Few musicians were as revered as Alex Chilton, who died Wednesday in New Orleans at 59. A native of Memphis, Chilton was a member of the Box Tops and the power-pop band Big Star. With the latter, he was a driving force behind three enormously influential albums – #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers – that served as touchstones for innumerable musicians that followed.
What made Big Star’s catalog so appealing was its wide-range of styles, expanding the scope of what pop music could sound like. Chilton saw rock for what it was – an amalgam of sources that bridged disparate genres and generations of music history. With Big Star, he contributed infectiously catchy songs that fused the British pop of The Beatles and The Kinks with the soul, blues and R & B rooted in Memphis. It was a sound both nostalgic and forward-looking, a soulful and edgy harmonic convergence.
The long list of bands who cite Big Star as an influence are unsurprisingly varied – The Replacements, R.E.M., Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub to name a few. Chilton created music that sounded familiar without being derivative, and his imagination and immense vision will be sorely missed.