"Regrettably, this album cannot be recommended under any circumstances." --David Cleary, livefrommemphis.com
Jay Hinman posting "Hook or Crook" in his hilariously fake Cheater Slicks post the other week spurred me into listening to Ol' Butch's "Like Flies On Sherbert" again, and reacquainting myself with how great a record it is.
I freakin' love this record, so when I first started hearing that a lot of people can't stand it, I was thrown off a bit. I can sorta understand, though; if you only knew about Alex Chilton peripherally, through Big Star, and you unwittingly bought this record thinking it was gonna be more of the same, you probably got your head blown off by what was in the grooves and never wanted to listen to it again.
For me, though, this is the record that cemented Alex Chilton's genius status; he'd already mastered radio-ready Beatle-esque pop with Big Star, and with "Flies On Sherbert" he did the same for raunchy, gutbucket country/blues power stomp, or whatever you want to call it. It seems like folks have been trying to replicate this record for years-- from The Oblivians to The King Khan & BBQ Show to Paul Westerberg and whomever else-- and most of them have been pretty successful at it (except for Westerberg; "Dead Man Shake" really sucks), but there's nothing like the original.
I came into my Alex Chilton/Big Star worship a little late in the game, though it was before The Replacements released their "Alex Chilton" song, so I can say that at least. It took a few years of listening to a bunch of records from a bunch of bands that listed Big Star as a main influence, and reading in zine articles about how great Big Star was, before I got actually got motivated into going to the source and finding out what the deal was.
As it happened, the first Big Star record I ever bought-- probably around '86/'87 or so-- was actually a bootleg; a 7" that claimed to be a rough mix of "September Gurls", but sounded suspiciously just like the original. My only knowledge of "September Gurls" at that point was that The Replacements sometimes covered it, and I probably only remembered the song title because it was spelled funny. The bootleg was only about 5 bucks, so I bought it figuring it was a cheap way to start learning about who Big Star was.
Hearing "September Gurls" turned out to be like giving candy to a baby; pretty soon I owned a ton of Alex's records, including original Stax pressings of "Radio City" and "#1 Record" (which I later sold for $20 each-- stupid me), the "Bangkok" 45, the amazing "Dusted In Memphis" bootleg, "Singer Not The Song" as an import LP on white vinyl... and, of course, a vinyl copy of "Like Flies On Sherbert", originally released in 1979 as an edition of 500, although the copy I had was some French import or something.
One of the reasons I took an immediate liking to "Like Flies On Sherbert" was the lead-off track, "Boogie Shoes". I like goofy covers as much as anyone else (which explains why I own a bunch of stupid Me First and The Gimmie Gimmies records), and with "Boogie Shoes", Alex took a putrid AM radio memory from my 70's childhood, tore it down, and re-constructed it as an absolutely filthy, almost hard-rock number. The sheer brilliance of how Alex pulled off this stunt amazed me, and it still does.
About the only thing approaching Big Star-like pop on "Like Flies On Sherbert" is the mournful title track that ends the record, and even calling that "pop" would be a stretch. The rest of the album consists of covers of old C&W/honky-tonk artists and a handful of twisted Chilton originals, every single one of them a song that I used to catch myself singing aloud as I'd go about my day. Jim Testa once told me that there's some video footage of the recording of this album that shows the guitar amps nearly bouncing off the floor from all of the volume and distortion. Listening to "My Rival", especially with the way the opening bars could almost cut your head off, I can believe it.
Of course, Alex followed this up with a bunch of crap and then only got worse from there, although I stubbornly stuck with him through the "No Sex"/"High Priest" era, like most fans did. I even got to see Alex play at the old Grotto in New Haven, which was probably around 1988; Alex's stage presence was pretty stale, but the bass player in his band more than made up for it, jumping around and playing with his bass behind his head and so forth. Bill Callahan even made a joke about it in one of his zines, saying that The Replacements probably should've written a song called "Alex Chilton's Bass Player" instead.
I even got to meet Alex the night I saw him play, or I should say I almost knocked him out. He was walking down the street a short distance behind me as I entered the club, and after I was inside I suddenly got the idea that, Hey, I should hold the door open for Alex Chilton! So I hurriedly turned around, swung the door open to let him in, and with the door pretty much smacked Alex Chilton right in the face.
My original vinyl copy of "Like Flies On Sherbert" is long gone, of course, and I was happy enough to find a used copy on CD some years ago. The copy I bought is a bit odd, though; it wasn't until the first time I played it that I noticed that the CD itself, marked "Peabody Record Co.", doesn't match the "Last Call Records" artwork or track listing on the sleeve (Peabody is the label that released the orignal 500-copy vinyl pressing of "Like Flies On Sherbert"). No matter, since the same 5 bonus tracks are on either version, it's just that the one I have doesn't stick to the original running order.
I had a hard time limiting myself to only a few tracks to post here, as I was tempted to post nearly all of them, until I remembered that most people don't really like this record so it was probably better that I didn't.
Alex Chilton -
"Hook Or Crook"
"Like Flies On Sherbert"
"She's The One That's Got It"
"Baron of Love"
(these files are now listen-only)