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Alex Chilton

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In a business that reinvents itself at every turn, Alex Chilton thrived for four decades with a three-fold career -- his early recordings with the Box Tops, the albums he did with Big Star in the mid-'70s and after the group re-formed with a new lineup in 1993, and the spate of cool but chaotic solo albums he recorded beginning in the late '70s. To some, he was a classic hitmaker from the '60s. To others, he was a genius British-style pop musician and songwriter. To yet another audience, he was a doomed and despairing artist who spent several years battling the bottle and delivering anarchistic records and performances while thumbing his nose at all pretenses of stardom, a quirky iconoclast whose influence spawned the likes of the Replacements and Teenage Fanclub. For a guy who grew up in and around Memphis, there wasn't anything remotely Southern about Alex Chilton. Although fully aware of his surroundings, and in tune spiritually with its most lunatic fringe aspects, Chilton's South had more to do with genteel Southern intellectualism than rednecks. Chilton started playing music in local high school combos, alternating between bass and rhythm guitar with a stray vocal thrown in, finally working himself up to professional status with a group called the DeVilles. After acquiring a manager with recording connections tied to Memphis hitmakers Chips Moman and Dan Penn, Alex and the group -- newly renamed the Box Tops -- recorded "The Letter," a record that sounded white enough to go to number one on the pop charts and yet black enough to track on R&B stations, too. Chilton was still in his teens, but wad already armed with a strong conception of how pop and R&B vocals should be handled. With the hand of vocal coach Dan Penn firmly in place, the hits kept coming, with "Cry Like a Baby," "Soul Deep," and "Sweet Cream Ladies" all showing visible chart action. The Box Tops were stars by AM radio singles standards, but tours in general opened Chilton's eyes to the world and what it had to offer. And what that world seemed to offer Chilton was a lot more artistic freedom than he had as nominal leader of the Box Tops. After a few errant solo sessions, Chilton found himself in Big Star with singer/guitarist Chris Bell. Their blend of ethereal harmonies, quirky lyrics, and Beatlesque song structures appeared to be radio-friendly, but distribution by their label, Ardent Records, spelled disaster. Bell left the band, and the label faltered. Chilton went into the studio with producer Jim Dickinson and attempted to put together the third Big Star album. These sessions, now known as Sister Lovers, are legendary in some quarters. Much has been read into this recording, primarily the myth that Chilton became a pop artist who, in the face of critical success but commercial apathy, suddenly rebelled against the system and became a "doomed artist on a collision course to Hell." Chilton himself dismissed all such romantic notions: "I think that to say that it's a fairly druggy sort of album that is the work of a confused person trying to find himself or find his creative direction is a fair statement about the thing." Around 1976, Chilton started producing a wild cross section of solo outings for various foreign and American independent labels, all featuring his love for obscure material, barbed-wire guitar playing, howling feedback, and bands that sounded barely familiar with the material. As he plugged into the bohemian punk rock scene of New York City, Chilton's anarchic approach and attitude fit the scene like a glove. In addition to his gigging and performing schedule, Chilton also produced the debut session by the Cramps, helping to land their deal with I.R.S. Records. He was becoming legendary enough to end up having a song by the Replacements named after him. Through the late '80s into the early '90s, he split his time between recording, gigging overseas plugging his latest release, and playing oldies shows in the U.S., reprising his old Box Tops hits. In the early '90s, Chilton -- relocated to New Orleans, his demons behind him -- began releasing a series of excellent solo albums on the newly revived Ardent label and even participated in a couple of reunions (of both Big Star and the Box Tops). A studio album from Big Star appeared in 2005, although it included only Jody Stephens from the original lineup. The band also played high-profile gigs in England and America, while in 2009, Rhino issued a definitive box set, Keep an Eye on the Sky. One year later, however, on the eve of 2010's SxSW festival, Chilton died in New Orleans of heart failure. ~ Cub Koda
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Stations Featuring
Alex Chilton


Albums by
Alex Chilton

Top Songs by
Alex Chilton

  1.   Song
    Popularity
  2.   Free Again
  3.   Jumpin' Jack Flash
  4.   Bangkok
  5.   Can't Seem to Make You Mine
  6.   Something Deep Inside
  7.   Nighttime
  8.   Just to See You
  9.   I Wish I Could Meet Elvis
  10.   Downtown
  11.   The EMI Song (Smile for Me)
  12.   Il Ribelle
  13.   New Girl In School
  14.   Come on Honey
  15.   Sugar, Sugar/I Got the Feelin'
  16.   No Sex
  17.   B-A-B-Y
  18.   Nice 'n' Easy
  19.   Baby Baby Baby
  20.   Shakin' the World
  21.   She Might Look My Way
  22.   Wouldn't It Be Nice
  23.   It Isn't Always That Easy
  24.   All We Ever Got from Them Was Pain
  25.   II Ribelle
  26.   Concert Outro
  27.   It's Too Late to Turn Back Now
  28.   Autumn in New York
  29.   Sonata, Grave
  30.   Claim to Fame
  31.   634-5789
  32.   Song Intro
  33.   Ah Ti Ta Ti Ta Ta
  34.   Intro
  35.   Goodnight My Love
  36.   Shiny Stockings
  37.   You've Got a Booger Bear Under There
  38.   Single Again
  39.   April in Paris
  40.   I Remember Mama
  41.   Oogum Boogum
  42.   Hook Me Up
  43.   Lipstick Traces
  44.   Raunchy
  45.   Come by Here
  46.   Don't Be a Drag
  47.   Trouble Don't Last
  48.   Forbidden Love
  49.   Dalai Lama
  50.   Let Me Get Close to You
  51.   Jailbait
  52.   Little G.T.O.
  53.   Thank You John
  54.   Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo/Tip On In
  55.   I Will Turn Your Money Green
  56.   Nobody's Fool
  57.   Make a Little Love
  58.   Thing for You
  59.   Take It Off
  60.   Underclass
  61.   Lost My Job
  62.   Stuff
  63.   Every Day as We Grow Closer by Big Star
  64.   The Happy Song
  65.   All I Really Want Is Money
  66.   You're Lookin' Good
  67.   Boplexity
  68.   You Don't Have To Go
  69.   What's Your Sign Girl
  70.   Sick and Tired
  71.   Jesus Christ
  72.   All of the Time
  73.   (Every Time I) Close My Eyes
  74.   Take Me Home and Make Me Like It
  75.   September Gurls
  76.   My Rival
  77.   The Letter
  78.   In the Street
  79.   There Will Never Be Another You
  80.   Guantanamerika
  81.   Never Found a Girl
  82.   If You Would Marry Me Babe
  83.   You's a Viper
  84.   Devil Girl
  85.   It's Your Funeral
  86.   Summertime Blues
  87.   Don't Stop
  88.   Don't Know Anymore
  89.   I'm So Tired, Pt. 1 & 2
  90.   Paradise
  91.   Walk Don't Run
  92.   Every Day as We Grow Closer/Funky National
  93.   Way Out West
  94.   Volare
  95.   Singer Not the Song
  96.   Back of a Car
  97.   O My Soul