Alex Chilton, lead and guitarist for the Box Tops and Big Star died last night in a New Orleans emergency room, reportedly of heart failure. Chilton's biggest commercial success came with the Box Tops, who had a number-one hit in 1967 with "The Letter" when he was just 16. His gruff blue-eyed soul voice sounds like it's coming from a much older, more experienced man, or possibly Van Morrison:
After the group disbanded, he formed Big Star with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel, but you'd probably have to use some incredibly sophisticated voice-recognition software to prove Chilton is the same person singing with Bell:
Their debut, 1972's #1 Record (review), never came close to fulfilling its optimistic title (though it most definitely should have). The best-known song from it these days is "In the Street" the inferior Cheap Trick cover of which would become the theme song for That '70s Show. The album's grown in influence over the years, however, to the point where pop-rock bands who've never heard of Big Star are indebted to the band because REM, Belle & Sebastian, Wilco, and many many others have all made careers in territory Big Star claimed first.
The band followed up #1 Record with Radio City, which despite Bell's departure, might actually be better than its predecessor:
Hummel left too after that, and Chilton and Stephens recorded a final album in 1974 â?? Third/Sister Lovers, which scared the record labe so much it wasn't released until 1978. Ragged and paranoid, it's one of the most damaged and depressing deconstructions of rock 'n' roll ever produced. It's also a stunningly beautiful masterpiece:
Bell died in a car accident in 1978, but Stephens and Chilton were scheduled to play a showcase Saturday at this year's South by Southwest, giving fans one more reason to mourn music's irreplaceable loss.
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