Monday, January 4, 2010

Big Star “Motel Blues”

All Time Top Five Songs About Motel Rooms . . .

From time to time on Every Day I Write The Blog, I do a week’s worth of my five favorite songs on theme. For the All Time Top Five rules, see this previous post.

This track is from a live, Big Star CD. Which means I am compelled to say two things:

First, I’ll point out that I think this is the first time where I am repeating an album. I wrote about the song “In The Street” a while back, when a listener told me that it was the worst song he’d ever heard.

Secondly, any mention of Big Star comes with a requisite background explanation.

Big Star was a band formed in Memphis in the early 70s. Despite critical acclaim, their records were poorly promoted, and subsequently sold few copies. They broke up, but became an influential cult favorite to artists like R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, The Gin Blossoms, Wilco and more. This Cult Cred culminated this past year, with a huge boxed set, issued by Rhino Records.

Part of the first Big Star renaissance, when Rykodisc records reissued their 3 proper albums in the early nineties, included the album simply titled “Live,” a long lost live-on-the-radio appearance by the band.

Big Star was led by Alex Chilton, who, at the time of the recording, was already an industry vet. As a 16-year-old, he became the lead singer of The Box Tops, and recorded the vocals for one of the all-time great Rock N Roll songs, “The Letter.” Unfortunately, the exploitation of his talent, at the hands of The Biz, left the now 22-year-old Chilton pretty jaded. When asked by the WLIR radio host on this live recording, what the music business was like back when he recorded “The Letter,” Chilton responded, “Kinda scummy. Like now.”

So it seems only fitting that the band would take on another famously blunt, occasionally cranky songwriter’s tune. Loudon Wainwright The Third’s song “Motel Blues” had only been released a year earlier at this point, but the attitude was right for Chilton.

It’s only a few lines, but, like so many good songwriters, clean strokes paint the images clearly and quickly. World weary, deglamorized and just a little desperate, Big Star makes this song fit nicely alongside similar tracks penned by themselves like “Thirteen” and “I’m In Love With A Girl.”

Hear clips of all the songs mentioned in this post:

Hear the song, set to some rare, random Big Star footage, and hear Loudon Wainwright sing it 30-plus years after he wrote it.

And read a recent interview, where Loudon suggests how he might update the lyrics (at the bottom of the article).

Buy Big Star “Live” or buy ”Keep An Eye On The Sky” boxed set.


  1. PJ, if you ever get a chance you might try Fred Eaglesmith's "Crazier" from the perspective of a man in a motel room. Just great.

  2. R.I.P. Alex Chilton. Thanks for this.