Entertainment behind the scenes
To most, Alex Chilton’s was the gruff soulful voice that grabbed you by the throat in “The Letter.” Less than two minutes long, the song by the Box Tops was pure confection: Chips Moman’s rhythm section laying the foundation, Memphis horns punctuating the chorus and the cheesy jet sound effects made the song a chart-topping hit in 1967. Chilton was 16 years old.
Fed up with being a pretty face in the pop music grist mill, he left the band in 1970. When he returned with Big Star in 1972, he traded in the R&B for Beatles-style pop with a harder, driving beat. His voice had jumped nearly an octave. He and his friend Chris Bell penned eloquent elegies of teen angst, exuding hopelessness and defiance, often in the same breath.
Big Star made three albums, “#1 Record,” “Radio City” and “Third/Sister Lovers.” Barely anyone bought them. But as Brian Eno once said of the Velvet Underground, everyone who heard them formed a band. R.E.M., Cheap Trick, Teenage Fanclub, Wilco, the dBs and the Replacements are only a few examples.
After Big Star broke up in the mid-seventies, he recorded sporadically as a solo artist and toured relentlessly. His solo material was raw, offhand and sometimes barely listenable. But at their center, he displayed himself as an eccentric music fan inspired by Otis Redding as much as John Lennon.
Though the Baby Boomer generation got their music recommendations from the likes of Rolling Stone Magazine and similar outlets, the next generation of music fan attending the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, is seeking out a new “tastemaker” — the blogger.