366 Songs 094: Nature Boy

I first heard Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers years before I could understand it, I think. I was still in high school and putting together my personal cosmology of music and sounds, and had pretty much just gotten to the idea that “Big Star = Power Pop with harmonies and chiming guitars” and wasn’t at all ready for the musical and nervous breakdown that Third had in store for me (Years later, not even that many, I revisited it afresh and found it to be one of the most beautiful, upsetting and vital things I’d heard. In those years, mind you, I’d had relationships gone wrong and had to deal with the real world a little more, so things felt more relatable than they had originally). But “Nature Boy,” Alex Chilton’s cover of the Nat King Cole song, was one of the maybe two songs that stood out for me, and I played it over and over, not really understanding why. There was something about the almost off-hand way Chilton sings it, the sparse arrangement and the final line, so naked and then underlined by the piano that follows; I had no idea what magic the song had, but I knew that it had some, so I just kept playing it all the time, convinced that there was a truth in there that I needed inside my head.

All these years later, now, I still get the same feeling when I hear it. This idea that there’s more to the song than meets the eye (or ear) and that “The greatest thing/You’ll ever learn/Is just to love/And be loved, in return” is the greatest lyric ever written or sung.

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