Monday, August 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton, excerpt four)

from 33 1/3: Big Star’s Radio City by Bruce Eaton:

Alex Chilton’s negative assessment of his songs on Radio City would undoubtedly seem overly harsh to the legions of listeners who would rate ‘You Get What You Deserve’ or ‘September Gurls’ as certified classics. But when you separate the songs from the performances and the sound, it’s a bit easier to understand his point of view that while the song structures are indeed compelling, the lyrics might not be on the same level. In Chilton’s view, a good song needs to be the complete package—an interesting melody or structure matched with well-crafted, memorable lyrics, no matter how simple. Being all too well aware of the slapdash, “just get something down,” even assembled-by-committee manner in which Radio City’s lyrics were usually written, they come up short in his estimation compared to a song like, say, Johnny River’s ‘Poor Side of Town’ or the Stax classic ‘B-A-B-Y’. Chilton isn’t an artist who feels compelled to write songs because he believes he has something important to say or views writing songs as an absolutely essential part of who one is as an artist. Like a jazz musician, he embraces cover songs rather than seeing them as a sign of artistic weakness. If you’re comfortable, as he is, singing ‘April in Paris’ or ‘Rock With Me’ (two songs he has performed frequently in recent years) while knowing all along that the audience would probably freak out if you pulled ‘Daisy Glaze’ out of your back pocket, then you’re probably also comfortable thinking “these lyrics are better than what I could come up with.”

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