Certain Songs #47: Big Star – “The Ballad of El Goodo”


Album: #1 Record.

Year: 1972.

I’ve told the story before about how Kirk & I discovered a two-disc reissue of the unheard but not unknown Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City languishing in the Record Library in CSUF Speech Arts building, rushed back to our condo and put it on.

What sealed the Big Star deal for me — besides “September Gurls,” which was instant and eternal —  was the three songs in the middle of side one of #1 Record, which for decades have drawn me into listening to the whole album, which was a combination of incredibly weird and amazingly tuneful. Or maybe it was incredibly tuneful and amazingly weird.

Like, for example, “The Ballad of El Goodo,” which is chock-full of ringing 12-string guitar, heavenly backing vocals, perfectly placed drum fills and the chants of:

And there ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round
Ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round
Ain’t no one going to turn me ‘round
Aint no one going to turn me ‘round

and later in the song

Hold on 
Hold on
Hold on
Hold on

In 1984, this was like discovering The Velvet Underground for jangly guitars. Clearly an influence on so many things I loved, and yet not sounding like an influence at all — like say, The Who or The Beatles or even Dylan — but rather completely out of the time and place from where it supposedly came.

Also: I have always thought that maybe one of the best ways to illustrate the endearing idiosyncracies of Alex Chilton as a songwriter was in the lyrics to this song.  In the first verse, he sings:

I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds

And in the last verse, he sings:

I’ve been trying hard against strong odds

This is so weird! Every other songwriter ever when writing words about a personal struggle would put “strong odds” in the first verse, and as the song went on, up the ante, until he was facing the “unbelievable odds” at the end. If’d I’d ever gotten the chance to interview Alex Chilton, my first question would have been about this choice.

Which probably also would have been my last question, I’m sure.

Fan-made video for “The Ballad of El Goodo”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

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