The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin

The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin
Released February, 1969

Gram Parsons is regarded by many as the father of country rock and his influence on popular music can be heard in bands from The Eagles to Wilco. He came into this world as Cecil Ingram Connor, but changed his name to Gram Parsons legally as a teenager when his mother remarried. His father had taken his own life when Parsons was 12 and he lost his mother to alcohol poisoning on the day he graduated high school. Burying himself in music, he played in various bands until he formed The International Submarine Band, which released their one and only record, “Safe at Home” in 1968 before disbanding. This album would come to be seen as the prototype for future country rock releases. Parsons met Chris Hillman of The Byrds, who were regrouping after firing David Crosby. Hillman recommended him to bandleader Roger McGuinn and Parsons joined the lineup for their 1968 album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”. The Byrds had dabbled in country music in their previous albums, but they immersed themselves in the genre for what is now stands as a milestone in country rock. Parsons no doubt helped steer the band in that direction.

Refusing to tour South Africa with The Byrds because he opposed apartheid, Parsons left the group after only a few months and Hillman followed shortly afterwards. In late 1968, they recruited pedal steel guitarist “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow and bassist Chris Ethridge, who also knew his way around a keyboard, and the Flying Burrito Brothers were formed. Using session drummers, the band recorded “The Gilded Palace of Sin”, and what an album it is. They blend country, rock, pop, gospel, psychedelia and R&B in a way that hadn’t really been done before, not even by The Byrds.

My expectations were low when I gave this record its maiden listen, as I’m not the biggest country fan in the world, but I was bopping to the first track, ‘Christine’s Tune’. Kicking off with a foot-tapping guitar intro, I became enamoured by those harmonies; Parsons and Hillman sound like the Everly Brothers! The next song, ‘Sin City’, walks a fine line between parody and the serious introspection of a damned city, but manages to work on both levels: “On the thirty-first floor a gold-plated door/Won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain”. I loved their covers of R&B standards ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ (simply called ‘Do Right Woman’ here) and ‘The Dark End of the Street’. I named the former as my favourite track off Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Man…” album earlier this year but I think this version just pips it. I love the waltz timing and the way the song ambles along like a tumbleweed. Having David Crosby on backing vocals never goes astray either. Only four tracks in, and I was hooked.

Hillman and Parsons co-wrote six of the album’s eleven tracks together, showing that while Parsons might have been the guiding light, Hillman was a valuable collaborator. ‘Wheels’ examines the rise of technology and the desire to drive away from our youth, but the melancholy mood is almost diluted by the song’s gentle upbeat feel. Redemption is a strong undercurrent in the wonderful ballad ‘Juanita’: “She’s brought back the life that I once threw away” which features some excellent pedal steel work from Kleinow. The closing number ‘Hippie Boy’ gets my vote as one of the best spoken word songs of all time and Ethridge’s fabulous bass playing brings the boogie on the excellent ‘Hot Burrito #2’. Even ‘My Uncle’, which I feel is the album’s lowpoint, is still a really good track. It’s so refreshing to hear an album with no filler.

After the release of their second album, Parsons left The Flying Burrito Brothers and went on to record two solo albums to little chart success, but great critical acclaim. He overdosed on morphine and tequila in 1973, but his legacy continues to grow, despite leaving a small body of work.

I believe this album catches the Flying Burrito Brothers having one foot in the 1960’s with the other in the 1970’s providing a foundation for other artists who would enjoy more success than them. This album is easily my favourite of the afyccim list so far. Endlessly enjoyable.

What The Flying Burrito Brothers did with “The Gilded Palace of Sin” was to do what so many other artists in the 60s were doing… they took a few different genres and mashed them together, in this case rock and country. If you listen to any music that is remotely country recorded after “The Gilded Palace of Sin”, chances are it was influenced by this album. So does it make the grade of being one of country’s most influential albums? Sure it does. It’s a beautiful fusion of country and rock. It has all the bits that country and rock are known for embellished with beautiful folk, gospel and soul flairs. If you like country there’s a really good chance this album will float your boat. I’m one of those people that are a little impartial when it comes to country. I don’t mind it, but I probably wouldn’t choose to play a country album. I do however love me some alt-country… “Pneumonia” by Whiskeytown is always on high rotation. Go figure. For reasons I can’t explain, I just didn’t really connect with this album. I can appreciate the musicianship and what the album did for country-rock. Heck, a lot of my favourite bands wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for this album. I can hear how they influenced bands like The Eagles and modern day country-rock artists. The Flying Burrito Brothers made country music accessible to a whole new generation and “The Gilded Palace of Sin” has continued to do this right up to this day, more so now than when it was first released. Despite never charting or selling well Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #192 in their “500 Greatest Albums of all Time” list… it’s clear this album is influential and worthy of its place in afyccim. As much as I tried though, I just couldn’t dig it. Sorry Clay.

I think it’s pretty safe to say I didn’t love “The Gilded Palace of Sin”. Country music has never really been a genre I’ve enjoyed. I think it’s the sound of pedal steel guitar I can’t dig, but I don’t know if I can’t dig it because I associate it with country music. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Either way, my dad hates country music, and he was my biggest musical influence. Did anyone else get the hook of ‘Sin City’ stuck in their head for hours? This old earthquake’s gonna leave me in the poorhouse…
It’s a shame for the Flying Burrito Brothers that we already listened to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Do Right Woman’, because Aretha’s version is about a zillion times better. It’s also a bit odd hearing blokes sing it. I think I would’ve really liked ‘Dark End of The Street’ if it was minus the steel guitar. It’s much less country than the rest of the album, though it doesn’t really do much, dynamically. MAXIMUM COUNTRY REACHED! You couldn’t get any more country than My Uncle. Except mandolin. Is that country? It’s got all the country things: lap steel, blues scale bass, vocal twangs and drums being played with brushes. Kindly, the Brothers gave us an intermission in the album, by providing three boring songs in the form of ‘Wheels’, ‘Juanita’ and ‘Hot Burrito #1’. ‘Hot Burrito #2’ wakes us up a bit with some cool piano and a super fuzzy guitar. I wouldn’t call it country at all really. Which is just fine by me. ‘Hippie Boy’ is my favourite track on the album. I really like spoken word, and I really hate hippies. I liked it even in spite of the extreme organ. Flying Burrito Brothers. Awesome, awesome name, I just can’t do country.

Gee, it’s surely been said many times, but seriously, what the hell happened in 1969? Here’s another corker.  An album that I was surprised to hear and loved from the first 10 seconds of Track One, it was refreshing and fun to listen to. I must admit I was shocked to find that The Flying Burrito Brothers were essentially a country rock band, as the name sort of suggested that they might be psychedelic rockers hyped up on acid! I don’t really get the name to be honest, I mean I know the reason behind it, but still, not a good choice if you ask me, which of course you did.  There are parts of this album where they did experiment with a more psychedelic sound using a rotating Hammond Leslie amplifier for the guitar parts on a couple of tracks. Let’s just say that the old adage ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ springs to mind, and leave it at that. The highlight of ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ for me, was their countrified version of the R & B standard ‘Do Right Woman’, which also featured on Aretha Franklin’s album of the same era “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”. This respectful re-make shows what the band was doing for music at the time; they created fusion between soul, gospel, rock and R & B. I love how the songs can be so passive-aggressive at times; some appear all sweet and innocent but have this of saying nasty things about people and situations, like on ‘Christine’s Tune’, where poor Christine is likened to the devil himself, but it’s done in a fun way, it’s like sending a bitchy email with a smiley face at the end – apparently you can say anything you want as long as it ends with a smiley face!

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