Song of the Day: Big Star “Thank You Friends”
Appearing on Big Star‘s initially unreleased Third/ Sister Lovers LP, “Thank You Friends” is an enduring, slightly orchestrated ode to friendship. The irony of the song and its sentiment would not be lost on its author, the late singer and guitarist, Alex Chilton. By the time the group was recording the LP, they were no longer a group at all and had become more of an Alex Chilton solo vehicle. Instead of the power pop that the band had been known for, Chilton turned out a batch of stark, highly personal, often experimental songs that often bore a strong Velvet Underground influence.
Despite this tonal shift on the album as a whole, “Thank You Friends”, with its “Doop doop” backing vocals, subtle strings and twangy guitar lead is almost a return to the Big Star sound of old. You can almost imagine that Chilton had managed to get Chris Bell (who left after the group after the first album, despite Big Star being ostensibly his band), Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel back together in the room with him and rolled the tape rather than the litany of overdubs and unnamed Nashville session pros that Chilton used to make the record. Despite the song being one of the more straightforward on the record, Chilton, still feels the need to disrupt and so the song duly featuring a bridge that invites a little dissonance, beginning humorously when Chilton sings the word “chaos”, but that’s all part of the song’s charm.
The song is one of Big Star‘s very best. While the sessions for Third/ Sister Lovers took place in 1974, the album wasn’t released until 1978: the same year that Chilton‘s former band mate and still friend, Chris Bell died in a car accident. Given this, the song takes on a slightly bittersweet character. Not only can the song thus be read as Chilton paying tribute to the band he lost, but also to the human loss of Bell.
Post Big Star, Chilton went on to a esoteric solo career as a musician (mostly putting out records of odd-ball blues, R&B, country and jazz covers played with a semi-ironic half sloppy/ half highly technical precision) and as a producer, working with such groups as The Replacements (who wrote a song deifying him) and The Cramps. He also reformed and toured both Big Star and his pre-Big Star teenage pop group, The Box Tops, albeit with a mix of original and new members He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2010.
Happy Thanksgiving to you from everyone here at DJ D-Mac & Associates!