“The Ballad of El Goodo” is one of those songs that almost dares you to listen to it, with a title that bad (I’ve never quite worked out whether or not “El Goodo” is meant to be a pun on the British “Good-o!” saying), but within seconds of it beginning, the title – which has nothing to do with the song at all, thankfully – is forgotten. Have guitars ever chimed as beautifully as they do at the start of this song? Is there a more wistful opening lyric than “Years ago, my heart was set to live/I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds”?
Even with the strength of Alex Chilton’s back catalog, it’s tempting to announce “Ballad” as his best work, or at least his most complete pop song; there’s something so simultaneously personal about the lyrics and so universal about them, too (Really, they’re so generic as to be almost meaningless, but somehow they work here), and the melody of the music hits that ideal note of sing-a-longable and surprising, familiar even on a first listen, yet in such a way that you want to stop listening. Add to that, the arrangement – the bloom of harmonies at 1:01, or acoustic guitar overlaid on top of electric to make the notes particularly crisp to the ear (Jody Stephens’ pretty fucking great on the drums on this one, too). Plus, you know, any song that ends with the band exhorting listeners to “hold on” over and over again… I may swoon.
(It’s been covered many times, but surprisingly, the covers are hard to find on YouTube. I did discover this, however, which is rather lovely:
Again, man: Those harmonies.)