Alex Chilton, who died March 18 2010 aged just 59, will primarily be remembered for the classic records he recorded with Big Star such asThird/Sister Lovers but between the demise (and subsequent rebirth) of that band, Chilton’s solo efforts have gone largely unnoticed. One reason for this is their tendency to look backwards for musical inspiration rather than pushing the power-pop genre forward as Big Star did. Black List, an EP consisting of 3 covers and 3 Chilton originals, is a decent place to start for any Big Star fan wanting to know more, along with 1985’s Feudalist Tarts.
The album opens somewhat misleadingly with an uptempo cover of Ronny & The Daytonas’ Little GTO, a surfy song where the guitar vaguely resembles the revving of car engine not unlike Gainsbourg’s homage to motorcycling, Harley David (Son of a Bitch). The instruments, all played by Chilton, are tight and effective but I must admit that Chilton’s “wah-wah”s of the chorus sometimes get a little out of tune for my liking. It’s definitely a genre he should have pursued though as from here on in he reverts to his trademark 50s nostalgia sleazy trip.
Guantanamerika appears to be a pun on “Guantanamera”, a patriotic song from Cuba, but the name eerily foreshadows the mess that was Guantanamo Bay. It’s a nice little song though, all sleazy saxes and pouting, almost arrogant vocals. Despite criminally rhyming “creature” with “richer” the song also boasts some nice lyrical touches: I must admit that the verse
As soon as I escape to the Eastern Sector
I’ll find a girl like Tammy Baker
Can the crust get any flakier
Ooooh, Tammy Baker
never ceases to crack me up. Next we have Jailbait, which adds an organ to the sleazy saxophones and is pretty downright funky. I know that Chilton always rejected fame to some extent, but listening to the lyrical touches he puts on Jailbait I’m pretty sure that within him there was a sex symbol that was bursting to get out (“Everybody in the neighbourhood / Knows that I’m up to no good”!) The final Chilton original, Baby Baby Baby doesn’t quite live up to his two previous efforts (as well as containing a few bum notes) but it catchy enough, not least Chilton’s “ooh”s and “ah”s which occur intermittently through the song and which one can only imagine are accompanied by a pelvic thrust or three.
Nice and Easy Does It may not have much to do with the Frank Sinatra version, but it comes the closest to the Alex Chilton of Third/Sister Lovers mainly because of the overwhelming vulnerability of his vocals. Having said that, the sleazy sax is still there, but it doesn’t dominate the song as it does the others. The album ends with I Will Turn Your Money Green, a pleasant if forgettable blues romp that contains the arresting and faintly blasphemous line “I’ll stay closer to you than Jesus to the cross.” Black List is usually tacked onto 1987’s High Priest which drifts in and out of print: hopefully one good thing that will come out of Chilton’s tragic death (as it did after his bandmate Chris Bell’s) is a reappraisal of his solo albums which will lead to various reissues and compilations.