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