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Thirteen

COPYRIGHT NOTICE
Musical composition copyright ©1971 Ardent Productions, Inc.
Original material is copyrighted ©2002 and may not be reproduced
in any manner or distributed outside of everything2.com without
the author's express written consent. All rights reserved.

Lyrics reproduced under fair use policy as defined here.

Author: Alex Chilton
Performed by: Big Star
Album: #1 Record (Stax Records, 1971/Fantasy Inc., 1992)
Recorded at: Ardent Studios, Memphis

Personal notes
I've been a fan of Big Star and Alex Chilton for many years now. Pretty much everything they ever recorded is an absolute masterpiece as far as I'm concerned, but let me tell you something... this song is different. Sure, its pure honesty and directness is similar to a couple of other tunes on their first album (particularly "Give Me Another Chance"), but it's not really fair to count it as a Big Star song, because it didn't start out as one.

This song is unlike any other in the Big Star catalog because Alex Chilton wrote it more than ten years before he joined the band. Before the Box Tops. Before the booze, drugs, intimidation and cynicism. Before the beginning.

The title comes from Alex's age when he wrote this song: Thirteen. You might think an average kid that age wouldn't be able to compose a tune like this. But Alex Chilton wasn't your average kid. Sure, the lyrics are pretty simple. It's pubescent teen angst in a nutshell, and that's where the heart-wrenching beauty of this song finds its source. But not in the usual way you'd think.

Simply reading the lyrics here won't give you the full impact of this composition. It's been covered by other musicians, including Garbage and Elliott Smith (who does an amazing rendition of it), but nothing compares to hearing Alex perform it. It is raw and beautiful in a way that few songs are. Written for acoustic guitar, it is a youthful expression of yearning and patience, of insecurity and determination that I have never heard expressed in song by anyone quite like this.

If you've aged past 25 years or so, hearing this song will almost certainly transport you back to the days when you were on the cusp of puberty, and felt those first stong and undeniable pulls toward your blooming sexuality and the tricky, scary, walking-on-eggshells feeling of first love. There have been a lot of songs written on this subject, but there are very few which are as poignant as this one. Alex's heart is truly on his sleeve here, which is rather out of character for the same man who wrote "Holocaust" and "Life is White". This song gives some insight into why the sad experiences of the Box Tops and Big Star were able to affect him like they did.

But you don't have to know anything about the history of the bands or Alex to get the message. It's a remarkable song in its own right. It's a universal snapshot in time, and every one of us have been in that picture before.


Lyrics:

Won't you let me walk you home from school?
Won't you let me meet you at the pool?
Maybe Friday I can
get tickets for the dance
And I'll take you,
Oooh oo oo

Won't you tell your dad, "Get off my back"?
Tell him what we said about "Paint It Black"
Rock and Roll is here to stay
Come inside, well it's okay
And I'll shake you,
Oooh oo oo

(instrumental bridge)

Won't you tell me what you're thinking of?
Would you be an outlaw for my love?
If it's so, well let me know,
If it's no, well, I can go.
I won't make you,
Oooh oo oo