Posted by Geoff Edgers March 18, 2010 08:39 AM
At school drop-off this morning, a group of parents were chatting about Pandora and SXSW when I dropped the news: Alex Chilton died. First, blank stares. I mentioned Big Star, which didn't help, before reverting to the obvious... You know, he was in The Box Tops, who had that song "The Letter." Ah, one mother nodded. The other dudes still had no idea.
So how to introduce Alex Chilton? He was the teenaged hit-maker, the Memphis kid with the soulful voice on "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby." Then there's his work with Big Star, one of the rare examples when a critically-acclaimed, publicly ignored group is as good as advertised.
He was also, of course, rock's greatest underachiever, singing half-cooked versions of "Volare" in later years and declaring he was more a performer than songwriter. Tell that to Elliot Smith, Wilco, The Bangles, Cheap Trick, Cat Power and Yo La Tengo, all of whom recorded Chilton's songs.
Over the years, Chilton had occasionally played with a band billed as Big Star though his original partner in the group, Chris Bell, died in 1978. It's hard to believe this version of Big Star was to have performed at SXSW.
So in a final tribute, I suggest you fire up your Pod or at least YouTube a version of "The Ballad of El Goodo." That's Alex Chilton at his best.