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LPs from the Attic: Alex Chilton — 1970

April 5, 2010

LPs from the Attic: Alex Chilton — 1970 (Ardent Records; recorded 1970, released 1996[!]

Alex went to Memphis…smug in his ways, big in his day….No one knows you quite like I do. You’re so you. “Guardian Angel”, The Jayhawks

Why do I take this kind of thing as hard as I do? I was going to say “I didn’t even know the guy,” but you and I both know that isn’t true. I’ve probably spent more time with Alex in the last five years than I have with you. Sadly. –Jay St. Orts to T. Stump, March 18, 2010

Many beautiful, moving words have been written since Alex “Our Beatle” Chilton died. I’ll go ahead and say right now that I don’t think I can add such pretty notes to this sorrowful chorus, as much as I wish I could. What I can do is what few music critics or entertainment journalists have done in the preceding weeks: talk about Chilton’s early solo studio effort, in between the Big Star (hugely influential, overlooked in their heyday) and Box Tops (challenged Brits for chart position during height of Invasion) stories that have been mined, if not to death, then at least a moribund familiarity.

Chilton’s Ardent Studios release 1970 isn’t a lost masterwork by any stretch. In fact, it’s pretty loose and seems to have no underlying theme or cohesive element. Chilton may have aimed for that, given his constraining experiences in the Box Tops. Chilton could be hard to know and hard to get along with at times, but he clearly didn’t benefit fom his tenure in the Tops—or from chain-smoking all night to achieve the time-worn voice that growls out “The Letter”—the way he could and should have.

1970 isn’t chart-oriented pop-rock, hazy psychedelia, white-boy blooz, gentle country-rock, contempo covers, or edgy power-pop. It’s a rewarding (if unfocused) mixture of all of these things, with only a few unremarkable tracks: the cover tunes. The Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Sugar Sugar / I Got The Feelin’ (Heavy Medley) stand out as being a bit below the bar and only of interest to the hardcore completists (of which I am probably one). The rest are fair-to-excellent Chilton tracks that clearly show part of the creative spark that would see a completed Big Star debut within a short time of the 1970 sessions. From the countryish honk of “I Wish I Could Meet Elvis” to the love-poem pop of “Every Day As We Grow Closer,” Chilton was clearly a stylistic wanderer who wanted to leave no stone unturned in his exploration of Southern music.

Southern music has lost a distinct voice. I didn’t know him, but he was a friend of mine. Tonight, I’ll go home, grab my guitar, and head to my back porch. You sang for me, Alex. I’ll help sing you back home after all.

Track list:

  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’ (Heavy Medley)

* Recommended

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