#274: Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Byrds
One of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen is called “Top 1 Members of Panic! At The Disco.” Please only click that link if you’re feeling stupid.
Panic! is a “band” that has been releasing music since 2004. It started out as a four-piece pop-punk band, then evolved until it was a solo project of eternal narcissist — excuse me, frontman — Brendan Urie. Urie is a consummate talent and a really annoying person.
So when the video gives the slot of Top 1 Member of Panic! At the Disco to Brent Wilson, the band’s original bassist who dipped in 2006, I guffawed.
Maybe this joke isn’t as funny as I think it is. (I’m always told that if you have to explain jokes, they’re not funny.) But I bring it up because even though the only permanent member of the Byrds is Roger McGuinn, the Top 1 Member of The Byrds is Gram Parsons.
Gram Parsons was 21 when he joined the Byrds and was hardly three months older when he quit. Right after he left this record, he went to form the Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons died five years later from a morphine/alcohol overdose, but still somehow ended up in the annals of rock history.
Roger McGuinn will probably hunt me down and kill me himself if he finds me giving Parsons more credit than him, though, so let’s not. His use of the 12-string Rickenbacker (inspired by George Harrison on #263, A Hard Day’s Night) brought the jingle-jangle guitar sound to every late-Sixties-early-Seventies rock band.
Besides, Parsons did kind of mess with the Byrds’ reputation. Parsons was determined to wedge some down-home country into the Byrds’ psych-rock mellow vibe, but it was 1968, and they were a bit edgy for country radio. They were basically laughed out of the Grand Ole Opry, and later humiliated on Nashville’s WSM radio. Kind of wild to think about today, in the age of “Old Town Road.”
Parsons didn’t last long in the Byrds, but he wrote two beautiful songs for this album: “Hickory Wind,” a slow and lonely ballad, and “One Hundred Years From Now,” a kumbaya song that we’ll all have to check in with again in 2068.
When Parsons wasn’t showing off, the Byrds are covering classic country tracks. There are two Dylan covers, of course: opener “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which makes me want to buy a flute and maybe even a gun that shoots, and closer “Nothing Was Delivered,” which is somehow the most psychedelic song, despite the slide guitar. Whether you prefer the originals or not, you have to admit it was prudent to start and end with him.
Then you have a cover of a Woodie Guthrie tune, complete with a tongue-in-cheek banjo, “Pretty Boy Floyd.” A cover of Merle Haggard’s outlaw country song “Life in Prison.” A short, unexpectedly pretty cover of Gene Autry’s “Blue Canadian Rockies.” The whiskey-drenched-honky-love song, Luke McDaniels’ “You’re Still On My Mind.” Then there’s one we’ve actually seen before — a cover of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” which we encountered at #178, Otis Redding’s Otis Blue. The Byrds cowboy-country take on it gives it a different kind of melancholy. I still love the chorus so much: You don’t miss your water/’Till your well runs dry.
I was surprised to find that I liked their hymns and Christian-inspired music best. “I Am a Pilgrim” is a traditional Christian song arranged with strings and bashful piety. Louvin Brothers cover “The Christian Life” has the most straightlaced message ever put out by a rock group: I like/the Christian life. Confirmation that I’m gonna be a big fat church lady when I grow up, and I just can’t wait.
God, that’s nearly 200 albums from now. Sometimes I think about how much music I have to listen to then get dizzy.
Other Highlights: Check out the 1997 rerelease for three extra fun songs from these sessions, “You Got a Reputation,” “Lazy Days,” and “Pretty Polly.”