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Alex Chilton: The Biggest Rock Star You’ve Never Heard Of

March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton is dead.

The veteran rocker, a god among longhairs, was never a big star, despite naming his 1970s band Big Star. His legacy would be different; while we didn’t buy his records, a lot of young musicians did, meaning Chilton spawned generation after generation of new rockers. Songs he wrote 40 years ago survive today in the spirit of modern music.

Alex Chilton, whose first gig was as the angelic lead vocalist in the harmony band The Box Tops, later became a key link in the DNA chain of alternative rock, from REM to the Replacements. The strides those bands took in the 1980s came right out of Chilton’s guitar. They gave him the credit (the Replacements wrote a song about him) but the general public was just never interested.

Until 1998, that is. An old song from Big Star, In The Street, resurfaced as the theme song to That 70s Show. You may not know the name Alex Chilton, but I’ll bet you’ve sung along to that one once or twice. Later, it would be re-recorded by Cheap Trick, which was a cheap trick.

The fame and fortune never happened for Alex Chilton. But I hope he knew the impact he had on music, on us, and I hope he knew his legacy can’t be measured in record sales or dollar figures. It can only be measured in the slow, pensive noodlings of a young guitar rookie with raw, aching fingers and a dream.

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