The Late Movies: Alex Chilton

Mark Arminio

Alex Chilton, the dynamic, soulful leader of both The Box Tops and Big Star, died last night in New Orleans at the age of 59. Even if you don't immediately know the name, we can all but guarantee you've heard some of his tracks. Tonight for the Late Movies we take a look at his songs and his influence.

Here is the song "The Letter" as sung by Chilton when he was the teenage leader of The Box Tops. He was only 16 when the song exploded into an international hit.

Joe Cocker covered "The Letter" in 1970. It became his first Top 10 hit.

From Chilton's solo days, here is the track "Take Me Home & Make Me Like It." It shows a nice departure from his more soulful works.

Following the breakup of The Boxtops, Chilton formed Big Star and recorded three very stylistically different albums. None sold well, and the band broke up after only three years. However, in recent years, Big Star has been recognized as having an influence on several bands (Michael Stipe of REM has repeatedly called Chilton a major inspiration). From their album #1 Record, here is the song "Thirteen."

Followed by "September Gurls," from the album Radio City.

"September Gurls" never became a hit for Big Star, although a later cover by The Bangles in the mid '80s had some success.

Another track from Big Star's #1 Record, "In The Street," became the theme song for That 70s Show.

The Replacements, another band influenced by the late songwriter, have a song called "Alex Chilton" which pays tribute to his works. "I never travel far, without a little Big Star..."

Finally, if you're interested, here is a seven minute special from NPR on Big Star from just last month. Enjoy!

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