Sunday, July 15, 2012

192 The Gilded Palace of Sin- Helping to create a genre we never needed

Album: The Gilded Palace of Sin
Artist: The Flying Burrito Brothers
Genre: Country
Year: 1969


  1. Christine's Tune
  2. Sin City
  3. Do Right Woman
  4. Dark End of the Street
  5. My Uncle
  6. Wheels
  7. Juanita
  8. Hot Burrito #1
  9. Hot Burrito #2
  10. Do You Know How It Feels
  11. Hippie Boy

Call me a traditionalist but country music should be recorded under the influence of whisky, beer and in extreme cases, home made moonshine. It should be put down on vinyl by people who grew up in the south, know how to ride a horse and eat grits a lot. Under no circumstances should country and/or Western music be cranked out by people who smoke dope, take LSD and think psychedelic is a way of life and not a dirty word. Country albums should be called things like "Down home cookin" and be recorded by bands called "The South shall rise again" it certainly shouldn't come to us on albums called The Gilded Palace of Sin as recorded by The Flying Burrito Brothers.

And yet here we are.

Towards the end of their life The Byrds stopped being a Hippie band and started to develop an interest in country music. Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman decided to leave Byrdom and instead form a new group in order to showcase their newfound ability to add twang to their voices. They recruited some guys to play with them and set out as a country act playing music from the deep south to kids from California who could enjoy a slice of real Americana without having to worry that they were supporting people who might be Republicans.

By far the most interesting member of The Flying Burrito Brothers is Sneaky Pete Kleinow who is a fascinating character. He was working as a special effects expert in Hollywood and not a professional musician when Parsons asked him to join up. He hooked up with the Burritos for a while playing slide guitar and then decided to commit to some session work and picked up gigs with Frank Zappa, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison, John Lennon, Billy Joel, Ringo Starr Joni Mitchell and dozens of others. Then after having had his fun on the pedal steel he went back into special effects where he worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Terminator 1 and 2. What an amazing guy.

Musically The Gilded Palace of Sin is as bad as you would expect. It sounds like bad country played by bad country impersonators. The vocals are given an exaggerated twang that rings false and the tunes sound like a hippie's interpretation of what country should sound like. It's best avoided at all costs.

EDIT: Thanks to all the people who have commented on this post, especially the ones who have taken the time to tell me why they love it. I've listened to it twice more in response and I've developed a greater appreciation for it lyrically if not musically. I'd be interested to hear what Gram Parsons fans feel about my review of his Grievous Angel album which I reviewed here

Highlight: The cover "Hey look us! We're country Hippies!"
Lowlight: The Music: "Hey listen to us! We're country Hippies!"

Influenced by: Drugs and country
Influenced: A genre we never needed.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: If you want to know why "country-rock" came from out of the blue around 1970, you need not look any further than this album.

-I think this guy is giving credit when I think he should be apportioning blame.

So is the a huge case of Yeeehaw or Dagnamit for your hippie soul? Let me know below.


  1. The sort of response you are expecting, well, I won't give you the satisfaction. You know how many folks who love *real* country think this album is a masterpiece, even with some uneven production. So I won't bite at your bait.

    1. Thanks for your comment but please don't think I'm attempting to gather a specfic response or offering any bait. This post, like all the other posts, is my own personal opinion and not an attempt to troll in any way.

      I would genuinely welcome a response from fans of this album. I'd personally love to hear why you believe it's a masterpiece and I would much rather find a way to become a fan of The Gilded palace than continue missing the point.

      If you would like to share your views here I can assure you they will be acknowledged and respected. I'm not trying to bait anyone into an argument, all dissenting views are more than welcome.

  2. First of all, your introduction is incorrect. I realize it's tongue-in-cheek, but great CW music has no geographical limits.

    Second, Gram Parsons was experimenting with traditional country when he was in the International Submarine Band. It was after Parsons joined The Byrds that "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" came out. The Byrds were a folk/pop band prior to that.

    Just listen to the music without prejudice more than once, and it should put your preconceived notions to a test...and to rest.

    1. Thanks for your response.

      Firstly a serious question- what great CW albums have not come out of America's deep south? I'm genuinely interested because I'd quite like to hear some Country that breaks the mold.

      I assure you the only prejudices I had when I went into this album were a dislike for traditional pedal steel guitar and a respect for Gram Parson's voice. (I'd earlier reviesed Grevious Angel here

      I listened to the album with an open mind four times (which is my rule for every album on this release) and wrote my review after I'd completed listen number 4. I'm listening again now as I reply to these comments.

      Can I ask what it is you like about it? I'm genuinely interested in other people's responses.

    2. Ever heard of Merle Haggard ?

    3. Hank Snow was from Canada.

    4. I hadn't heard of Hank Snow until you mentioned him. It's interesting that he came from Canada but still went to Nashville to become a star. I've never really thought of Merle Haggard as traditional country for some reason but he's a good case in point.

    5. I know what you mean... All those people that are not from Hollywood who made it in the movie industry are ridiculous... Seriously, man, don't you think your point of view is a little obtuse ?

    6. You have to make movies in Hollywood because that's where the cameras and sets are. But you can make country music in Seattle. I'm just wondering if anyone did. Has anyone made genuine country music in Scotland or Wellington?

      The original comment said great CW has no geographical limits and I'm genuinely interested to know if there's CW music being produced in places you wouldn't expect it to occur. I don't think I have a point as much as a genuine question. I'd love to hear a group of people doing CW from a completely different country.

    7. So there's no cameras or sets ( natural or otherwise ) anywhere else in the world ? This discussion is getting more and more surreal...

    8. There's definitely cameras and sets in other places but Hollywood is where people go to make movies.

      Yes the discussion is taking a slightly surreal turn but I'd still love to hear some country music that was written and recorded in somewhere that isn't in the American south. The idea of CW from somewhere we don't think of as C or W is genuinely intriguing.

    9. David, you ask: "But you can make country music in Seattle. I'm just wondering if anyone did."

      May I nominate Buck Owens and Loretta Lynn, both of whom got their start in the Seattle area? (Independently, but at roughly the same time).

      See a 1960 picture of them on Buck's Bar-K Jamboree (Puyallup's Radio KTNT) at (right side, scroll down).

      I believe that, while its roots may be in Appalachia, country music sprouts and grows everywhere in the US that has farms, cattle, and strenuous outdoor jobs. It just goes to Nashville to be harvested.

      Come to think of it, I'll suggest Woody Guthrie as semi-Seattle for "Grand Coulee Dam", and "Roll On, Columbia" - mash ups of the Pacific Northwest and the Carter Family Songbook.

      (BTW, I really like your site; I read it with a second tab open to eMusic so I can download songs you highlight).

    10. Great comment. I love the idea of country growing in other places but being harvested in Nashville.

      Glad you're enjoying the site and I hope you've encountered some new favourite tunes because of it.

  3. I am not a big fan of country music, but I love this album. At this point, I don't think that it is even worth mentioning that this album is a groundbreaking release in the country-rock genre. The thing that sets this album apart from other country albums, however, is the strength of the musicianship that binds the album together, making The Gilded Palace of Sin an album that is greater than the sum of its parts. The pedal steel (played by Sneaky Pete) on Christine's Tune doesn't just wade in the background. It rolls along its licks, like a river running to the sea. I think what is really outstanding is how well composed and arranged the songs are. Melodically, it is extremely strong, and there are also a nice injection of lovely harmonies that can be heard throughout the album. In a lot of ways, this is not typical country album, as the lyrical themes are more varied thematically. Also, to be frank, I really don't see the hippieness that you see in this album. To me, there is hardly (if any) psychedelia throughout the album, and the only trace of hippiedom that I see, is the song "Hippie Boy," which I think even criticizes the hippie subculture, if you read the lyrics carefully. To put it to you this way, you could almost think of this album as an something that the Eagles wished that they have made.

    Now believe me when I say that this album is NOT for everybody. Anybody who is turned off by country music would probably have a hard time seeing the value in this album, which is why I was surprised that I liked this album; but, if you look past the obvious country-ness of this album, you will find a golden song-cycle of beautifully written or arranged songs, with excellent musicianship that simply kicks ass, and overall works well as a cohesive album that is tied together with consistent theme. In other words, a stone-cold classic of an album (that, to me, should be higher on the list).

    1. Thanks very much for your reply. I'm really interested in other people's views, especially the thoughtful ones.

      I'm listening to the album again as I type this (which makes listen number 5) and I'm prepared to admit there are some excellent harmonies.

      The pedal steel has always been a problem for me. There's just something about the instrument that I find predictable and dull. I can't listen to the studio version of CSNY's Teach Your Children because I hate the pedal steel so much, even though it's a great song by a band I love and the instrument in question is being played by my all time favourite musician.

      Can I ask what the consistent theme is that you said binds the album together? Lyrically I think it covers a lot of territory and I can't see anything binding it together.

    2. It may be a looser theme that I thought, but I would say that it is the concept of sin that is present throughout most of the album. Christine's Tune (subtitled: Devil In Disguise, if that can give you any indication) is basically a story about a jaded woman; Sin City is probably the most evocative song about a community of sinners; the next two songs are covers of R&B standards, "Do Right Woman" and "Dark End of the Street" that, both musically and lyrically, are appropriate covers in context of the album: "Do Right Woman" turns itself into a hopeful song about resisting the temptations that sin inexplicably offers us, and "Dark End of the Street" becomes a tale of a community in dire straits - in other words, two great cover songs of R&B standards, that are in turn a fusion of country and soul, or what Gram Parsons refers to as "cosmic American music" or something along those lines. In other words, they are very innovative in their approach; after the two cover songs, My Uncle is about an escape to Canada to avoid being drafted; Wheels is about living a lifestyle that is hard and fast, with no regrets; Juanita is about a one-night stand with an underage prostitute; Hot Burritos #1 and #2, and Do You Know How It Feels are traditional love ballads, that, quite frankly, are better musically than lyrically (as they don't add too much lyrically); and, of course, there's the closer, Hippie Boy, which is a commentary on Hippiedom. A great way to end the album if I may add.

      I personally feel that this album is underrated, lyric-wise. In any case, they are certainly not conventional lyrics about God, entrenchment in poverty, and other Southern-isms, that you mention on your Dolly Parton review for instance (Coat of Many Colours, #299). With the exception of the Hot Burrito songs and Do You Know How It Feels?, all the songs' lyrics are thoughtful and intelligent, and even the covers suit the album and its underlying theme of sin that is present throughout the whole album.

      P.S. Did you know that Gram Parsons studied at Harvard in theology?

  4. The only thing Gram studied at Harvard was George Jones and Merle Haggard. This blog is so ill informed as to be ludicrous, gives the web a bad name.

    1. According to my research the comment is correct he did enroll at Harvard in a theology degree. Is that not correct?

  5. Enrolled and studied are two different things in this case. He did not go to classes.

    1. Oh yeah your right. And I think he was only there for a short period of time (only one semester, I believe).

    2. Next you'll be telling me that the great story about the theft of his body isn't true either.