Tuesday, October 11, 2011

39. Alex Chilton, "Thank You John" (1985)


From early in Chilton's neo-Memphis going on neo-New Orleans phase of his second half of the '80s, just as he was simultaneously becoming an underground indie darling cum icon of transfixed youth forever. I knew this originally from an EP set called "Feudalist Tarts" that's got a few nice things: cover of Carla Thomas's "B-A-B-Y," cover of Slim Harpo's "Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo / Tip on In," the whole jazz band riffing like a rock band thing alone. But this Willie Tee moment of parable truth out of the beach music scene of the Carolinas was ahead of its time at least in terms of the studied matter-of-factness of the way in which it reveals itself. The contempt the pimp has for the john is done to a ripe turn by Chilton. The business-as-usual interchangeableness of the ho under control is suggestion and allusion. The horns and snaky rhythms keep it amiably rolling forward, flowing and warm and easygoing, which enables Chilton to go as icy cold as he can jettisoning the suave savoir faire of Willie Tee's original and lingering instead on the most suggestive details to draw out the shades of meaning, like lancing a boil with swift furious thrusts. There's nothing subtle going on here: "I know that you've been ballin' / You're as high as you can be ... I know he wanted to handle you / I could tell by the bruises on your arm ... I don't blame you baby for trying to swell his head / 'Cos after all baby he's giving us his bread." Willie Tee's version is more about getting over, but Chilton is bent on making the getting over the gotten over and every thing from his mouth is washed in bitter patina. His frail-voiced wizened hipster youth flirting with the downward spiral is just convincing enough of itself to sell this good and hard. It's unforgettable, even.

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