On Alex Chilton’s Wikipedia page, it lists the musical genres he worked in throughout his career: “Rock n’ Roll, Power Pop, Proto-Punk, Hard Rock, Blue Eyed Soul, Indie Rock.” This should give you an idea of the breadth of his contribution to rock over the years. Masses of people have heard his music without knowing his name. His first band, the Box Tops, had a huge hit in 1967 with “The Letter.” Aw, come on, you’ve heard it. It’s the one that begins, “Give me a ticket for an aeroplane.” At the time Chilton was only 16. In the 1990’s, Chilton had his second biggest hit: the theme song for That 70’s Show was a song written by Chilton, from his band Big Star’s first album in 1972. Here’s another song from Big Star, from their second album, Radio City, and one of my favorites: September Gurls. Any pop song with which includes the line “I wish your butch and you would touch” gets my approval.
Big Star really didn’t have a niche in the musical world of the 70’s, which was divided between flashy arena rock or glam rock on the one hand and sensitive acoustic crooners like James Taylor on the other (and later punk vs. disco), but like the Velvet Underground they would become increasingly influential with the ascension of indie rock from the eighties underground to the present. After Big Star’s demise Chilton got involved with the punk scene, charting an unusual career path which moved from mainstream pop to edgier underground fare. His real glories in this area are as a producer, where he worked with two of my garage-punk fave raves The Cramps and The Gories. Here’s Human Fly, from The Cramps 1979 debut EP, Gravest Hits, and Ghost Rider, from The Gories’ 1990 album I Know You Fine, But How You Doin’.
Chilton also had an eclectic solo career that incorporated Jazz elements (his father was a Jazz musician). As with most seminal indie groups, there was a Big Star reunion. Chilton probably had many of creative years ahead of him before he died a heart attack on Wednesday. To this I can think of little to say except cliches like “The music lives on,” and blah blah blah. But you know cliches become cliches because they happen to be true in the first place.