Alex Chilton

By: David Smay
December 28, 2014


It started with “The Letter,” a 1967 #1 record by the Memphis, Tennessee group The Box Tops. Coached to sing in an unnatural voice and packaged like a Bubblegum blue-eyed soul puppet, ALEX CHILTON (1950–2010) got an early education in rock’n’roll cynicism. For his second act, he teamed up with Chris Bell to create the most influential American band of the ’70s: Big Star. They produced three perfect albums: #1 Record (1972), shimmering with pop snapshots of adolescent yearning; Radio City (1974), a carillon of guitar tones cascading down over a new, rueful melancholy; and then Third (1974, reissued as Sister Lovers), a harrowing descent that pushed the rock canon into depths previously only explored by Billie Holiday at her most devastating… and which made Chilton’s gleeful shambling disaster of a solo career seem inevitable. Instead of baring his soul, Chilton went on to write song after song about the most egregious fuckery wrapped in layers of irony so thick it took me years to notice that his 1975 album title Bach’s Bottom was an inversion of the Box Tops. His crazy-quilt career forms a link between everyone from soul songwriting legend Dan Penn to punks like Television’s Richard Lloyd; his 1978 single, “Bangkok,” was a casually cranked-out garage rock masterpiece. December boy had it bad, but now nothing can hurt him.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Guy Debord, Stan Lee, Oyvind Fahlstrom, Alasdair Gray, Arthur Eddington, Chris Ware, Manuel Puig.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).