Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Byrds' 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' brought country rock to the mainstream

The Byrds did not invent country rock, but their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo played a pivotal role in bringing the genre to a wider audience. This is the only album Gram Parsons played on during his brief stay in the group. The result was an album that sounded nothing like The Byrds previous work.

Known primarily for their 12-string guitar sound and hits like 'Mr. Tambourine Man' and 'Turn! Turn! Turn!,' the band had already carved out a distinctive sound. However, personnel changes that included the leaving of David Crosby from the band allowed Roger McGuinn and the others to pursue new sounds.

Though turning toward country, the band could not resist including a couple of Bob Dylan tunes on this album. 'You Ain't Going Nowhere' sets the tone for the album as its steel guitar makes the listener aware that this would not be a standard interpretation of a Dylan song. Dylan himself was in the process of turning toward country. His 1968 album John Wesley Harding offered hints of it, and his Nashville Skyline the following year sealed the deal. Dylan's 'Nothing Was Delivered' was also covered on this album.

Sweetheart includes well-known gospel songs such as 'I Am A Pilgrim' and 'The Christian Life.' Also, the band samples the work of Woody Guthrie with 'Pretty Boy Floyd' and Merle Haggard with 'Life in Prison.'

Unfortunately, Parsons stay with The Byrds lasted only four months. He soon left for The Flying Burrito Brothers. However, his work here and later greatly impacted rock and roll. His friendship with Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards certainly brought some country flavor to them in the late 1960s and 70s. Remember that when listening to a Stones' song like 'Wild Horses' on their Sticky Fingers disc.

Albums like this are why The Byrds are an important band in rock and roll history.

1 comment:

Joltin' Django said...

If you want to read a great bio about Gram Parsons, check out Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music. Not only is Parsons' turbulent turn, turn, turn in the Byrds ably documented, the author reports that Parsons had no use for The Eagles' foray into country rock, a sentiment he shares (and I do too!).