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Peter Holsapple Vs. Alex Chilton | The Death of Rock

A newly unearthed set documents the indie icons' awkward 1978 collaboration.

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The key word in that title just might be Vs. Although this recently unearthed set documents some joint 1978 recording sessions co-starring former Box Tops and Big Star frontman Alex Chilton and future dB’s singer-guitarist Peter Holsapple, the liner notes suggest the process might have sometimes been more adversarial than collaborative. As the story goes, Holsapple, a self-professed Big Star acolyte, had come to the band’s Memphis stomping ground hoping guitarist Chris Bell would produce his music. He got turned down, but ended up working in the same studio complex as the cantankerous and iconoclastic Chilton, who told him, “I heard some of that stuff you’re working on … and it really sucks.” He promised to come and show Holsapple “how it’s done” — and the 19-track souvenir The Death of Rock is the result. Neatly divided between Chilton songs and Holsapple tracks — with a third section devoted to rehearsal recordings, including stabs at In the Street and Baby I Love You — the disc makes it clear the two men had little in common. Chilton cuts like Marshall Law and Tennis Bum (not to mention covers of Train Kept a-Rollin’ and Hey Mona) feature the loose-limbed indifference and scrappy grit he would soon bring to the album Like Flies on Sherbert, while Holsapple numbers like Bad Reputation and House is Not a Home hew closer to the clever, tightly crafted jangle-pop that has long been his trademark. So ultimately, The Death of Rock captures an unlikely and unsuccessful meeting between two artists who were clearly moving in drastically different directions. But it’s still pretty cool to be a fly on the wall for the whole awkward affair.