A Song for You

The essential Gram Parsons discography

The Byrds

Sweetheart of the Rodeo


The worst-selling Byrds album during its initial release, Sweetheart of the Rodeo's legend has multiplied exponentially over the years. Although Parsons' tenure with the band was only a matter of months, his determined fusion of rock and country altered the group's direction, as well as its place in music history. Sweetheart's "longhair country" is chronologically important, as it preceded Dylan's own respite into the form (with 1969's Nashville Skyline) as well as the Eagles, whose watered-down version of Parsons' formula has made them the biggest-selling group in American recording history.

As a result of contractual battles with Hazlewood, Parsons' voice had to be stripped from a number of tracks on the album (with the notable exception of "Hickory Wind"), including "The Christian Life" and "You Don't Miss Your Water." Several songs featuring Parsons' restored vocals emerged as part of Columbia's 1990 Byrds boxed set. This expanded version of the album (released in 1997) includes most of those tracks as well as several other bonus cuts and alternate takes featuring Parsons.

Flying Burrito Brothers

Gilded Palace of Sin

(Edsel Records)

Arguably the true big bang of country-rock or (as Parsons preferred) Cosmic American Music. The album's photos show Parsons wearing a Nudie tailored cowboy suit, emblazoned with a giant red cross on the back, cannabis leaves on the front and outlines of naked women on the lapels. A humorous and cheeky gesture, no doubt, but also a symbolic representation of Parsons' musical mission. His instinctive desire to merge the sacred (country, gospel) and the profane (rock 'n' roll, R&B) is captured perfectly on shimmering evocations like "Sin City" and "Hot Burrito #1," as well as the white-country-boy-does-Memphis-soul of "Do Right Woman" and "Dark End of the Street."

Gram Parsons

GP/Grievous Angel


While the feel and performances on this repackaging of Parsons' solo output are loose (especially on GP), the most revelatory aspect of the two-album set is found in Parsons' vocal duets with Emmylou Harris, then a struggling singer-songwriter. The naturally glorious sound their vocals produce can elicit goose bumps from even the most jaded and hardened of listeners. Their voices soar to rapturous heights on Harlan Howard and Tompall Glaser's "Streets of Baltimore" and the Bryants' "Love Hurts" (yes, it's the same song that Nazareth butchered some years later). Grievous Angel also features some of Parsons' most fully realized originals, including a pair of wistful laments, "Brass Buttons" (written when Parsons was only 19) and "$1000 Wedding." Grievous Angel's most uplifting moment comes with a faux live medley of "Cash on the Barrelhead" and the definitive version of Parsons' signature song, "Hickory Wind."

Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels

Live 1973


Recorded as part of a radio broadcast for Long Island's WLIR, this live album finds Parsons at the peak of his all-too-brief solo career. The set is primarily a run-through of material from Parsons' solo debut, as well as a smattering of covers and chestnuts from his own back catalogue.

"This is an old song I did with the Byrds when I was in fear of getting my life taken away from me. Sometimes all you can do is sing gospel music." With that introduction, Parsons and his group gently launch into "Drug Store Truck Driving Man" -- a surrealistic country waltz (meant as a dig against Nashville disc jockey Ralph Emery, who insulted the Byrds during their famed 1968 Opry appearance). Co-written with Roger McGuinn, the song captures the essence of Parsons' greatest talent -- bringing a seemingly incongruous rock 'n' roll lyric together with a loping country rhythm, and then merging his pained and broken voice with Emmylou Harris' soulful harmony, to produce a blissful noise simultaneously full of joy, pain, despair and whimsy -- in short, pure emotion. -- Bob Mehr

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