Sweetheart of the Radio
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2003, Volume 10, #10
Written by John Metzger
Since the advent of the CD, The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo has been released on several occasions: first, in its original but horrible sounding format; then as a remastered, expanded collection featuring several remarkable bonus tracks. The latter is probably sufficient for the average fan, but the brand new, deluxe edition compiled by Legacy Recordings offers an even broader perspective for most serious enthusiasts of alt-country, classic rock, and, of course, The Byrds.
There’s little doubt that the passage of time has been a good thing for Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Not only has the album weathered the years quite well, but its aura also has been significantly enhanced. As a result, this groundbreaking classic outing is finally receiving the type of recognition it has always deserved. For the record, this wasn’t the first time that The Byrds had tried its hand at fusing country and rock as tunes like Mr. Spaceman, Time Between, Old John Robertson, and Wasn’t Born to Follow will attest, but in crafting Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the band opted to explore fully the bold, new sound upon which it had stumbled. Fueling the new direction was the fact that the group had undergone a series of major personnel shifts, most notably the departure of David Crosby and the addition of Gram Parsons. Quite frankly, as Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman set about to rebuild the ensemble, there was nothing truly to lose in changing directions.
In the end, Sweetheart of the Rodeo turned out to be the perfect culmination of the experience, a country album with a rock attitude that left an impressionable mark on music, changing its landscape forever. Graced with a remarkable line-up that included Nashville session players John Hartford, Earl Poole Ball, Roy Husky, Clarence White, and Lloyd Green, the album featured only two original compositions — both by Parsons — and these tracks held their own alongside eight cover selections, including two countrified Dylan tunes (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and Nothing Was Delivered) and songs by the Louvin Brothers, Woody Guthrie, and Merle Haggard. With three-part harmonies, plucky banjo, sprightly mandolin, and feisty but graceful pedal steel, The Byrds sculpted a masterpiece that simultaneously shocked and intrigued the world, though it took years for many to comprehend it.
As one might expect the bonus material is largely inferior to the original album, yet it does offer significant insight into both the evolution of The Byrds as well as the development and recording of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Naturally, there are a myriad of alternate takes and rehearsal performances that collectively offer fans a glimpse of The Byrds’ creative process, but it’s the other selections that will appeal to a wider audience. Songs such as Tim Hardin’s Reputation and Gram Parsons’ Lazy Days obviously didn’t fit within the scope of the final album, though, in actuality, they might have improved the band’s subsequent outing Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde. Others — such as Kevin Kelley’s All I Have Are the Memories, which simply needed a better vocalist, and McGuinn’s terrific take on the traditional Pretty Polly — simply didn’t make the cut, though that didn’t mean that they weren’t worthy. Also added to this edition are six songs recorded by The International Submarine Band, the outfit led by Gram Parsons prior to his joining The Byrds. The first two songs mix British garage rock á la The Who with the burgeoning sounds of the California psychedelic pop scene, while the latter four increasingly transition into more country-oriented fare. Taken together, these tunes form an interesting precursor to The Byrds’ own experimentation and clearly demonstrate why Parsons was selected to replace Crosby.
Sweetheart of the Rodeo [Original Album] —
Bonus Materials — ˝
Sweetheart of the Rodeo [Deluxe Edition] —
Of Further Interest...
Sweetheart of the Rodeo [Deluxe Edition] is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box