#462: The Gilded Palace of Sin, The Flying Burrito Brothers
So who are these guys, who came up with the second-best band name in the world (after the Butthole Surfers)? Two former Byrds, as it turns out: Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman trade songwriting, singing, and guitaring duties, while session-musician-turned-bandmate “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow plays steel guitar. (Who, fun fact, composed the theme song for Gumby.) Chris Etheridge rounded out the quartet, until he left shortly after this record’s release. But he was replaced by Bernie Leadon, who would later bring his bluegrass sensibilities to the Eagles. What’s more, David Crosby is featured as a backup singer. So you could say that the Burritos were stacked with talent.
This country rock debut was somewhat underappreciated in its time, but you can tell that they were out to make a splash simply by their Nudie suits, which were custom made by Nudie Cohn himself and feature depictions of peacocks & pills, flowers and weed leaves. I’m not a formal dresser by any stretch of the imagination, but damn if I don’t want one of those.
The suits are more than just a fashion statement: they’re an announcement that despite their downhome classic country vibes, they’re subversive and badass. Sure, you’ve got your standard God-fearing country fare, like “Sin City,” which warns Los Angelinos that fire and brimstone is a’coming. “Wheels” lives there too: And when I feel my time is almost up/ And destiny is in my right hand/ I’ll turn to him who made my faith so strong. And “Do You Know How It Feels” is pretty much what I expect when I turn on a Sixties country song. Do you know how it feels to be lonesome? Girl, of course I do.
But the philosophy of a Flying Burrito is apparently more complex than just God and Country: “My Uncle” is a draft dodging anthem, where Uncle Sam is asking for more than I can pay. And the finale, “Hippie Boy,” is an organ-laden sermon about human connection between people of all walks of life. When it broke into a chorus at the end, I legitimately welled up. That’s what America should be all about!
But also, this wouldn’t be an Americana country album if most of it wasn’t devoted to the being abandoned by the woman you love. (Both Parsons and Hillman were going through bad breakups at this time, shocker.) “Christine’s Tune” is about a woman who will leave you and then gossip all around town about you — to the tune of a muddy electric guitar. “Juanita” walked out on me for the very last time, and I don’t know what I’ve done to be treated this way. (I have three guesses.) “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2” surprised me by being the most tender, brokenhearted love songs on the album. You loved me and you sold my clothes. What an image.
The Flying Burrito Brothers weren’t really doing anything new — they were just doing it better than everybody else. A sad addendum: Gram Parsons was booted from the Burritos just like he was booted from the Byrds in 1970, after showing up for a performance drunk and belligerent. He died in 1973 at age 26 at Joshua Tree National Park — and then his body was stolen and partially burned by his road manager Phil Kaufman, who insisted that Parsons wanted to be cremated and then spread across Joshua Tree. He did not successfully accomplish this task. Johnny Knoxville starred in a movie about it.
Fun Fact: “Do Right Woman” was first released by Aretha Franklin in 1967, on I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. (The Burritos cover is so different but every inch as beautiful.) And “Dark End Of The Street,” cheater’s anthem made famous by James Carr, was also covered by Aretha in 1970. I love that Flying Burritos are in conversation with Aretha Franklin.
You know that game Six Degrees of Separation? I’m starting to think I could do that with every album on this list.