Evan Dando - The Ballad of El Goodo
Some time in the nineties, when the Big Star catalogue (including a ‘definitive’ release of Third) made it to CD at long last, it seemed like the band were finally getting their due. Sure, enough bands were dropping the name of Alex Chilton and doffing their caps to his work, but that was as much of a signifier of taste and coolness as anything else. Now everyone else could hear what all the fuss was about, especially if you watched That 70’s Show.
‘Thirteen’ has certainly been a staple, tackled by the likes of Wilco, Elliott Smith and even Garbage (whose vaguely trip-hop rendition - allegedly favoured by Chilton himself - renders it painfully dated, though not without charm). A nineties tribute record manages to gather many of the decades big alternative names, and some interesting versions; Juliana Hatfield’s girlish vocals romp through ‘Don’t Lie to Me’,
Anyway, in typically perverse fashion, my favourite two Big Star covers aren’t actually on that record - although Ardent Studios alumni Afghan Whigs made a stunningly stately stab at ‘Nighttime’. No, the main one to watch is Evan Dando’s take on ‘The Ballad of El Goodo’, shown above in cringe-making Hallmark Card/lyric-montage style, and recorded for (of all things) the Empire Records soundtrack. Because, y’know, why not?
‘El Goodo’ is a big, big song - easy to overdo, and extremely difficult to sing convincingly - but by 1995, when this was recorded, Evan Dando had been through some shit. So a journeyman’s song (written, lest we forget, when Chilton was 21 at the very oldest) gets simply sung by the bubblegrunge star with the Marlboro Man’s voice. No whistles, no bells, no attempt to recreate the gossamer feel of the original. Just Evan Dando telling Alex Chilton’s story.
There’s another cover I want to talk about too, but I’ll get to that in a bit.