Alex Chilton - "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain"

This past week, on January 10th, 2012, Alex Chilton’s 1970 album was reissued by the Omnivore Recordings label, under the title Free Again: The “1970” Sessions. The sessions for this album were actually recorded in 1969, shortly before the breakup of Chilton’s popular blue-eyed soul band The Box Tops, and before the formation of his revered power pop band Big Star. The album was never released until 1996, when it was issued as a CD titled 1970 by the Ardent label. That CD has been out of print for some time. The reissue by Omnivore comes in vinyl, CD, and digital formats. This post focuses on the vinyl edition, as well as a 7-inch single associated with it.

Unlike the CD and digital versions of the album, which contain several bonus tracks, the vinyl LP version of Free Again features only one previously unissued track, in place of the omitted “Sugar Sugar/I Got The Feeling” medley. The song is a Chilton composition titled “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain”. It’s a somber folk ballad that would not sound out of place on Radio City, the second Big Star album. The lyrics are deeper than in most songs from Chilton’s bands, as he sings from the point of view of a person who (along with a companion) is left to live on the streets after being betrayed by friends. Chilton’s vocal is sung in a relatively low register that lies somewhere between his Box Tops gruffness and his Big Star high notes, and he effectively conveys the hopelessness of the characters in the song. Some of the songs from the 1970 sessions (especially “Free Again”) can be interpreted as songs about Chilton being freed from his Box Tops obligations. It’s possible that “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” might have reflected the downside of Chilton’s newfound freedom.

A limited-edition 7-inch single was issued at the same time as the Free Again album. It contained two alternate versions of “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain”. The first side featured the original mix, which makes it sound even more like a Big Star song. In fact, this mix reminds me very much of the song “Thirteen”, although the subject matter is clearly more downbeat. Chilton sang in a slightly higher register for this version, and the harmony vocal provided by producer Terry Manning in the song's final mix is noticeably absent from this mix. This mix has less emotional impact than the final one. The second side of the single features the song’s demo, which sounds surprisingly good. The sounds of passing cars and other street noises were dubbed in by Manning; those sounds and the raw recording quality add some extra realism to the song’s lyrics about living on the street.

The single was limited to 500 copies. The first 1,500 copies of the vinyl LP were pressed in clear vinyl, and 500 of those were sold in bundles with the single through the Omnivore website.

7/4/13 update: The 2013 soundtrack album for the Big Star documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me included a new 2012 "movie mix" of the song "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain". It was a polished-up remix of the demo version from the single's second side, with the street noises present, and with Chilton's vocals cleaned up for a cinematic effect.

Alex Chilton - Free Again: The

Alex Chilton “Free Again: The ‘1970’ Sessions” (vinyl) (Omnivore OVLP-13) 2011

Track Listing:

1. Free Again (original mono mix)
2. I Can Dig It
3. Something Deep Inside
4. Just To See You
5. The EMI Song (Smile For Me)
6. All I Really Want Is Money
7. Come On Honey
8. I Wish I Could Meet Elvis
9. Every Day As We Grow Closer / Funky National
10. The Happy Song
11. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
12. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain *

* -- Previously unissued

Alex Chilton - All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain

Alex Chilton “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” (single) (Omnivore OVS7-14) 2011

1. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain (Original Mix)
2. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain (Demo)