Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Here's an excerpt from the book about the song What's Going Ahn.  As unified as Radio City sounds as an album (thanks in large part to John Fry behind the mixing board), it was actually somewhat cobbled together from a variety of sessions.  What's Going Ahn stands out as the only track recorded outside the main RC sessions that was engineered by John Fry as a formal session (She's A Mover and Mod Lang came out of late night informal sessions by Chilton and Richard Rosebrough and Morpha Too and I'm In Love With A Girl were done by Chilton after the formal RC sessions).  

Alex's acoustic demo for this song is simply stunning and will hopefully be included in the forthcoming Big Star box set.  (There's also an equally strong demo for Life Is White.)  Unlike a lot of demos, these are something far more than vague or rough sketches.  The entire arrangements for the band are laid out in detail with just one guitar.  Alex's vocals will send shivers down your spine – they're on par with Thirteen.  As Jody notes later in the book, Alex might not be the most technically gifted singer, but he can connect with the listener in a deceptively simple yet deep way.   And note Andy's reference to songwriting in Alex's bedroom, pictured above. 

What’s Going Ahn (Chilton/Hummel) 

‘What’s Going Ahn’ predated the formal Radio City sessions 

and, in all likelihood, the Rock Writer’s Convention itself. It’s 

commonly—and mistakenly—believed as having originated 

in the informal late-night recording sessions at Ardent due to 

the participation of Richard Rosebrough. But, as is often the 

case with Big Star, the truth is different from the legend. 

Richard Rosebrough: ‘What’s Going Ahn’ was a formal 

session that John Fry engineered. John Fry did not engineer 

too many live sessions so it was a blessed event. We cut that 

in the A Studio at Ardent. There were some other folks that 

was there. Danny Jones may have been a part of that. It 

probably predated Rock Writers Convention. 

Alex Chilton: ‘What’s Going Ahn’ was recorded before 

all the rest of it. Perhaps. I was learning about the studio in 

those days and could come in on off hours and do things. 

I did a session for ‘What’s Going Ahn’, thinking that it 

might be a solo record or something. But that later just got 

absorbed [into Radio City]. ‘What’s Going Ahn’ was a John 

Fry session with Richard and I and the bass player Danny. 

It was a formal recording session . . . all three of us simulta- 

neously I think. It might have been Tommy Cathay playing 


Although there’s no track sheet to give additional clues to 

the recording, the acoustic demo once again demonstrates 

that Chilton arrived at the formal session with the arrange- 

ment for the track virtually complete. By adjusting the bal- 

ance control on a decent playback system you can highlight 

the acoustic guitar track in one channel and get a pretty 

good of how the acoustic demo sounds. 

Richard Rosebrough: I didn’t hear that song a whole 

lot before we recorded but there Alex was very structured 

and very tame and sweet and lovable and persistent and on 

top of things. It always came out of his soul whether he was 

in a controlled state or in chaos. Back in the very early days, 

Alex not nearly as chaotic as he became. He was persistent 

and deliberate and expressive. He would work on something 

over and over until he got it right. And if it wasn’t going 

right he’d say, “This isn’t happening. Let’s forget this.” 

Although Chilton is quite dismissive of Radio City’s lyrics, 

he did give them at least some ongoing thought, changing 

the first line of the second verse from “I’ve forgot every- 

thing” on the acoustic demo to “I’ve forsaked everyone.” 

Andy Hummel: If I recall, this is a song written in one 

of those songwriting sessions at Alex’s. We hung out at 

Alex’s in his bedroom and listened to LPs on that cool little 

KLH stereo of his frequently there for a while. I don’t think 

it would be possible to say I wrote a particular thing or Alex 

wrote a particular thing. The song was basically his idea. 

I just helped by throwing out the occasional chord turn, 

lyric, whatever. I think I took ten-percent writer credit or 

something like that. It’s his song. 

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