|First posted 2/23/2008; updated 12/4/2020.|
Sweetheart of the Rodeo
Charted: August 30, 1968
Peak: 77 US, -- UK
Sales (in millions): --
Genre: country rock
Song Title (Writers) [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 32:35
3.927 out of 5.00 (average of 27 ratings)
Quotable: “Sweetheart wasn’t the first country-rock album, but with its gorgeous three-way harmonies and sweet pedal steel, it remains the best.” – David Cantwell, Amazon.com
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
“After Chris Hillman dragged new friend Gram Parsons into the Byrds, they made an album as close to a country masterpiece as a rock act could ever make.” DC “Sweetheart wasn’t the first country-rock album” DC – “the first bona fide country-rock album is often cited as being Safe at Home by Parsons’ previous group, The International Submarine Band” WK – “but with its gorgeous three-way harmonies and sweet pedal steel, [Rodeo] remains the best.” DC “At a time when most rock fans viewed country as a musical ‘L’il Abner’ routine, the Byrds dared to declare that C&W could be hip, cool, and heartfelt.” MD “No major band had gone so deep into the sound and feeling of classic country (without parody or condescension) as the Byrds did on Sweetheart.” MD
“The album has proved to be a landmark, serving…as a blueprint… for the entire nascent 1970s Los Angeles country-rock movement. The album was also influential on the outlaw country and new traditionalist movements, as well as the so-called alternative country genre of the 1990s and 2000s.” WK
“The Byrds were hardly strangers to country music, dipping their toes in the twangy stuff as early as their second album,” MD “but Sweetheart of the Rodeo represented their fullest immersion into the genre thus far.” WK It was quite “a stylistic move away from the psychedelic rock of the band’s previous LP, The Notorious Byrd Brothers.” WK “Large sections of the group’s counter-culture following were alienated by its contents, resulting in the lowest sales of any Byrds album up to that point.” WK
“The album was also responsible for bringing Gram Parsons, who had joined The Byrds prior to the recording of the album, to the attention of a mainstream rock audience for the first time.” WK Becoming a member of the Byrds became “an important chapter in Parsons' personal and musical crusade to make country music fashionable for a young audience.” WK
Originally, the album was intended to explore a diverse range of genres within 20th century American music. However, the vastness of the concept was trumped by a more immediate need – recruiting new members. David Crosby and Michael Clarke left in late 1967, leaving Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman as the only original members. They recruited Hillman’s cousin, Kevin Kelley, as their drummer and did a brief tour as a trio. Once Parsons joined in February 1968 “as a pianist and lead guitarist, his deep love of C&W soon took hold, and Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman followed his lead” MD and “the album instead became purely a country record.” WK
“While many cite this as more of a Gram Parsons album than a Byrds set, given the strong country influence of McGuinn’s and Hillman’s later work, it’s obvious Parsons didn’t impose a style upon this band so much as he tapped into a sound that was already there, waiting to be released.” MD
They tapped some country classics for the album, including “the traditional I Am a Pilgrim, which had been popularized by Merle Travis in the late-1940s” WK and “the Cindy Walker-penned Blue Canadian Rockies, which had been sung by Gene Autry in the 1952 film of the same name.” WK
They also included “a couple of contemporary country songs: Merle Haggard’s maudlin convict's lament, Life in Prison; and Luke McDaniel’s You’re Still On My Mind, a sorrowful tale of a heartbroken drunkard failing to find solace at the bottom of a bottle. Additionally, The Byrds gave William Bell’s Stax hit, You Don’t Miss Your Water, a country flavored make-over, highlighted by the band’s trademark crystal clear harmonies.” WK
The group also recorded “definitive covers…of songs by Bob Dylan (You Ain’t Going Nowhere), [Woody] Guthrie (Pretty Boy Floyd), and the Louvin Brothers (The Christian Life).” DC
Parsons brought some of his songs to the session as well. “The achingly beautiful” MD Hickory Wind was “written by Parsons and former International Submarine Band member, Bob Buchanan, during an early 1968 train ride from Florida to Los Angeles. One Hundred Years from Now has a quicker tempo than most of the material on Sweetheart of the Rodeo and functions as a speculation on current human vanities and how they might be viewed by successive generations.” WK
Before the album was even released, Parsons’ efforts to recruit more members to steer the band’s sound created a power struggle with McGuinn. On top of that, there was an accusation that Parsons was still under contract to Lee Hazelwood’s LHI record label. Between that – and speculation that McGuinn didn’t want Parsons to have such a dominant presence on the album – Parsons’ vocals were replaced with McGuinn’s on “The Christian Life”, “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and “One Hundred Years from Now”. Parsons still sang lead on “Hickory Wind”, “You’re Still on My Mind”, and “Life in Prison” but was reportedly “still infuriated…as late as 1973.” WK By the time the album was released, Parsons had left the band.
As important as the album is viewed now, it was greeted with “a great deal of resistance and hostility from the ultra-conservative Nashville country music establishment who viewed The Byrds as a group of long-haired hippies attempting to subvert country music.” WK At the same time, “the band’s shift away from psychedelic music alienated much of its pop audience.” WK
Notes: “Columbia’s 1997 CD reissue of the album improves on the masterpiece by adding…four cuts [‘The Christian Life,’ ‘Life in Prison,’ ‘You’re Still on My Mind,’ and ‘One Hundred Years from Now’] with Gram Parsons singing lead.” MD Non-album tracks “You Got a Reputation,” “Lazy Days,” “Pretty Polly,” and the instrumental “All I Have Are Memories” are also included.
The 2003 Legacy Edition balloons the collection into a 40-track, 2-CD collection that boasts a slew of outtakes and songs not appearing on previous editions, “including everything from the official LP itself, the six outtakes and alternates from the [1990 Byrds] box set…and even a 1968 radio commercial for the album.” RU
“Disc two leads off with three of the four songs [‘Sum Up Broke,’ ‘One Day Week,’ and ‘Truck Drivin’ Man’] from the 1966 non-LP singles by Gram Parsons' pre-Byrds group, the International Submarine Band, along with three songs [‘Blue Eyes,’ ‘Luxury Liner,’ and ‘Strong Boy’] from the International Submarine Band's sole album, Safe at Home.” RU That disc also includes plenty of alternate takes.
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