Alex Chilton - "Free Again: The '1970' Sessions" (CD reissue)

Earlier this month, on January 10th, 2012, Alex Chilton’s 1970 album was reissued by the Omnivore Recordings label, under the title Free Again: The “1970” Sessions. My review of the original 1996 release is here; in my previous blog post, I discussed the vinyl edition of the new reissue. This post focuses on the new CD edition.

This CD features new liner notes by Bob Mehr, who gives new and welcome insights on the sessions. Contrary to the album’s title, these recordings were made during the second half of 1969, while Chilton was still a member of the Box Tops. The sessions for this album were recorded virtually in secret, because Chilton was still under contractual obligation to the Box Tops; the reason the album was titled 1970 when it was released in 1996 was to avoid any potential legal troubles that may still have arisen from the recording dates. Also, the liner notes tell the tale about the initial search for a distribution deal for the album when it was first recorded. Some label execs showed interest, but Chilton was turned off by an offer from Atlantic which was based upon the success of a single; Chilton felt that this was too much like the types of business decisions he had to deal with in the Box Tops. Also, he shopped the album to Carl and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who liked what they heard, but nothing came of it.

The 13 tracks from the 1996 version are here, in a slightly different sequence. The “original mono mix” of “Free Again” that opens the CD is the same version that appeared on the 1996 version. The instrumental “Funky National” is appended to the end of the Big Star-like ballad “Every Day As We Grow Closer”, but to my ears, it doesn’t sound like those two tracks really belong together.

The Free Again CD contains eight extra tracks, six of which were previously unissued, and two of which appeared on a U.K. release called Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story in 2008. The ballad “All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain” is described in more detail in my previous blog post. The stereo remix of “Free Again” has a different vocal that sounds very much like the one Chilton re-recorded for the Lost Decade album, and is less preferable. There are now at least four different versions of the song in existence; the “original mono mix” on this album, sung in Chilton’s gruff Box Tops voice, is the best one. The original mono mixes of four other songs are all inferior to their final mixes. “Every Day As We Grow Closer” has denser instrumentation, and is less effective. On the other hand, “All I Really Want Is Money” has less instrumentation, but is better off with more. “Come On Honey” has a less appealing vocal. “The EMI Song” sounds almost the same, but sounds a bit less creamy toward the end. The last two tracks are demos which will be of interest to Chilton completists. Both of them sound quite personal. The piano-based “If You Would Marry Me Babe” may have been sincerely addressed to his first wife Suzie Green, although their marriage ended quickly. “It Isn’t Always That Easy”, co-written by Chilton and his Box Tops bandmate Gary Talley, is a somber ballad that likens a hotel room to a prison cell. Resembling a song from Big Star’s Radio City album, the song provides another hint as to why Chilton was longing to be “free again” from his Box Tops obligations.

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

Track Listing:

1. Free Again (original mono mix)
2. Come On Honey
3. Something Deep Inside
4. I Can Dig It
5. The EMI Song (Smile For Me)
6. All I Really Want Is Money
7. The Happy Song
8. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
9. Every Day As We Grow Closer / Funky National
10. I Wish I Could Meet Elvis
11. Just To See You
12. All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain *
13. Sugar, Sugar / I Got The Feelin’
14. Free Again (stereo remix with alternate vocal) *
15. Every Day As We Grow Closer (original mono mix) **
16. Come On Honey (original mono mix) *
17. The EMI Song (Smile For Me) (original mono mix) **
18. All I Really Want Is Money (original mono mix) *
19. If You Would Marry Me Babe (demo) *
20. It Isn’t Always That Easy (demo) *

* -- Previously unissued

** -- Previously issued on Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story (Big Beat CDWIK2 273) 2008