packaged with a vinyl edition of the 2012 reissue. The single was limited to 500 copies; the first 1,500 copies of the vinyl LP were pressed in clear vinyl.

Track Listing:

1. Come On Honey
2. I Can Dig It
3. Just To See You
4. Free Again
5. Something Deep Inside
6. All I Really Want Is Money
7. I Wish I Could Meet Elvis
8. The Happy Song
9. Every Day As We Grow Closer
10. The EMI Song (Smile For Me)
11. Jumpin' Jack Flash
12. Funky National
13. Sugar Sugar/I Got The Feelin'

Reviews of other Alex Chilton solo albums


Other Spotlight Album Reviews:

#1: Sigur Ros - "Von" (1997)

#2: Various Artists - "Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea" (1981)

#3: Gerry Goffin - "It Ain't Exactly Entertainment" (1973)

#4: Graces - "Perfect View" (1989)

#5: Genesis - "Calling All Stations" (1997)

#6: hindu love gods (1990)

#7: Various Artists - "Message To Love: The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970" (1996)

#8: Distractions - "Nobody's Perfect" (1980)

#9: Deconstruction (1994)

#10: Juicy Groove - "First Taste" (1978)

#11: Emmylou Harris - "Gliding Bird" (1969)

#12: Various Artists - "Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett" (1987)

#13: Candy - "Whatever Happened To Fun..." (1985)

#14: RTZ - "Return To Zero" (1991)

#15: Klark Kent - "Kollected Works" (1995)

#16: Various Artists - "Rainy Day" (1984)

#18: Feist - "Monarch Lay Your Jewelled Head Down" (1999)

#19: Attila (1970)

#20: Slipknot - "Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat." (1996)

#21: Eyes Adrift (2002)

#22: Stoney and Meatloaf (1971)

#23: Elliott Murphy - "Aquashow" (1973)

#24: Evanescence - "Origin" (2000)