Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Alex Chilton “Live In Anvers” (2004)

The last Alex Chilton solo title released during his lifetime was Live In Anvers, which was released in France in 2004 and in the U.S. in 2005. Live In Anvers captures Chilton during a January 2004 concert at De Nachten in Belgium. Backed by a trio of musicians from that region, Chilton performs two songs from his distant past (“Bangkok” and Big Star’s “In The Street”), four covers from his last two studio albums, and six other cover songs, spanning such genres as jazz, r&b, classical, and Italian pop. (“Ah Ti Ta Ti Ta Ta” is better known as “Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta” by Ernie K-Doe). Chilton is in fine form throughout, especially when you consider that he only had one rehearsal session with his pick-up band. The tone is generally mellow, and Chilton sounds quite comfortable performing in such spontaneous fashion. Particularly effective are Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Hook Me Up”, Chilton’s own “Bangkok” (which he tells the audience is a song he created when he was “a drunken hooligan” in the 1970’s), and Adriano Celentano’s “Il Ribelle”. The album ends beautifully with Chilton’s heartbreaking guitar-based rendition of “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now” by Brothers Cornelius and Sister Rose. That song – and Live In Anvers as a whole – serves as a poignant elegy to Chilton’s career.

Alex Chilton “Live In Anvers” (Last Call 3093182) 2004, (Rykodisc 10808) 2005

Track Listing:

1. Intro
2. Ah Ti Ta Ti Ta Ta
3. Song Intro
4. In The Street
5. Song Intro
6. 634-5789
7. Hook Me Up
8. Il Ribelle
9. Song Intro
10. Bangkok
11. Shiny Stockings
12. Claim to Fame
13. Sonata, Grave
14. Autumn in New York
15. Sick and Tired
16. It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now
17. Concert Outro

Alex Chilton's '90's solo albums

Continuing our focus on the late Alex Chilton’s obscure and rare solo recordings, we now turn our attention to the three solo albums that Chilton recorded in the ‘90’s. Those albums are Clichés (1994), A Man Called Destruction (1995), and Set (2000). (Chilton also released an album called 1970 -- which was recorded that year -- during the '90's. A review of that album is here).

Clichés is a collection of 12 gentle acoustic numbers performed in the studio by Chilton alone. (Although it has been reported that the album was recorded in a single evening, Chilton was quoted as saying that it actually took a number of sessions). Eleven of them are covers of old songs originating from the 1920’s through 1950’s, from such performers as Nina Simone, Nat King Cole, Chet Baker, and Ray Charles. There’s also a brief instrumental based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Gavotte”. Chilton does well with all of the selections, and seems more focused on his singing and playing than he had in many a moon. Clichés is decidedly not the average Box Tops or Big Star fan’s cup of tea, but the warm and intimate approach reveals a side of Chilton’s talent and musical interests that he had never shown before. Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song” and Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love For Me” are the tracks with the most immediacy.

By contrast, Chilton recorded A Man Called Destruction with the help of several supporting musicians, and placed six originals among the covers. (A Man Called Destruction was Chilton’s only post-1989 solo album to feature new Chilton compositions; two of them – “It’s Your Funeral” and “Boplexity” – are instrumentals). Not surprisingly, the Chilton compositions generally tend toward the type of rockabilly sound that was common on Chilton’s solo albums. The exception is “It’s Your Funeral”, which is derived from Frédéric Chopin’s funeral march. Although Chilton still does not acknowledge his past exploits with Big Star, his rendition of Daniel Pearson’s 1978 r&b ballad “What’s Your Sign Girl” could pass for a sequel to Big Star’s “September Gurls”. He sounds as lively as he ever did on his cover of Adriano Celentano’s fast-paced Italian classic “Il Ribelle”. And his cover of “New Girl In School”, a song Brian Wilson penned for Jan and Dean in 1964, is as charming as it is anachronistic. For an album that roams all over the musical map, A Man Called Destruction is a remarkably stable set. It’s one of Chilton’s more accessible solo works, though it still won’t appeal to all tastes.

The same can probably be said for Set, which Chilton recorded during a single evening in February 1999 with bassist Ron Easley and drummer Richard Dworkin. (The album was released that year in Europe under the vulgar title Loose Shoes and Tight P****, which is based on an obscene remark reportedly made by Earl Butz in the ‘70’s). It covers some of the same ground as Clichés with its covers of old jazz selections (even containing a different, snappier version of Chet Baker’s “There Will Never Be Another You”), and also features covers of r&b tunes from later decades (the newest one being Ollie Nightingale’s unique 1996 number “You’ve Got a Booger Bear Under There”), and Gary Stewart’s 1978 country song “Single Again”. The use of a basic rock combo and a one-take recording technique give the songs a bar-band-like spontaneity. Of course, this was the type of spontaneity that Chilton was comfortable with – and excelled at – by this time. For example, his version of Brenton Wood’s “Oogum Boogum” sounds surprisingly good for a one-take recording. Chilton’s vocals sometimes sound strained, but he is in good form here as a guitarist. There will indeed never be another Alex Chilton, and Set is another good souvenir to keep as a reminder of this talented, independent musician who did things his own way.

Alex Chilton “Clichés” (Ardent 7-1506-2) 1994

Track Listing:

1. My Baby Just Cares For Me
2. Time After Time
3. All Of You
4. Gavotte
5. Save Your Love For Me
6. Let’s Get Lost
7. Funny (But I Still Love You)
8. Frame For The Blues
9. The Christmas Song
10. There Will Never Be Another You
11. Somewhere Along The Way
12. What Was

Alex Chilton “A Man Called Destruction” (Ardent 7-1507-2) 1995

Track Listing:

1. Sick and Tired
2. Devil Girl
3. Lies
4. It’s Your Funeral
5. What’s Your Sign Girl
6. Il Ribelle
7. You Don’t Have To Go
8. Boplexity
9. New Girl In School
10. You’re Lookin’ Good
11. Don’t Know Anymore
12. Don’t Stop

Alex Chilton “Set” (Bar/None AHAON-110) 2000

Track Listing:

1. Never Found A Girl
2. Lipstick Traces
3. Hook Me Up
4. Oogum Boogum
5. You’s A Viper
6. I Remember Mama
7. April In Paris
8. There Will Never Be Another You
9. Single Again
10. You’ve Got A Booger Bear Under There
11. Shiny Stockings
12. Goodnight My Love

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Alex Chilton - "High Priest" (1987) and "Black List" (1989)

Continuing our focus on the late Alex Chilton’s obscure and rare solo recordings, we now turn our attention to the 1987 album High Priest and the 1989 EP Black List.

After releasing two EPs in as many years in the mid-‘80’s, Chilton continued his creative momentum with a full-length album in 1987. High Priest was an impressively eclectic set, venturing into such diverse genres as r&b (“Take It Off”, Lowell Fulsom’s “Make A Little Love”), jazz (“Forbidden Love”), old-fashioned pop (the King/Goffin composition “Let Me Get Close To You”), rockabilly (“Dalai Lama”, the Bill Justis instrumental “Raunchy”), Delta blues (“Trouble Don’t Last”), and gospel (“Come By Here”). Somehow, the whole thing has a surprising consistency, possibly an unexpected benefit of Chilton’s no-frills production. Chilton’s choice of covers on this album is also surprising, not only because he does a seemingly respectful rendition of “Volaré”, but also because he covers a song by his old Box Tops mentor Dan Penn; could he have been trying to communicate to Penn that he was indeed “Nobody’s Fool”? Chilton originals such as “Thing For You” and the jokey “Dalai Lama” showed that there was still spark in his songwriting. High Priest was Chilton’s most solid and satisfying work since Big Star’s breakup.

The French CD version of High Priest (New Rose ROSE 130CD) contained four bonus tracks which showed Chilton covering even more musical territory. His original song “Junkyard” is a tense rockabilly ballad. His lively covers of Charlie Rich’s “Lonely Weekends” and the 1921 Eddie Cantor hit “Margie” further display Chilton’s firm grasp of music history. Best of all is his genuinely haunting rendition of Porter Wagoner’s “Rubber Room”.

Chilton’s 1989 EP Black List was a six-song set originally released only in France. It’s basically a continuation of High Priest, as Chilton gives us another entertaining lesson in music history, covering Ronnie and the Daytonas’ ‘60’s hot-rod tune “Little GTO”, Frank Sinatra’s “Nice ‘N’ Easy”, and the 1928 Furry Lewis blues classic “I Will Turn Your Money Green”. But Chilton’s three originals are equally noteworthy: the perceptive “Guantanamerika”, the sleazy “Jailbait”, and the slinky “Baby Baby Baby”.

Note: In 1994, the Razor & Tie label released the 2-on-1 CD High Priest/Black List (Razor & Tie RE 2033), which contained three out of four of the bonus tracks from the French CD version of High Priest. Unfortunately, “Rubber Room” was omitted. On the positive side, the Razor & Tie CD did contain a Black List bonus track called “Magnetic Field”, a fast-paced and accessible rock and roll song.

Alex Chilton “High Priest” (Big Time 6047-1-B) 1987

Track Listing:

1. Take It Off
2. Let Me Get Close To You
3. Dalai Lama
4. Volaré
5. Thing For You
6. Forbidden Love
7. Make A Little Love
8. Trouble Don’t Last
9. Don’t Be A Drag
10. Nobody’s Fool
11. Come By Here
12. Raunchy

Bonus tracks on French CD release:

13. Junkyard
14. Lonely Weekends
15. Margie
16. Rubber Room

Alex Chilton “Black List” EP (New Rose ROSE 194CD) 1989

Track Listing:

1. Little GTO
2. Guantanamerika
3. Jailbait
4. Baby Baby Baby
5. Nice ‘N’ Easy
6. I Will Turn Your Money Green
7. Magnetic Field (American CD bonus track)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Alex Chilton - "Feudalist Tarts" (1985)

Continuing our focus on the late Alex Chilton’s obscure and rare solo recordings, we now turn our attention to the 1985 EP Feudalist Tarts and the 1986 EP No Sex. Both of these EPs marked a welcome return to work, and return to relevance, for this talented musician.

In the early ‘80’s, Chilton moved from Memphis to New Orleans, and took an interest in that city’s jazz-oriented music scene. After a six-year absence from studio recording, Chilton reappeared revitalized on the six-song EP Feudalist Tarts in 1985. Gone were the sloppy devil-may-care tendencies of Bach’s Bottom and Like Flies On Sherbert. The older and wiser Alex Chilton showed remarkable restraint on these six jazz-influenced numbers, crooning confidently and playing rockabilly-style guitar amid tasteful horn arrangements. Although it was clear that Chilton had mellowed out considerably, the song “Lost My Job” showed just enough attitude to prove that he hadn’t lost his edge.

In fact, that edge manifested itself with a vengeance on his next EP. The title track of the three-song No Sex was a brutally frank reaction to the spread of the AIDS virus in the ‘80’s. The other two Chilton originals (“Under Class” and “Wild Kingdom”) also percolate with social anxiety. The horn sound is still present on these tracks, but it is deemphasized in favor of a basic (if old-fashioned) guitar/bass/drums rock sound.

Note: In 1994, the Razor & Tie label released the 2-on-1 CD Feudalist Tarts/No Sex (Razor & Tie RE 2032), which contained all nine tracks from the two EPs. All nine tracks were also included on the French compilation CD called Stuff (New Rose ROSE 68CD) in 1987.

Alex Chilton “Feudalist Tarts” EP (Big Time BTA 005) 1985

Track Listing:

1. Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo – Tip On In
2. Stuff
3. B-A-B-Y
4. Thank You John
5. Lost My Job
6. Paradise

Alex Chilton “No Sex” EP (Big Time 6013-1-BD) 1986

Track Listing:

1. No Sex
2. Under Class
3. Wild Kingdom

Friday, March 26, 2010

Alex Chilton - "Like Flies On Sherbert" (1979)

Continuing our focus on the late Alex Chilton’s obscure and rare solo albums, we now turn our attention to Like Flies on Sherbert, which turned out to be Chilton’s first full-length solo release in 1979. Chilton had a hard time getting his early solo work distributed, and this album turned out to be no exception. Like Flies On Sherbert was first released on a Memphis label called Peabody in 1979. Reportedly, only 500 copies of this first edition were printed. The following year, the album was re-released on the British label Aura, with one different track and different track sequencing. This edition supposedly used the wrong master tapes and had inferior sound quality.

Still, “sound quality” only makes so much difference in this case, because Like Flies On Sherbert is a colossal mess in any form. Everything about the album is technically inept: the singing, instrumentation, production (by Jim Dickinson), recording – everything! At the beginnings of many tracks, it sounds like a start button is being pressed on a tape recorder with low batteries. Clearly recorded during a troubled time in Chilton’s life, this willfully sloppy recording divides listeners between those who simply hear it as a bad album, and those who hear it as an enjoyably anarchic recording that shows the true spirit of rock and roll as it was originally meant to be. Count me among the naysayers. Although Chilton’s cover of Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz Across Texas” and his original “Hey! Little Child” have their ragged charms, most of Like Flies On Sherbert merely sounds like the work of clownish karaoke singers and amateur not-ready-for-bar-band musicians goofing off in a recording studio without any technical guidance. Those of us who know what Chilton was capable of can only wonder what the whole thing would have sounded like under better circumstances. Just because an album is intentionally bad, it doesn’t mean it’s any good – especially when we know that the artist has real and special talent.

The 2005 CD reissue of Like Flies On Sherbert on the French label Last Call contains five bonus tracks, two of which appeared on the original Peabody issue. One of those is an outlandishly incoherent cover of the Carter Family’s “No More The Moon Shines On Lorena”. Another is “Baron of Love, Part II”, an obnoxious four-minute psychobilly rant which is sung (so to speak) by its author Ross Johnson. Say what you will about the Aura-released version of the album; someone had good sense to leave those two tracks off it! The other three bonus tracks on the Last Call reissue include a restrained Chilton-penned rockabilly number called “Baby Doll”, and covers of two 1958 Allen Page songs: “She’s The One Who’s Got It”, and an instrumental version of “Stranded on a Dateless Night”. None of those three tracks are must-haves, but they are easily better than the tracks from the proper album.

Now…for a good set of sloppy rock and roll performances from Chilton, try the 1982 release Live in London, which was also released by the Aura label. Live in London was recorded in May 1980 at Dingwalls in London, England, with a backing trio that featured members of the Soft Boys (bassist Matthew Saligman and drummer Morris Windsor) and the Vibrators (guitarist Knox). The set list basically consists of five songs from Flies, four Big Star songs, one Box Tops classic, and a few other covers (including a version of “Stranded on a Dateless Night” which is not an instrumental). Chilton reportedly had little time to rehearse with this trio, but the relatively loose atmosphere is part of what makes this album fun. The Big Star songs, particularly the two from the Third album, are given surprisingly satisfying treatment here, even when Chilton flubs a lyric or two. An even bigger surprise: the songs from Sherbert are quite enjoyable in this setting. And it’s hard not to smile when you hear Chilton let loose on a hard-rockin’ rendition of “The Letter”. My advice: forget about Like Flies On Sherbert and instead search out Live in London to represent this time in Chilton’s history.

Alex Chilton “Like Flies On Sherbert” (Peabody P-104) 1979

Track Listing:

1. Baron of Love, Part II – (Johnson)
2. Girl After Girl – (Shelton)
3. My Rival – (Chilton)
4. No More The Moon Shines On Lorena – (Carter)
5. I’ve Had It – (Orbison/Wilson)
6. Rock Hard – (Chilton)
7. Waltz Across Texas – (Tubb)
8. Alligator Man – (Chance/Newman)
9. Hey! Little Child – (Chilton)
10. Hook or Crook – (Chilton)
11. Like Flies On Sherbert – (Chilton)

Alex Chilton “Like Flies On Sherbert” (re-release) (Aura AUL 710) 1980

Track Listing:

1. Boogie Shoes – (Casey/Finch)
2. My Rival – (Chilton)
3. Hey! Little Child – (Chilton)
4. Hook or Crook – (Chilton)
5. I’ve Had It – (Orbison/Wilson)
6. Rock Hard – (Chilton)
7. Girl After Girl – (Shelton)
8. Waltz Across Texas – (Tubb)
9. Alligator Man – (Chance/Newman)
10. Like Flies On Sherbert – (Chilton)

Alex Chilton “Live In London” (Aura AUL 723) 1982

Track Listing:

1. Bangkok
2. Tramp
3. In The Street
4. Hey Little Child
5. Nightime
6. Rock Hard
7. Alligator Man
8. The Letter
9. Train Kept A-Rollin’
10. Kanga Roo
11. My Rival
12. Stranded on a Dateless Night
13. September Gurls
14. No More The Moon Shines On Lorena

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alex Chilton's "Bach's Bottom" recordings

I was saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Alex Chilton last week. The former lead singer of the Box Tops and Big Star died on Wednesday, March 17, 2010 from an apparent heart attack at the age of 59. Chilton was scheduled to perform at the SXSW Festival with the revamped Big Star lineup. That evening turned into a tribute by various artists to Chilton and Big Star.

There probably isn’t much for me to say about the band Big Star that hasn’t already been said during the past seven days. However, I can refer you to my earlier posts about Big Star’s history, their 2005 studio album, and my web page about Chilton’s solo album 1970.

I want to use this blog to talk about Chilton’s obscure and mostly rare solo albums. With this post, I’ll start with Chilton’s 1975 recording which eventually came to be released under the title Bach’s Bottom.

In 1975, shortly after the demise of Big Star, Chilton attempted to record a solo album with producer Jon Tiven, whose main claim to fame at that time was as a music critic. Unfortunately, Chilton was heavily abusing drugs and alcohol at this point, and the 1975 recording sessions were chaotic in the extreme. Unlike the third and final Big Star album Third/Sister Lovers, which is widely considered a shambolic masterpiece, Bach’s Bottom is merely shambolic. For Chilton lovers, Bach’s Bottom provides a horrible fascination; for anyone else, it may be unlistenable.

The first time any of these recordings surfaced was in 1977, when a 5-song EP called Singer Not The Song was released on the New York punk label Ork Records. In 1980, those tracks and five more were released in Germany as a full-length album called Bach’s Bottom. (The title is a Box Tops pun. “Box bottom”, get it?). In 1993, Bach’s Bottom was released on CD in the U.S. with bonus tracks, and with some remixing and augmentation by Tiven.

The first three tracks (“Take Me Home”, “Every Time I Close My Eyes”, “All of the Time”) are decent pop songs that could have been very good under more disciplined conditions. Fans of Big Star will appreciate them, mainly because they will understand how good those songs should have been. (On the American CD, Tiven added a six-second guitar solo by Big Star’s Chris Bell to “All of the Time”, but you’ll miss it if you sneeze). Once you get beyond those tracks, you begin to hear just how troubled these sessions were. Sloppy versions of Chilton’s “Free Again” and “Jesus Christ” allow us to hear the mistakes, the false starts, and Chilton’s criticisms of his supporting players. Chilton comes off better with effective covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Singer Not The Song” and the Beatles’ “I’m So Tired”, the latter of which rings uncomfortably true. But Chilton shamelessly staggers through the endless second version of “Take Me Home”, and through his truly awful rendition of “Summertime Blues”. (The Singer Not The Song EP contained only a one-minute snippet of “Summertime Blues”; the version on Bach’s Bottom unfortunately lasted a minute-and-a-half longer).

The four bonus tracks on the American CD include Chilton’s debauched 1978 new wave single “Bangkok”, as well as its b-side: a hammily sung, enthusiastically played cover of the Seeds’ “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine”. The other two bonus tracks (“Walking Dead”, the third version of “Take Me Home”) were recorded in 1975, but not during the Tiven sessions. Chilton produced those two tracks and played all of the instruments himself, and he sounds like he was in a complete stupor while doing so.

The track listings for all of the Bach's Bottom-related releases are listed below. Some tracks were labeled differently on each release.

Alex Chilton “Singer Not The Song” EP (Ork 81978) 1977

Track Listing:

1. Free Again
2. Singer Not The Song
3. Take Me Home & Make Me Like It
4. All The Time
5. Summertime Blues

Alex Chilton “Bangkok” b/w “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine” (single) (Fun XX-1250) 1978

Track Listing:

a. Bangkok
b. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine

Alex Chilton “Bach’s Bottom” (German edition) (Line LLP 5081) 1980

Track Listing:

1. Take Me Home and Make Me Like It
2. Everytime I Close My Eyes
3. All of the Time
4. Oh Baby I’m Free (Part 1 & 2)
5. I’m So Tired (Part 1 & 2)
6. Free Again
7. Jesus Christ
8. Singer Not The Song
9. Summertime Blues
10. Take Me Home Again (Part 1 & 2)

Alex Chilton “Bach’s Bottom” (American edition) (Razor & Tie RE 2010) 1993

Track Listing:

1. Take Me Home And Make Me Like It (version 1)
2. (Every Time I) Close My Eyes (version 1)
3. All of the Time
4. Free Again (version 1)
5. I’m So Tired (pts. 1 + 2)
6. Free Again (version 2)
7. Jesus Christ
8. Singer Not The Song
9. Summertime Blues
10. Take Me Home And Make Me Like It (version 2)
11. (Every Time I) Close My Eyes (version 2)
12. Bangkok *
13. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine *
14. Walking Dead *
15. Take Me Home And Make Me Like It (version 3) *

* - bonus tracks produced by Alex Chilton