As the shy yang to Alex Chilton’s proto-indie god yang, Chris Bell only stuck around Big Star long enough to have fingerprints all over 1972’s untouchable “#1 Record.” After leaving the group during the recording of the follow-up “Radio City,” Bell kicked around East Memphis for a bit, recording sporadically and working at his father’s restaurant. Killed instantly at 27 when he lost control of his sports car and slammed into a pole less than 500 feet from his house, Bell had recently completed sessions for his first album.
This track and the rest of Bell’s only solo album (also titled “I am the cosmos”) were remastered a few years ago and while I can appreciate the new sheen, I like the vinyl rip I’ve posted above better. It’s easier this way, I think, to imagine this coming in over the radio on a rainy day in Memphis sometime in the thick haze of the late ’70s — the brittle reed of Bell’s voice leaking from the open door of the Arcade Diner, across the street and down the hill towards the Mississippi River.
This goes on my list of all-time favorite songs. Big Star, although not wildly popular in their time (mostly due to recording industry politics), were cited as influences by such diverse bands as The Replacements and Cheap Trick. (In fact, Cheap Trick’s cover of the Big Star song, “In the Streets” serves as the theme for “That 70s Show,” and Replacements’ Paul Westerberg wrote the song “Alex Chilton” as a tribute to Big Star’s front man.)
If you don’t fall in love with this song on first hearing, I seriously question whether you actually possess a human soul. I want need to cover it.
Alex Chilton’s solo debut has achieved a bit of cult status for its eccentricities and loose collar atmosphere. I’d love to see a bit of rock revisionist history reassessing Like Flies on Sherbert’s influence and place in the independent rock canon, it is to me a cornerstone.Like Flies saw Chilton stripping all of Big Star’s innocence and professionalism and replacing it with a slacker climate, while retaining the power pop legends’ proficiency for instantaneous melodies. There’s bizarre vocal mannerisms, sore thumb sloppy guitar work and screwy synthesizers, at times even reaching Trout Mask Replica strangeness. “I’ve Had It,” is a fifties rock pastiche that finds Chilton sounding more like David Thomas of Pere Ubu. Between the bruised production and offbeat pop sensibilities, Like Flies on Sherbert leaves the lo fi and slacker rock movements of the early nineties looking like obvious descendants of this ‘79 messy masterpiece.