My Top 1000 Songs #172: Ballad Of Big Nothing

If you rank songs simply by how frequently you throw it onto the mixes you play when you've got people over at your place, this one ends up pretty high on the list. Musically and aesthetically, it's a beautiful track, from the crystalline sheen of the acoustic guitars to Elliott Smith's entrancing vocals.

Of course, you're also hoping nobody focuses in too closely on the lyrics, as the beauty of the music is matched only by the ugliness of the lyrics. It may be the perfect example of Smith's duality, the loveliness of his artistry matched with an underlying bitterness and sadness. 

"All spit and spite you're up all night and down every day, a tired man with only hours to go just waiting to be taken away.

Getting into the back of a car for candy from some stranger, watching the parade with pinpoint eyes full of smoldering anger."

I mean, c'mon, not happy stuff.

And the mandatory sing-along chorus is similarly torn in two directions. "You can do what you want to, whenever you want to. You can do what you want to, there's no one to stop you." In another song, this could be a proclamation of freedom ripped from "Me & Bobby McGee"; in Smith's hands, it's the ultimate resignation, the waved white flag and its tragic aftermath. Still, so damn pretty how he sings it...

Live full-band performance in 2000: