The cult band’s cult band: Memphis pioneers Big Star’s exquisite “The Ballad Of El Goodo” from 1972 debut album “#1 Record”.
As we travel further down my top tunes rundown, quite a few recent blogs have seen me outline that it’s been tough to pick out just one song by the artist in question. Big Star are another all-time favourite band, but my choice here was very binary: the pure power pop majesty of “September Gurls” or the beauty of the country tinged, melancholically melodic “The Ballad Of El Goodo”? It’s the latter that has to be my personal Big Star “#1 Record”, one of the most gorgeously emotive songs I’ve ever heard.
A “great lost band” that truly inspires devotion, anyone reading this is either likely to be a fellow Big Star obsessive or not know anything about them. After two incredible early 70s albums (“#1 Record” and follow-up “Radio City”) that were critics favourites at the time, but poorly distributed – and therefore struggled to sell – Big Star split up in late 1974, after recording their “Third/Sister Lovers” LP, which was not even released until 1978. However, the cult and mystique surrounding the group and frontman Alex Chilton built over the intervening years, with Big Star serving as a significant inspiration to countless 80s/90s bands; notably REM, The Replacements (who recorded their tribute song “Alex Chilton” in 1987) and perhaps most famously in the UK, Teenage Fanclub.
When Teenage Fanclub’s fantastic 1991 album “Bandwagonesque” was released, there was some music press chat about how they were basically ripping off Big Star, a band that would have been unfamiliar to most people reading at the time. While not that clear cut, Teenage Fanclub were certainly hugely influenced by Big Star and would in fact talk up the glories of the group at any opportunity, so they weren’t exactly hiding their undoubted fandom. Such new exposure helped to increase popular attention for Big Star, and they started playing live shows again in the 90s – with original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens backed up by the Posies, a fantastic power pop outfit in their own right, especially the 1993 “Frosting On The Beater” album. I managed to catch Big Star live a few times in the 2000s which always felt like a real event with considerable love for the band from the whole crowd, before Alex Chilton sadly died of a heart attack in 2010. An enlightening documentary titled “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” was subsequently produced in 2013 detailing their original travails plus comeback to prominence; recommended viewing, I’ve linked to its trailer below…
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- “The Ballad Of El Goodo” lyric video on YouTube
- Bonus: “September Gurls” lyric video on YouTube
- “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” film trailer
- Other great Big Star songs that just missed out include: September Gurls, Back Of A Car, Thirteen, When My Baby’s Beside Me, My Life Is Right, Watch The Sunrise, Thank You Friends.
- “The Ballad Of El Goodo” is featured on my 379 to 50: 1 to 25 Spotify playlist
- Also featured on my 379: Rock Spotify playlist
NEXT: NUMBER 14
3 thoughts on “379 to 50: #15 “The Ballad Of El Goodo” by Big Star”
Alex died of a Heart Attack, all the more depressing when you find out that if he had health insurance, he would have gone to the doctor earlier
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Thanks for the comment – and info, I’d listed cancer as Alex’s cause of death originally (my defective memory or something there!) but have updated accordingly now. So sad and regrettable with those circumstances of course
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