Last week, rock n' roller extraordinaire Alex Chilton died of a heart attack at the age of 59. Described as a "cult icon" for his influence on countless indie rock groups (R.E.M., the Replacements, Teenage Fanclub, Pavement, and any number of '90s "alternative" groups), Chilton was, if anything, actually larger than his legend: international superstar at the age of 16 (singing lead on the Box Tops' classic "The Letter"); music industry casualty at 23 after his band Big Star broke up after recording three albums; sober and washing dishes in his thirties; and finally getting the recognition he'd so long deserved in his forties. You could write a book (people have), but when a musician passes, it's usually best to just let the tunes speak for themselves. Check out the 7 Alex Chilton songs you should know...

"In the Street" (Big Star)
RELEASED: 1972

• The "theme" song from That '70s Show (as performed by Todd Griffin in Season 1, and Cheap Trick thereafter) was the third track on Big Star's debut album, #1 Record. The ironic stylings of their indie rock descendants notwithstanding, Big Star actually had top of the charts aspirations for their first record, aspirations that were pretty thoroughly thwarted by incompetent distribution from their label, legendary Memphis soul imprint, Stax Records. Chilton reportedly received $70 each time That '70s Show aired, although the greatest lyric in the track ("Wish we had/A joint so bad") was omitted for pretty obvious network television reasons.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Thirteen" (Big Star)
RELEASED: 1972

• What might've been a saccharine portrait of suburban angst and rebellion in the hands of a less subtle (read=less debauched) group, "Thirteen" instead became a call to arms ("Won't you tell your dad, "Get off my back"/Tell him what we said 'bout "Paint It Black") for Big Star.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Mod Lang" (Big Star)
RELEASED: 1974

• With their first album a critical success, but commercial failure, Big Star briefly broke up before reuniting without original founding member Chris Bell (the Lennon to Chilton's McCartney). "Mod Lang" exemplifies the rougher edge of the group, as well as the namesake for the coolest record store in the Bay Area.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"O My Soul" (Big Star)
RELEASED: 1974

• Tom Waits is said to have called Chilton "the Thelonius Monk of the rhythm guitar," a title he more than lives up to on the first track of Big Star's second album, Radio City.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Big Black Car" (Big Star)
RELEASED: 1978

• With the second Big Star album no more successful than the first, Chilton went into the studio in 1974 to record what would become Third/Sister Lovers (released four years later), a pretty close sonic approximation of a mental breakdown.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Stroke It Noel" (Big Star)
RELEASED: 1978

• As close to an upbeat song as Third/Sister Lovers has, "Stroke It Noel" featured Noel Gilbert, violinist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and was originally titled "Lovely Day."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Hey! Little Child"
RELEASED: 1979

• If Third/Sister Lovers was close to a mental breakdown, Chilton's solo Like Flies on Sherbert closed the deal. Released in an original pressing of only 500 copies, Sherbert is now acknowledged as a classic (if for no other reason than Chilton's shambolic cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Boogie Shoes").

• CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE COMPLEX MUSIC POSTS