Alex Chilton of the Box Tops and Big Star died yesterday. He was a little shy of 70. You maybe didn't know about him but he was a pretty good songwriter. No Zevon, but then, even Zevon wasn't really Zevon sometimes. You probably know some of Big Star's music, whether you know it or not. Here's the song you probably know as the theme from That 70's Show.
Nice song, well written, gets at the teenage angst, the dumbass kind. Pleasant to listen to. Good quality pop music. Here's another song Chilton wrote, "I'm in Love With a Girl." It's pretty simple and straightforward. Lots of people copied it.
So who did that mild songwriter influence? Well, this seminal punk act, for one.
You can hear Chilton's influence in this song by REM:
And in this one:
So who did Alex Chilton draw inspiration from? Guitar great Steve Cropper, who you guys have seen me mention before. What did Cropper do? Well, this song, for one, which has been called the greatest guitar lick of all time by some pretty accomplished gunslingers.
You would also know Cropper from here:
The bassist in the Blues Brothers um... Boys... Band is Donald "Duck" Dunn, who played bass with Cropper on the Fried Green Onions video just up above. And I've told you all before about Matt "Guitar" Murphy, from the Blues Brothers. Matt Murphy's roots stretch back to the Mississippi Delta, and if he didn't play with all the great bluesmen, he came damn close. I've showed this next one before but it bears repeating - it's Matt's Boogie, and he's accompanied by blues greats Memphis Slim, Bill Stepney, and Willie Dixon.
Now this is a long trip around the Horn, but I was thinking about Alex Chilton's passing today. I wasn't a huge fan. I kind of knew about Big Star but didn't really stop to listen to them until today. They've always been just part of life's soundtrack for me; music that is pleasant enough, I guess. But when I stopped and listened, I found that they were pretty good, and Chilton was a really good song writer. Hell, everybody covered his songs, from punk bands to country artists.
So we've come from that 70's show, to some of the foundational blues artists of the 20th Century, the foundational punk group, and the foundational .alt rock group. Alex Chilton may not have been as much of a Big Star as he set out to be at first, but he occupies a privileged place among great musicians. He was very influential, and in his day he played with some good artists, and was inspired by and tried to play just like some great artists. Those of us who like rock, particularly .alt rock, owed the guy a beer. RIP, Alex.