When they finally released at the beginning of this year all of Alex Chilton’s lost 1970 sessions from his abortive attempt to make his first post-Box Tops solo record, I got curious about what this mad genius was cooking up in his first recordings as a independent artist, before he changed his mind and went and started Big Star.
The aptly titled Free Again: The 1970 Sessions reveals the breadth of his talent, making stops in the territories of swaggering rock, sunny pop, acoustic folk and country-rock and doing it all with the authority of someone twice, heck, thrice his tender ago of 19.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Alex Chilton's basic mystery seemed to make his sudden passing in 2010 a lot easier to accept: In many ways, the former Big Star frontman had already been gone a very long time.]
Chilton also covered a couple of other people’s hits, including a stripped-down guitar/drums rendition of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that’s even grimier than the Stones’, and then there’s his alternative take on the still-new hit “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies.
What’s that, Chilton taking on bubblegum pop?
Oh, yeah. Chilton, who was not afforded any artistic freedom with the Box Tops, really seemed to let his frustrations out on The Archies’ song. Slurring, sometimes gutterally yelling the lyrics in front of a crunchy guitar riff and urgent licks, full of giggles and ad-libs until the song falls apart about four minutes in and the band spontaniously breaks into “I Got The Feeling” until the “Sugar, Sugar” riff beckons them back. When his wrecking crew were done with this song, there was little left but a smoldering pile of rubble.
A few years later, they would be calling this “punk rock,” the music of attitude. The young, rebellious and oh so talented Alex Chilton could do attitude like few could.