Alex Chilton "My Rival" (2019 Record Store Day Black Friday EP)

For Record Store Day Black Friday in 2019, Omnivore Recordings issued a 10-inch EP with five previously unreleased demo tracks recorded by Alex Chilton in 1975. This EP, titled My Rival, was limited to 1,500 vinyl copies. The EP will be made available digitally on December 6th.

What is the significance of these My Rival tracks? They were engineered by Chris Bell, who co-founded the legendary cult band Big Star with Chilton less than five years earlier. These sessions recorded at Ardent Studios are believed to be the last recorded collaborations between Chilton (who died in 2010) and Bell (who died in late 1978 at the age of 27). According to the interesting liner notes by Rich Tupica, these tracks were recorded within days of the session which produced Bell’s solo track “You And Your Sister”, on which Chilton sang the harmony vocal.

Chilton and Bell both suffered from clinical depression and substance abuse around the time of these recordings, and (not surprisingly) the EP is reminiscent of Chilton’s chaotic Bach’s Bottom recordings from the same year of 1975. While all of the vocals and instrumentation here come from Chilton, Bell’s knob-twiddling does make a notable difference. As messy as the performances are, Bell’s engineering added a Big Star-like shimmer to the tracks, making one wonder what might have resulted if these two troubled souls had been able to record another album together.

The EP opens with the title track “My Rival”, a song that was released as a (sort of) finished track on Chilton’s 1979 album Like Flies On Sherbert. The messy version on that album was nearly unlistenable, but this EP’s version benefits from Bell’s ability to make it sound almost presentable despite its incoherent instrumentation. Chilton’s voice is given a filtered presentation on this version that makes it stand out more than it did in the Flies version. “All Of The Time” was a song that previously appeared on the aforementioned Bach’s Bottom, and it always came across as a song that had great potential, if it had only been cleaned up. This EP's version has a Big Star-like echo chamber effect that gives us a different angle on how great the song might have been under better circumstances. “Windows Hotel” is a song that has turned up on Chilton bootlegs; this EP’s slightly more polished version has a Kinks-like charm, which undoubtedly resulted in part from Bell’s love for British Invasion rock.

The EP’s second side contains two takes of a song called “She Might Look My Way”, a live version of which turned up on the 2015 release Ocean Club ’77. Despite false starts and an abrupt stop, these two tracks are the high points of the EP. The first take of the mid-tempo ballad is reminiscent of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers album, while the fuller-sounding second take could pass for an outtake from the second Big Star album Radio City. (FYI, Chris Bell did not play on either of those albums – only on Big Star’s 1972 debut #1 Record). Even though both versions sound as if they could fall apart at any moment, the inherent beauty of the song shines through – making the listener wish that Chilton and Bell could have recorded it as a fully realized Big Star song. Between the two takes, we hear a short moment of studio banter between Chilton and Bell – which might be the most precious moment the EP has unearthed for us.

Alex Chilton “My Rival” EP (Omnivore OVS10-358) 2019

Track Listing:

1. My Rival
2. All Of The Time
3. Windows Hotel
4. She Might Look My Way (Take 1)
5. She Might Look My Way (Take 2)