REVIEW: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton “The Death of Rock” is Snapshot of 1978 Random Occurrence


There those who listen to music and they are content hearing the popular songs off of hit albums and then there are music lovers who seek out and hunt down every note ever played by the artists they like. I fall into the latter category and for this reason I was beyond excited to hear Peter Holsapple vs Alex Chilton’s The Death of Rock on Omnivore Recordings. As a longtime fan of Holsapple, Chris Stamey, The db’s, Mitch Easter, etc I anticipate and devour all new and archival releases. The Death of Rock does not disappoint. It was recorded when a young, pre-db’s Holsapple moved to Memphis in 1978 and struck up a working partnership with Richard Rosebrough, who played with Big Star and who produced and subsequently drummed on these recordings. Even though he had opened for Chilton and met him through db Chris Stamey, I tend to believe Rosebrough’s relationship to Big Star and Chilton was of immense interest to Holsapple as he was developing his own style of power pop.

According to Holsapple this session came about when Chilton told him that “I heard some of that stuff you’re working on with Richard…and it really sucks” and then Chilton said he would come down to the studio to show him how it was done. Luckily for us Chilton made good on his threat and showed up at Sam Phillips Recording Service one night. The recording is divided into three sections, the first showcases six Holsapple compositions, the next five feature Chilton, then seven in-studio rehearsals and finishes with the Mitch Easter produced “Mind Your Manners” from an earlier 1978 session. It is such an interesting moment as it seems to me that he is looking for inspiration or craving approval from Chilton while Chilton is desperately trying to abandon the pop sensibilities Holsapple holds so dear.

Now that you know a bit of the back story I am sure you are wondering how the music actually sounds. Personally, I think it is fantastic and despite the ramshackle way in which it came together I think if you are a fan of either musician then you must add it to your collection. Three songs from Holsapple’s contributions “Bad Reputation” and We Were Happy There” ended up on the first two db’s albums while the excellent “The Death of Rock” was “retooled” for The Troggs as “I’m In Control”. “Bad Reputation” showcases a work in progress and by the time it makes it’s debut on Stands for Decibels it has been punched up and moves along at a much crisper pace. The same can be said for “We Were Happy There” but it is a great opportunity to be able to take a peak at these songs in their infancy and before Holsapple stepped outside of the shadows of his idols and made the music he wanted to make. My favorite of the Holsapple songs is “The Death of Rock” which I think is the most fully realized song on the collection. It doesn’t waiver and is the first true indication of the where Holsapple would take his songwriting in the future. A pure power pop masterpiece, this album is worth owning for this song alone. The instrumental backing track for “Mind Your Manners” is another nice touch.

The Chilton material is as I expected given the period. Recorded around the same time as his Like Flies on Sherbert album it is a look ahead to punk/no-wave and it tries to be everything except anything you would expect from the former Big Star singer. A 60’s stomp version of “Tennis Bum” which he thinks sounds like “Wooly Bully” coupled with another original “Marshall Law” make for interesting moments. The latter details the paranoia and violence around the police and fire strike gripping Memphis that summer. It is anything but poppy, as it sounds as dangerous as the events that inspired it. We are then treated to a handful of covers. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul “ sans lyrics just sounds like a fun moment in the studio while “train Kept A Rollin” starts out with a rollicking rock a billy beat before turning into something a little more dangerous and destructive at the end with guitars grinding out against each other. A true standout moment from the session. “Hey Mona” from Bo Diddley follows and the distorted guitar trembling throughout with Rosebrough’s drumming makes for an excellent ride.

Seven alternative versions and rehearsals flesh out the rest of the album and they are all are fun to listen to. You get an extended version of “Bad Reputation” a fantastic “Mind Your Manners” from sessions with Mitch Easter, an instrumental of Big Star’s “In the Street” and the glorious collapse of Phil Spector’s “Baby, I Love You”. I love the rawness and urgency that looms over the session as it makes for a compelling listen.

All in all I find it hard to believe that these recordings have sat in a vault since 1978 and we are hearing them for the first time forty years later. I have been a diehard db’s fan since the mid-80s and have always had a tenuous relationship with the cult of Chilton but I really was blown away by how vibrant and vital these recording sounded. It is the moment where you catch two very talented individuals passing each other, both heading in different directions musically, but pausing for that one moment to record the 18 tracks on this album. The Death of Rock is a wonderful snapshot of a chance occurrence and the recording does justice to both Chilton and Holsapple. With this collection now seeing the light of day I find myself wondering what else is out there, and if more Holsapple or Chilton recordings like this exist, hoping we will get to hear them sooner than later.  Get your copy here:  Check for Peter Holsapple’s tour dates here: Read our earlier interview with Peter Holsapple here:  Interview: Peter Holsapple Identifies as an “Omnicana” Musician, Talks About Model Cars, His Concept Album, and the Disappearance of Credits  and our review of Peter Holsapple’s album, released earlier this year, here:  REVIEW: Peter Holsapple’s “Game Day” is His Getting Back in the Album Game After 21 Years

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