Of the Velvet Underground, Brian Eno famously said, “Only five thousand people ever bought a Velvet Underground album, but every single one of them started a band.”
The same is true for the music of Alex Chilton — which never brought the visionary songwriter the big bucks, but which has proven to be some of the most influential work in the 20th century. With the bands The Box Tops and Big Star, Chilton stripped down rock and became one of the inventors of indie’s new sound with melodic pop songs that didn’t have the slick, produced feel of pop but instead a gritty emotionalism. He’s been cited as an influence for bands as disparate as R.E.M. and The Replacements, and hundreds — from Elliott Smith to Radiohead — have covered him in homage.
“It’s a fork in the road that a lot of different bands stemmed from,” Jeff Powell, a producer who worked on Chilton’s records, explained to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “If you’re drawing a family tree of American music, they’re definitely a branch.”
At 59, Chilton passed away yesterday — collapsing on his lawn in New Orleans and being taken by paramedic to the hospital. The cause of death is believed to have been a heart attack.
And it was sudden. Chilton had been planning to play with a reunited Big Star this weekend at SXSW, though he had been complaining of feeling ill earlier in the day, reported the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
So without further ado, I bring you my favorite Big Star song. I think you’ll fall for it, too: