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)