The Ballad of El Goodo

Album: #1 Record (1972)

Songfacts®:

  • In a 1992 interview with Oor magazine, the songs' co-writer Alex Chilton (who is credited along with Chris Bell) revealed that, whilst he felt that Big Star's "music is still a triumph – some of the time," he said "I didn't understand how to make the right sound with my voice, so things like 'Ballad Of El Goodo' and 'Thirteen' could have been better."
  • Though the song can be interpreted as a broad, abstract paean to anti-conformity and independence, the lyrics could more specifically allude to the Vietnam War. The first verse plays with the idiom "stick to your guns," which could easily be literalized with the second verse:

    "There's people around who tell you that they know
    The places where they send you, and it's easy to go
    They'll zip you up and dress you down, stand you in a row
    But you know you don't have to
    You can just say no"

    The Vietnam War was seemingly important to Chilton. In an 2010 obituary for Nashvillescene.com following Chilton's death, John "Bucky" Wilkin, lead singer and songwriter for '60s surf rock group Ronny & the Daytonas, said: "Vietnam was the war we both related to, more on the level of the Buddhist priests who set themselves on fire in protest than as the American combat soldiers – both of us somehow being able to avoid the draft."
  • In our 2013 interview, Big Star drummer Jody Stephens expressed how he felt the song revealed Chilton and Bell to be a cut above the average rock n' roller: "All of a sudden I'm playing with these guys that can write songs that are as engaging to me as the people I'd grown up listening to, so I felt incredibly lucky." He also singled out the song as one of his favorites to play.
  • Counting Crows covered the song for their 2012 album of covers Underwater Sunshine (or What we did on our Summer Vacation). In a 2012 interview with Paste magazine, frontman Adam Duritz said "One of the last changes we made was putting 'The Ballad of El Goodo' at the end of the record. I find it hard to follow that song on a record. I really love that song... it's speaking about survival."

Comments: 1

  • Al from Baltimore, MdIt's hard to find a more heartfelt song than "The Ballad of El Goodo". Alex Chilton pours his heart and soul into this one because, I believe, it's a theme that really matters to him. Yes, the theme is Vietnam and more specifically finding ways to stay out of it. I get the feeling that he is writing about a friend who was a draft resistor, who maybe had to go to Canada, maybe got arrested, maybe got beat up by police. But he knows he's doing the right thing. I also get the feeling that the friend has just returned and is sitting down with Alex over a beer and filling him in. Any way, that's my explanatin Nad I think it holds water. Love the song, and by the way, if you are in a band, it is really fun to play.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Best Band Logos

Best Band LogosSong Writing

Queen, Phish and The Stones are among our picks for the best band logos. Here are their histories and a design analysis from an expert.

The 10 Bands Most Like Spinal Tap

The 10 Bands Most Like Spinal TapSong Writing

Based on criteria like girlfriend tension, stage mishaps and drummer turnover, these are the 10 bands most like Spinal Tap.

Thomas Dolby

Thomas DolbySongwriter Interviews

He wrote "She Blinded Me With Science" so he could direct a video about a home for deranged scientists.

Movie Stars In Music Videos

Movie Stars In Music VideosSong Writing

Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Mila Kunis and John Malkovich are just a few of the film stars who have moonlighted in music videos.

Rush: Album by Album - A Conversation With Martin Popoff

Rush: Album by Album - A Conversation With Martin PopoffSong Writing

A talk with Martin Popoff about his latest book on Rush and how he assessed the thousands of albums he reviewed.

Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)

Max Cavalera of Soulfly (ex-Sepultura)Songwriter Interviews

The Brazilian rocker sees pictures in his riffs. When he came up with one of his gnarliest songs, there was a riot going on.