The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin
Today we celebrate another landmark country rock album. It was still an emerging genre in 1969, and one with band members Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s finger prints all over it. They had both played on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo release the previous August, with Parsons taking songwriting credits for a couple of its tracks before his blur of an association with that band ended as quickly as it had begun. Hillman followed him out of the Byrds a couple of months later, and the two formed The Flying Burrito Brothers in the latter months of 1968. Their critically acclaimed first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin, was released this day 50 years ago.
Most of the songs were written by Parsons and Hillman in their rented L.A. home, a time and scene described very well in John Einarson’s book, Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, written with heavy input from Hillman. Of the eleven songs, six were co-written by Parsons with Hillman, two with Ethridge, and one by Parsons and Barry Goldberg. The other two were soul tunes which the group incorporated seamlessly into their overall sound. Both written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn, Do Right Woman was first recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967, and Dark End of the Street was originally sung by James Carr.
One of the elements that sets this album apart from others from the opening track is not only the absence of a lead guitar, but the inclusion of “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel guitar which more than fills the void. Kleinow is vital to this recording, and he was a highly sought after session man as a result of it (see Kleinow wiki link below for a list of others he worked with). There are also three session drummers giving a few of these tracks just the right amount of snare.
There are left-leaning takes on subjects one might not expect in country music at the time with My Uncle (Vietnam) and Hippie Boy (the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago). There are songs I think of as classic country in Sin City, Do You Know How it Feels, and Juanita, and songs of tenderness such as Ethridge’s Hot Burrito #1. There are no bad tracks to me on this album. Personal favorites include…hell, all of them. And the overall vibe of the album was rounded out perfectly with the sequined Nudie Suits designed by Nudie Cohn and the photo session in the desert with a couple of their girlfriends in tow.
I’ve taken a somewhat cynical view of Gram Parsons in other posts due to his description of his own music as “cosmic” as opposed to simply country or country rock, but the Flying Burrito Brothers gave us something very special with this album. There’s no disputing that Parsons was passionate about both genres, and it shows here. But there were a couple of things brought home well in Einarson’s book mentioned above. Firstly, they (Gram, specifically) could’ve accomplished so much more, but Parsons had a lack of motivation which is mostly attributed to the fact that he lived off a family trust fund. Maybe he’d get out of bed, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d be sober for a performance, but probably not. Unlike the others in his band, he always knew where his next meal was coming from.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the songs on this record were all co-written. Gram clearly brought plenty of talent and enthusiasm for country, but Chris Hillman and to a lesser extent Chris Ethridge deserve a lot more credit than they’re given. And without a doubt these songs wouldn’t have been as good without Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel. Call it cosmic if you want, but it was a group effort, and a great one at that.
- Christine’s Tune
- Sin City
- Do Right Woman
- Dark End of the Street
- My Uncle
- Hot Burrito #1
- Hot Burrito #2
- Do You Know How It Feels
- Hippie Boy
Cream – Goodbye
By the time Cream’s finale was released on this day 50 years ago, the group had been disbanded for just under two months. There was nothing sudden about it; it had been announce prior to the release of their previous album, Wheels of Fire, that they would split after a forthcoming farewell tour. As with that previous record, Cream would utilize live recordings mixed with studio tracks on their final release.
The first three tracks on Goodbye were taken from their performance at L.A.’s Forum near the end of that tour in October 1968, while each member contributed a new song to be recorded in the studio to fill out the album. The release spawned one single, Badge, which reached number 18 in the UK and 60 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by L’Angelo Misterioso, a.k.a. George Harrison, who misread Clapton’s writing of the word “bridge” on Clapton’s then-untitled song while working across a table from him. As Harrison would later describe it, an intoxicated Ringo Starr then walked into the room talking about swans in the park. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a beloved classic rock song was written!
Contemporary reviews were mostly positive, though the production was criticized by some. Yeah, those live tracks are loud. But Cream was a loud, distortion drenched band on stage. And by the end, Baker and Bruce were at each other’s throats while all three were playing over each other in live performances. To which I say, so what? It’s part of who they were, as well as a factor in their dissolution. They were a combination of a really good studio band who brought the thunder live, and when it was done, it was done. Within a few months Jack Bruce would release his first solo album, Songs for a Tailor, while Clapton and Baker would team with Steve Winwood and Ric Grech in Blind Faith. Then along came the 70’s…
- I’m So Glad
- Sitting on Top of the World
- Doing That Scrapyard Thing
- What a Bringdown
So, this happened 50 years ago today…
We’re also starting to get a good idea of what to expect with regard to the 50th anniversary of the Let it Be documentary. I actually find this to be exciting news, as it will shed a different light on the project. I don’t think it will be a revisionist light, as there’s no reversing the fact that the group was slowly dissolving while being filmed, but it will apparently illustrate that the Get Back sessions in January of 1969 as shown in Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original film weren’t dreary and depressing all the time. There were 55 hours of unused film taken that month! I don’t care if Yoko’s in 99% of it – she was there a lot, after all. I just hope Billy Preston gets his due. And, fear not, we’ll also get the original film, restored in all its bleak glory.
Fairport Convention – What We Did on Our Holidays
…she stood out like a clean glass in a sink full of dirty dishes – Fairport band member Simon Nicol on Sandy Denny’s audition with the band.
When Fairport Convention released their second album, What We Did on Our Holidays, 50 years ago this month, British folk rock was evolving quickly. By the end of 1969, it would be a full-fledged thing. But at the beginning of the year, the band had yet to take the full plunge. What we have on this album, remarkably the first of three by Fairport that year, is an interesting mix of original songs with then-obscure cover versions as well as their own arrangements of traditional songs. Perhaps the most notable thing the band did on its holiday was hire a new lead singer, Sandy Denny, to replace the departed Judy Dyble. This was Denny’s rather remarkable debut.
What We Did… shows a very young group of musicians with a new vocalist rapidly finding their way, but by no means were they scraping the barrel for material. The opening track is Sandy’s Fotheringay, one of the most beautiful acoustic folk songs of the era. There’s also the straight forward electric blues track Mr. Lacey, written by band member Ashley Hutchings and featuring the stellar lead guitar of 19-year-old Richard Thompson. The Book Song and No Man’s Land remind me of American west coast bands, the former the Mamas and the Papas with a Cajun twist, the latter a mish-mash of early Dead and Airplane.
There’s a nice version of I’ll Keep it with Mine, at the time a lesser known Dylan track which turned out to be a good song choice for Sandy’s vocal and Iain Matthews’ harmonies (only Judy Collins had it on an album at the time; Bob’s versions would see the official light of day on later compilations). They were also the first to release Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain – a track which is perfect for either Fairport or Joni (or even It’s a Beautiful Day?). Leaning once again toward English folk, they also put down their own take of the traditional Nottamun Town, a “lost song” from medieval England which ended up passed along through oral tradition to American Appalachia, and whose melody Dylan used in Masters of War in 1963.
Reviews are mostly positive. AllMusic’s Richie Unterberger:
And more than simply being a collection of good songs (with one or two pedestrian ones), it allowed Fairport to achieve its greatest internal balance, and indeed one of the finest balances of any major folk-rock group.
My favorites are Sandy Denny’s original Fotheringay, Richard Thompson’s Meet On the Ledge, Joni Mitchell’s Eastern Rain, and the traditional She Moves Through the Fair – a song I’ve yet to hear a bad version of, with or without vocals. While it may or may not be a cohesive album, I no longer hear it as just a step along the way toward Liege & Leif. It’s a great collection of songs, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with a band releasing a batch of tunes they just happen to enjoy playing, whether they “go together” or not. 1969 had to have been a blur for the group. They would soon experience major adversity prior to the release of their next album just a few months later as they forged ahead, leaving a significant footprint on the music world.
- Mr. Lacey
- Book Song
- The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place
- No Man’s Land
- I’ll Keep It With Mine
- Eastern Rain
- Nottamun Town
- Tale in Hard Time
- She Moves Through the Fair
- Meet on the Ledge
- End of a Holiday
Neil Young – Neil Young
Neil’s solo debut after Buffalo Springfield split was originally released in November of 1968, and was mixed using technology that was supposed to make stereo records sound better on mono equipment. He was unhappy with the sound – a trait of Neil’s which is as strong (if not stronger) in 2019 as it was back then – so the album was remixed and re-released on January 22, 1969.
The album has never seen chart success, but it does contain a couple of tracks which Neil has revisited live over the years in The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady. In addition to the production of David Briggs, who would become Neil’s long time friend and producer, both Ry Cooder and Jack Nitzsche helped with production as well as played on the album. Other performers of note on the record include Jim Messina, who was on the final Springfield album and was a founding member of Poco around this time, George Grantham (Poco’s drummer), legendary session bassist Carol Kaye of LA’s Wrecking Crew, and soul and gospel singer Merry Clayton, perhaps best known in the rock world for her wailing vocal on Gimme Shelter.
Other than The Loner and The Old Laughing Lady, both of which landed on Neil’s Decade compilation, the first I heard any of the other tracks was around 1990. I was in a heavy Neil Young phase, and bought this one some time after I’d absorbed the rest of his available catalog from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere through Rust Never Sleeps, plus Freedom and Ragged Glory. I didn’t know what to think at first. I had yet to discover Buffalo Springfield’s albums beyond a few of the hit songs, so I lacked context. Other than the two most well-known tracks, I immediately liked If I Could Have Her Tonight, I’ve Been Waiting for You, What Did You Do to My Life, and the Last Trip to Tulsa, the latter reminding me of his previous psych-folk song, Broken Arrow. These have remained my favorite tracks, though I’ve slowly gained an appreciation for the entire album over the years, especially since I discovered for myself the greatness of Buffalo Springfield, which this album sounds much more like than Crazy Horse.
- The Emperor of Wyoming
- The Loner
- If I Could Have Her Tonight
- I’ve Been Waiting for You
- The Old Laughing Lady
- String Quartet from Whiskey Boot Hill
- Here We Are in the Years
- What Did You Do to My Life?
- I’ve Loved Her So Long
- The Last Trip to Tulsa
Bert Jansch – Birthday Blues
In the late 1960’s and early ’70’s there was seemingly an alternate universe of musicians and bands happening right alongside the mega groups, and in some cases (cough Led Zeppelin cough) they were a serious influence, even providing the only female vocal ever heard on a song by that parenthetical band. This was a British world of mostly acoustic “folk revival” performers including Davey Graham, Nick Drake, Al Stewart, the Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and the duo and solo acts within those groups (John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, and Richard Thompson, to name a few). There were, of course, many more. One of them was Renbourn’s duo counterpart and fellow member of the Pentangle, Scotsman Bert Jansch. He released his fifth solo album, Birthday Blues, 50 years ago this month.
The Pentangle had just released its pinnacle album Basket of Light, and Birthday Blues is basically a Pentangle album without singer Jacqui McShee or fellow guitarist Renbourn (he’s backed by the band’s rhythm section of Danny Thompson and Terry Cox on this release). It is considered Jansch’s most “pop” record, but it’s firmly in the folk and blues genre. It’s alternatively playful and moody, as the album’s title suggests. Jansch was a dynamic guitarist with a distinctive singing voice – a good combination – so if you like this style of music, there’s a lot to enjoy on this release. Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell is a beautiful instrumental inspired by his wife, who also designed the album cover. Poison is a haunting track on the folk rock side of things with heavier drums and an eerie guitar and harmonica that give a feeling of foreboding. A Woman Like You is another one in that vein.
Trying to recall what inspired me to learn about Bert Jansch, it was probably a Roots of Led Zeppelin sampler CD that came attached to an issue of MOJO Magazine or one like it around 2003 with Jansch’s 1966 take on the traditional Blackwater Side. I purchased a Best of Bert Jansch CD and was on my way. It didn’t occur to me at the time to even bother looking into whether or not he still performed live. Even if he did, it seemed highly unlikely he would pass through Texas. Then one day in 2010 I read he was going to perform at the local symphony hall – opening for and performing with Neil Young! Then I looked at the ticket prices. Then I looked at my bank account. Wasn’t happening. A little over a year later Jansch died of lung cancer. Missing that show is a big music regret of mine.
- Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We Can All Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long & Dusty Road
- The Bright New Year
- Tree Song
- Miss Heather Rosemary Sewell
- I’ve Got a Woman
- A Woman Like You
- I Am Lonely
- Promised Land
- Birthday Blues
- Wishing Well