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

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 / Can't Seem to Make You Mine

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

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

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


Unknown said…
Thanks alot for all the "Bach's Bottom/Singer Not The Song" info. I'm kicking myself pretty hard these days as I used to have the Line CD version and I ended up selling it off for reasons to stupid to recall. I've heard some pretty negative comments about the 1993 version. How different are they to your ears? Do you have a preference?
Rarebird Nine said…
Hi Michael. On the 1993 version, the producer Jon Tiven polished up five of the tracks: the first three plus "I'm So Tired" and "Singer Not The Song". I'm guessing that Tiven was trying to make them sound more like Big Star songs, which he succeeded about halfway at accomplishing. In my view, the remix of "I'm So Tired" is far superior to the Line CD version. The differences in the other four tracks are somewhat less significant. For example, version 1 of "Take Me Home" sounds a bit more cohesive, and Chilton's voice sounds slightly filtered on "Singer Not The Song". One drawback of the 1993 version is that there is obvious inconsistency caused by some tracks being refurbished more than others. Those who were first familiar with the Line version seem to generally prefer it to the 1993 version. And it goes without saying that purists will want to search out the Line version. Thanks for visiting...Rarebird.
slim tim slide said…
Interesting post - I was actually looking for a download of the razor & tie release, I already have the Line vinyl which I have always loved and considered vastly under-rated in Chiltons canon. Having heard so many stories about Chiltons dislike of Tiven I am not surprised to see that what I have been missing is just later tarting up of old tracks, a disservice to a great artist though I'd still be interested to hear them. I had hoped there might be genuine out-takes, oh well.