For starters, Chilton was only 18 when he recorded this song. While he sold millions of records and topped the charts at 16, as a member of the Box Tops, those hits weren’t written by the band. Chilton himself has said that the producers were in the driver’s seat. “The EMI Song (Smile For Me),” on the other hand, is all Chilton.
It’s also amazing that a song this good went decades without seeing a proper release. The song, written in 1969, and the other songs from Chilton’s post-Box Tops, pre-Big Star period remained unreleased until 1996. Now the song was released again by Omnivore Recordings as part of Free Again: The “1970” Sessions.
But backstories aside, this is just an amazing song. Like Big Star’s “Thirteen,” this is a simple love song. Unlike “Thirteen,” it’s carried by a piano rather than an acoustic guitar, and it features a rhythm section. It picks up a bit of a Sgt. Pepper’s feel, and it has that late ’60s/early ’70s production that makes all recordings from that time period feel magical and timeless.
It’s easy to see why Chilton is venerated in some circles as one of rock’s greatest artists. Listen to the song below, and watch Rep. Steve Cohen, (D) Tennessee, talk about how awesome Alex Chilton is.
Free Again: The “1970” Sessions is available from Omnivore Recordings. The first 500 orders come with a limited edition 7″, and the first 1500 come on clear vinyl!