Alex Chilton’s 1986 EP, No Sex, was his second release after a period of self-imposed exile. Following the debaucherous recording sessions that resulted in his chaotic 1979 LP, Like Flies on Sherbert, Alex took a step back from recording and touring as a solo act, preferring to play the role of sideman. He eventually moved from Memphis to New Orleans, where he cleaned up a bit. He worked jobs outside of the music business for a while, before easing back into performing, playing anonymously in various bands. The 1985 EP, Feudalist Tarts, marked his return to releasing studio records, and it was a fine effort, for sure, but nothing on it was as great—or shocking—as “No Sex.”
The song focuses on the then-developing HIV/AIDS crisis. AIDS was first identified in 1981, and in the mid ‘80s there was a lot of confusion surrounding the disease. It was still unclear how it was spread, but sexual contact had been identified as one way the disease was acquired. There was no treatment, no vaccine, and no cure. People were scared. In January 1986, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that in 1985 more people were diagnosed with AIDS than in all previous years combined. The following month, Alex Chilton went into the studio to record “No Sex.” His lyrics address a new, stark reality—sex was a possible death sentence.
If you’ve never heard “No Sex” before, you’re probably assuming it’s a depressing tune, but despite the bleak subject matter, it’s actually an overall upbeat number, reflecting Alex’s off-kilter sense of humor, while giving voice to the anxiety of the times. Much of its tone has to do with the music, an infectious (sorry, no pun intended), blend of rockabilly and Stax-like soul, executed in a tight yet loose fashion. Even with its profane refrain of “C’mon baby, fuck me and die,” the song did receive some college radio airplay—it’s that good.
Doug Garrison, who played drums on the track, gave us some insight into the recording of “No Sex,” as well as Chilton’s general production methods.
I’d be surprised if there were more than two or three takes on this. Alex didn’t like to belabor the point. His producing style was to preserve the edge, the little mistakes that give character to a performance in the studio. The first song I ever recorded with him was done in one take.
“No Sex” has been included on one of two new Alex Chilton collections recently released by Bar/None Records. From Memphis to New Orleans is a best-of spanning the years 1985-89, featuring a mix of solid originals and inspired covers. Songs from Robin Hood Lane highlights Alex’s love of Chet Baker and jazz standards. Amongst the fabulous recordings on this set, which all date from the 1990s, are four previously unreleased cuts.
The newly remastered “No Sex” is embedded below. Log in to Spotify to hear the whole song, or listen to it on YouTube.
We’ll part with video of an Alex Chilton performance from 1985.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Alex Chilton’s rarely heard ‘tribute’ song for the Replacements
What’s Your Sign?: Big Star’s Alex Chilton and his obsession with astrology
Tav Falco and the meaning of ‘anti’-rockabilly (with special guest Alex Chilton)