Radio City

Big Star

Ardent Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Denise Henderson


Alex Chilton is a victim of his own early publicity, or so legend has it. Chilton now lives in relative obscurity in Memphis and sporadically performs as his newest incarnation, an intentionally sleazy lounge lizard. This talented singer/songwriter and rock icon has inspired many a "cool" alternative band during the 80's and 90's. The Replacements wrote a song about him on their effort into the mainstream, 1987's Pleased To Meet Me, paying tongue-in-cheek homage on "Alex Chilton." What Paul Westerberg and company were trying to say is, enough already, why does every young band say Alex Chilton is their divine inspiration, a god of gods, a true "rebel without a clue," to rip off Paulie and company?

Ah, the mysteries of almost success, fame and fortune. It's so much easier for today's rising stars twirling about the alternative scene to worship their grandfather of inspiration, Alex Chilton. No wonder Alex dropped out—it's only a damn pop band, kids. Lighten up.

So what is all the fuss about 23 years later? Why does everybody on the scene, the cool, hip types, don't cha know, adore, worship and so blatantly rip off one of the greatest pop bands that nearly made it? Back in the late 60's when Alex was a wee lad, he was the lead singer of the Box Tops, which projected a teenaged Alex into stardom with the hit "The Letter." After this early venture into pop celebrity, Alex retreated and formed the now, much revered Big Star.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Okay, so this reviewer digs Alex as much as the rest of the gang. But you have to hear Radio City to know what pop songs should sound like and realize where so many current pop bands have dredged their musical rip-offs from. This is one of the originals, not a recycled, record executive's wet dream of hipness.

Alienation, angst, unrequited love are all here along with jangly guitars, great bass hooks and soul-searing lyrics (this is how these cliches were born to be put into music reviews) Chilton's plaintive vocal's on "Back Of A Car" recreate every teenager's venture into escape from parents, reality, and adulthood. His voice pleads that "music's so loud, I can't hear a thing." Only the warmth of the intoxicants and the girl next to him can save him. The gem of gems on the record, "September Gurls," mixes the false swagger and machismo of a young, snot-faced brat of a rock star that we all know and secretly admire. In today's times, he'd be politically incorrect, but it's a secret pleasure you guiltily indulge, as you sing along.

Radio City's themes are the themes rock n' roll was founded on—rebellion, sex (love?), and loud guitars. Throw in your own substance of choice. The original three chords of rock are here, mixed up very nicely, thank you. The defiance in Chilton's voice and the wail of the Strats say it all—I'm young, I'm pissed, and I'm not sure about anything except this song, this day and this girl. Tomorrow is another story. What this record may lack in today's production attributes it makes up for in attitude with a capital A. In fact, if you're lucky enough to find it on vinyl, I recommend it over the sterility of a CD. The scratch and the rawness of Davey Johnson's guitars and Chilton's raspy vocals is made more authentic and powerful on vinyl. Technology just screws up the passion.

Even the outfits worn by the band on the back cover photo show great irony in 1997. Everyone who's fallen into the retro-'70s fashion trap or is a Friends wardrobe wanna-be can see what a real, live '70s rock star looked like with his feathered hair, hip hugger bell bottoms and—gasp!—a sneer only Billy Idol dreamed of in 1974. This was cool then. Songs like "Mod Lang" and "She's A Mover" have a definitive '70s feel and rhythm, but still seem fresh and spontaneous today unlike many of the rehashed flashback artists out there today.

In the end, the classics remain and legends are born. Chilton and Big Star deserve the reverie. Radio City is their legacy left for all to ponder, study, and well yeah, rip-off. Listen to this one a lot and listen to it loud. Sing along, stare dreamily at the band photos, play air guitar, don't act your age, regardless what it is. Remember why they call it pop music. It's not a dirty word compared to "indie-alternative." This is where a true pop record begins and the imitations follow.

Rating: A

User Rating: A


Though I miss the folk rock influences that Chris Bell brought in on #1 Record, Radio City still succeeds with only Alex Chilton's jangly Britpop influences to prop it up. It is a less diverse affair, but no less enjoyable. Sadly, Chilton's incredibly accessible efforts would be ignored by the general public due to poor distribution from Stax, leading the burgeoning songwriter into a downward spiral of depression and drug abuse that would eventually produce the frenzied Third/Sister Lovers.

© 1997 Denise Henderson and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ardent Records, and is used for informational purposes only.