really sad shocking news--big star wrote some of the greatest twisted pop songs in the annals of musicdom. big star didn't sell many records, but everyone who bought one started a band.
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Tfk: Of his era maybe, but only because of something that's always struck me as kind of ironic, since Chilton did gain a degree of early fame as singer of the Box Tops' big hits, before doing the more obscure work with Big Star that wound up having a much greater lasting influence. And to this day those Box Tops numbers still don't even sound like him singing -- he sounded more a like teenager in his later career than he did on the deep-voiced material with which he made his name as a 17 year old phenom. His path was kind of reversed in those aspects.
I'd also like to mention Alex's credit as producer of The Cramps debut EP and LP in the late 70's, which not only remain that seminal underground group's most enduring body of work, but were -- never mind the revisionists and deniers who probably all love Big Star and claim to love punk -- equally infuential as anything else Alex did. Lux and Ivy implicitly championed him on the nascent IRS label before REM, the Bangles and the Replacements later came along.
really excellent post, zaikesman--i'd forgotten about the cramps. truthfully, i never thought much of his post bs work, most of which sounded half-baked or acid-fried, and the boxtops weren't much more than a studio concoction with three or so great songs. but those three big star albums effectively invented a whole genre--without them, it's inconceivable that some of the greatest song bands of our generations (posiesteenagefanclubgametheoryrem) would exist.
so while we're eulogizing, let me extol the virtues of chilton's late great bs partner, chris bell, whose "i am the cosmos" is every bit as noteworthy as the big star records. this would be a good occassion for the unitiated to rush out and buy it.
LJ -- Agree about Chris Bell, and I do dig some of AC's solo stuff including "Like Flies On Sherbet" and "Bach's Bottom". Not for everybody I suppose, but if you can get with inspired shambling then there's nothing quite like it (most who shamble aren't nearly as inspired, or inspiring). As for the list of acts AC is oft said to have influenced, and that whole 80's "college rock" thing in general (Replacements excepted, who were "only" rock'n'roll in the best Stonsian sense of the word), I'll take the real deal way above the lot of 'em.
game theory/loud family are great, criminally underrecognized bands who in a parallel universe would be big stars. too bad that scott miller is forever condemned by his reedy little voice to mere cult figure. i believe aimee mann (no slouch herself) called him the best songwriter out there, which isn't too far wrong--his lyrics/tunes/concept albums are extremely ambitious and interesting. "like a girl jesus" is as purty a song as has ever been penned.
speaking of big-star influenced cult figures, it's strange noone's mentioned my fave, elliott smith, who channelled chilton as closely as anyone and who also died too soon.
gotta disagree, jimjoyce--i've met the guy (really nice and unassuming, btw) and i don't think his ego's an issue--it's more like he needs to sing his own songs in order to deliver 'em properly. game theory songs sung by, say eddie vedder or robert plant just wouldn't have the same appeal. personally, i like his voice and think he's a good singer--expressive and on key. it's just not a big, resonant voice, and most record buyers want big, resonant voices.
Back on topic, I'll still take Alex, even solo (in fact, especially solo!) over all that later egghead non-rock he's alleged to be somehow responsible for...and that goes for the Posies too. (Sorry AC but it had to be said. By me at least.) Nice guys? Who cares -- let's see how long of a thread we get when any of them joins the heavenly choir...(Wait, better not go there -- none of my fellow audiophiles posted to my recent Dale Hawkins RIP thread, much to absolutely nobody's surprise...but you can't tell me Alex didn't dig Dale.) Sorry, I must be in a foul mood. Rock'n'roll is dead, long live rock'n'roll! Carry on...
zaikesman, you dare dis the posies? to me, the epitome of power popdom; unlike 98% of their peers, they weren't merely slavishly imitating their big star/beatles/hollies influences, but taking it somewhere different, with weird poetic lyrics, complex (for the genre) melodies and great harmony vox. i submit that "frosting on the beater" is one of the 3 or 4 best pop albums of the 80s; i actually listen to it more than "radio city". so there...
Loomisj: Ego can take many forms. His was not the kind that would prevent other band members from writing and singing songs that appeared on his records. But I do think he maintained a certain sense of ownership over his own songs that prevented his even considering that someone else might sing them in his band.
I agree that it's not easy for his songs to sound good in other people's voices. For example, Aimee Mann's cover of Inverness (on youtube) completely lacks Scott's passion, and fails for that reason. (I've seen her live and up close in a small venue, and it could be argued that all of her own songs ultimately fail for the same reason.)
But it's not too hard to imagine someone as neurotic and imaginative as Scott who nonetheless has a big beautiful voice. John Lennon would have done wonders with GT's songs. (Sometimes I think Scott wrote the songs with Lennon's voice in his mind.)
Of course, there was only one of him, but I don't think Scott ever thought of finding someone else with an equally strong personality to sing the songs. I bet the band would have had a very different outcome if he had.
"Power poop", as a certain embittered musician friend with an axe to grind calls it...(not speaking of the Posies in particular, just the concept generally, but I never did like the term either)...Listen, I'm sure all the hearts are in the all the right places, and my bro' (who also tried to sell me on Game Theory and the Loud Family) happened to know and jammed with Ken Stringfellow when he lived in Seattle, but I've endured the Posies live and was left chilly, even though like any of these bands they're not without talent. After AC died I began going through some of my latter-day PP disks and putting a lot of them into the 'get rid of' pile...Bill Lloyd, Baby Lemonade, dB's, Wondermints, Sloan, Paul Collins' Beat, Grip Weeds, Greenberry Woods, Jason Falkner, etc...some of the stuff is really good, at least on paper, but I'd probably never listen to it again...Posies, Fountains of Wayne, Smithereens etc. I never fell for in the first place although I've seen the majority of these bands live...Just had my fill of third-hand white-boy ingeniousness I suppose...Life is short and I prefer real genius and soul (and/or real fun) over clever but conservative craftsmanship. Or more to the point here, AC was simply a much better and more inspired singer and songwriter than all of the above -- that is to say, an actual, inevitable, uncontrollable *artist*
Go slow with that discard pile. It could be a phase. I've walked away from that genre for years at a time - for much the same reason that you cite - but, eventually, I do come back. These songs offer a different kind of reward.
Smithereens, Bill LLoyd (in particular!), and The dbs may feel too polished and cold to you today, but they are wonderful records on their own terms. (Probably what you found appealling about them in the first place.) And one day, you may again be willing to take them on those terms. If you do decide to lose 'em, find them a good home. There is a(n admittedly different) kind of treasure there.
i'm (obviously) with martykl on this one--at the end of the day, it's all about the songs; the fact that zman's discarded bands took their inspiration from the prophet shouldn't ipso facto damn them to oblivion. virtually everyone is influenced by someone else--lots of unquestionably great acts (e.g. radiohead, nirvana, badfinger, the jam, etc.) borrowed heavily, sometimes slavishly, from their predecessors, yet still left behind classic work. i honestly consider that the dbs, posies, tommy keene and and a very few others working the same genre to be worth mentioning in the same revered company. of course, one's musical taste is inherently subjective; vive le difference.
I grew up seeing Tommy Keene back in the day here in DC when he was on Limp, and knew him a bit though he was older than me. (We briefly crossed paths at UMD, where I "majored" in radio station by default. We also both played Gretsch 6120 thin double-cuts. Too bad for me I can't sing or write a song like him.)
LJ, there's no question about EVERYONE being influenced and taking inspiration from someone else. There is no other way, no one's reinventing the wheel even if you're James Brown or John Lennon. (Or Kurt Cobain, whose talent I admire but whose songs I only want to hear occasionally on the radio.) Or, very self-evidently to my mind, Alex Chilton, who really didn't come up with anything so terribly original as to be retrospectively credited with inventing a genre -- never quite understood that one. More like he was just really, really damn good, and got across that humanity with guts intact.
But what I think separates AC (and KC too) from most of the parade is that, 25 years hence, I don't think anyone's gonna be covering and taking their inspiration from most of the acts we've named. Real genius is a rare thing, that's why we crave hearing it.