Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Give Me A Ticket For An Aeroplane"

So, today I heard that Alex Chilton died. And, if you're like most people, you're going "Who?"

This is someone who's work you know without knowing the person who did the work. Back in 1967, when he was the lead singer for those one-hit wonders, The Box Tops, he recorded one of the all-time great rock n roll songs: THE LETTER.* I only learned today that he was just sixteen at the time (even George Harrison was nineteen when the Beatles signed their record deal); there's no way anyone hearing that voice would think the singer a high school student. I think it says a lot that while "The Letter" was remade in a truly great cover version, a lovely sprawling mess by Joe Cocker, even Cocker's best can't beat Chilton's original.

So: a moment not of silence but of putting on the .45 and turning it up loud to celebrate good music and thank those who make it.

Give me a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain't got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone
I'm a-going home
My baby just wrote me a letter . . .

R. I. P.


*the only other Chilton song I know being "September Gurls", and that only through the Bangle's excellent cover version, on their second album; he became something of a legend in later years for not having hits.

UPDATE (3/19-10):
Gah! As Ed pointed out in the comments (thanks Ed), I spelled Chilton's last name wrong. It's now been corrected. Sorry for the slip.


Ed Pierce said...

I believe his last name was spelled "Chilton." After the Box Tops (who did "The Letter") he went on to form Big Star in the 70's. Another tune of his that you hear occasionally on oldies radio stations is the Box Tops tune "Cry Like a Baby."

Ed Pierce said...

Another bit of trivia regarding Chilton: if you recall the early 90's hit by Counting Crows, "Mr. Jones", there's a line in there where Adam Duritz sings "I Wanna be Bob Dylan," and he also says "We all want to be big stars." Well, at the time that song was a hit, I read several accounts that in live shows the band had changed those lyrics to be "I Wanna be Alex Chilton" and "We want to be in Big Star." I guess they were fans of the man.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Ed: Yes, CHILTON is the right name; my mistake. I've heard of Big Star, of course, but only long after the fact and was never aware of them or their music while they were together and recording it. I get the impression that Chilton was one of those rare people who his peers liked and respected; people liked to give a nod to Chilton and pay little tributes over the years. The public had forgotten him but he still had his admirers. And he was apparently still active, having a performance scheduled for just a few days from now.