10 October 2006

Gram Parsons: GP/Grevious Angel

Gram Parsons was a brief, beautiful moment in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He started a new genre — country rock — discovered a beautiful voice in Emmylou Harris, made the Nudie suit cool, influenced every alt-country band performing today (whether they know it or not). And he grew up in Georgia, just one of many influential musicians from my home state.

The five-second Gram Parsons biography: Started with The International Submarine Band, played with The Byrds (check out Sweethearts of the Rodeo), then went the next level of country rock with The Flying Burrito Brothers, finally going solo in 1972. He died of an overdose on September 19, 1973 (click here if you don’t know the legend of his cremation at Joshua Tree National Monument).

Will from Will & Ben’s Record Room is writing a wonderful series on The Byrds. You can start reading it here; I highly recommend the click-and-read.

But that’s not why I love Gram Parsons’ music. I love it because he was a sublime singer, an honest performer, a brilliant songwriter.

GP/Grievous Angel was released on one CD. GP came out in early 1973 and Grievous Angel posthumously in 1974. Both are perfect, and I’ve always thought it made sense to include both on one CD. He wrote or co-wrote all of the songs featured here.

My favorite Gram Parsons tune is “She,” from GP; it’s probably in the top 250 in my mental jukebox. It’s sublime, very visual as he sings the story. It’s the best use of pronouns I’ve ever heard in a song. Plaintive, atmospheric country guitar and pedal steel wrap around Gram’s voice perfectly. Listen to him stretch “hallelujah.” Stops my heart every time.

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Grevious Angel’s “Brass Buttons” is a lovely heartache song. The opening piano, followed by the steel pedal sets the mood. I dare you to listen and not spend the rest of the afternoon singing the chorus: “Brass buttons / Green silks / And silver shoes / Warm evenings / Pale mornings / Bottled blues.” Every line in the song is perfect. “And the sun comes up without her / It just doesn’t know she’s gone” always chokes me up.

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I couldn’t skip one of Gram’s duets with Emmylou Harris, so here’s “Ooh, Las Vegas,” also from Grevious Angel. I love the energy of the song, and their voices blend perfectly. I have to sing along, and I often catch myself slapping the beat on my left outer thigh, as if I’m Emmylou on stage with Gram (a girl needs her fantasies).

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At 10/11/2006 02:39:00 AM, Blogger Ben Heller said...

Great call Beth. I think most people have this as a double pack (me included).

I had major difficulties picking one of these for my top 300 (I was close to picking both).

In the end I picked "Grievous Angel". I love how he describes his love of home on "Return Of The Grievous Angel", I love the song about his relationship with his Mum "Brass Buttons", the bitternes in "$1000 Wedding", and the medley which included "Hickory Wind" which came originally off my favourite Byrds album.

Great post Beth.

At 10/11/2006 02:52:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

Ben, I figured you'd be the first to post and would agree with me. Grevious Angel is also my favorite of the two, but I had to get "She" in there. I've loved that song since high school.

"Brass Buttons" has been one of my two song obsessions this week; I think I've listened to it twenty times today.

I love every song you listed. Hell, I love every song he recorded.

I'm sure you have the live CD with Emmylou. Why do I even try to one-up you?

At 10/11/2006 03:49:00 AM, Blogger Ben Heller said...

Consider me one-up'd Beth. No I don't have it.

At 10/11/2006 08:42:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

If you're interested in Gram Parsons and the Fallen Angels: Live 1973, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you a copy.

At 10/11/2006 09:06:00 AM, Blogger haahnster said...

I never had any Gram Parsons. Then, a few months ago, The Complete Reprise Sessions (Box Set) was released. And, for a wonderful few hours in time, BestBuy.com had it listed at $11.99

(I'll let that sink in for a moment.)

So, I had this 3-disc box delivered to my door for like $16, including shipping.

Now, the embarrassing part: I haven't opened it yet!!! I swear I'll get around to it, soon. Please have mercy on me.

At 10/11/2006 09:21:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

You got it for *gasp* $11damn99? Very green down here in the South, Haahnster. Now turn off Da Bears and listen. I know you'll shout "Brilliant!" by the third song.

At 10/11/2006 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Writeprocrastinator said...

Aside from the Nudie suits and the story of his manager scattering his ashes, all I know of Gram Parsons is that he was a hellva lyricist.

One of my favorite Dwight Yoakam songs and my absolute K.D. Lang song, is their duet of "Sin City." It's the kind of song that would make a rapper love country music.

This old earthquake's gonna leave me in the poor house
It seems like this whole town's insane
On the thirty first floor
A gold plated door
Won't keep out the Lord's burning rain...

At 10/11/2006 10:28:00 AM, Blogger haahnster said...

The $11.99 had to be a total screw-up, right? I know I was shocked.

I kept expecting an apologetic email from Best Buy, along the lines of "We sincerely regret our error, but cannot honor this price." That email never came. The box set did!

PS - BestBuy.com now sells it for $29.99

Amazon sells it for $31.49

Rhino has it at the official list price of $34.98

Not that I'm bragging...

At 10/11/2006 10:58:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

WRITEPROCRASTINATOR: Isn't that an amazing duet? I love just about everything Dwight has ever sung, but "Sin City" is perfect. You need to check out Gram, sir.

HAAHNSTER: The day that Yellow Brick Road came out (and, yes, I'm dating myself here), our local record chain had the double album priced as a single album (which, and again I'm dating myself, was about $7.99) - and they had to sell it to me for that price. Score! And if I can still brag about that thirty years later, you can keep bragging.

At 10/11/2006 04:29:00 PM, Blogger Bubs said...

Guess I have to add Gram Parsons to the list now.

When someone tried introducing me to him years ago I was in the depth of my loud/angry/fast phase and dismissed him as a twangy hippie.

At 10/11/2006 07:33:00 PM, Blogger mellowlee said...

Terrific post Beth! I will be adding Gram to my list as well. I have read Will's series on the Byrds and it was fabulous.

I remember hearing something about the movie that came out in 2003, but didn't really know the full story behind the cremation legend. I'm a big sucker for any kind of history, but especially music and art history. Thanks for posting!

At 10/11/2006 08:01:00 PM, Blogger Coffeypot said...

Go back to your sweet, cute picture. Your face is alot more pleasing and prettier than your hair.

At 10/11/2006 09:00:00 PM, Blogger Old Lady said...

Gonna tell you a story about the way things go, round and round no body knows

At 10/11/2006 10:39:00 PM, Blogger Dale said...

I only know a little Gram but love Emmylou the more I hear (her stuff with Mark Knopfler is great too) and Sin City, well, that's just a great song.

At 10/11/2006 11:59:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

BUBS: Highly recommend that you check him out. Great songwriter, in addition to being a great twanger.

MELLOWLEE: Wasn't Will's series great?

COFFEYPOT: You just don't like seeing your li'l niece all grown up, do you?

OLD LADY: Thought you'd enjoy this one.

DALE: I'll add some Gram to that proverbial mixed tape.

At 10/12/2006 01:26:00 AM, Blogger Coffeypot said...

I love seeing my li’l niece all grown up, and I am proud of her for who she is and what she has become. But I like the picture better than the hair. There might be cooties in there. Or weapons, or cached food, or uh… anything. Love ya either way.

At 10/12/2006 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Will said...

Just wonderful - a true genuis and probably the man who made me like country music (sorry, Johnny Cash - I love you too). But, Gram's country music was nothing like what we would think of as country music, yet it is very accessible. I love the songs with Emmylou - in fact, I think about Gram every time I hear her voice. Whether she's singing with Bright Eyes, Mark Knofler, Elvis Costello, or just herself, I hear the spirit of Gram in everything she does. That is to take nothing away from her accomplishments, because I think she is quite brilliant as well.

At 10/12/2006 01:43:00 PM, Blogger Peter said...

I heard a story once of how Gram always said he wanted to be buried in the desert and that a friend of his actually dug up the casket and drove it out to the desert and buried him there in an unmarked grave. I've never been able to corroborate the story but I like to think it's true.

At 10/12/2006 03:24:00 PM, Blogger Coaster Punchman said...

Beth, I enjoy the passion you have for your various interests, especially the musical ones.


At 10/12/2006 10:41:00 PM, Blogger Tumuli said...

The burial story seemed to precede his music, but I always was curious about the output. Now he is definitely on my list. Thanks for the highlight!

At 10/12/2006 10:52:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

COFFEYPOT: You forget; I'm the family liberal. No stashed weapons.

WILL: You nailed it with "accessible." Growing up in the South, I heard country music all the time - but Gram brought it to the other regions. I can't wait to read your Sweethearts of the Rodeo post.

PETER: 'Tis true. Click the Wikipedia link on my post.

COASTER PUNCHMAN: Thank you, sir. I do have a passion for music.

TUMULI: Glad I could turn someone on to a great artist!

At 10/13/2006 09:43:00 PM, Anonymous m said...

there is also a new dvd called 'fallen angel' that was just released..it is pretty amazing--it has footage of gram, and interviews with emmylou, his ex-wives and your best friend, mr. peter buck.

thank you for picking this album--and this artist. i just love him so much--what a gorgeous, talented man.

At 10/13/2006 10:38:00 PM, Blogger schmeckman said...

"brass buttons" is one of my 10 favorite songs, gram parsons was a genius, and emmylou harris has an amazing voice and (today) a wonderful head of un-dyed hair. mmmmmmm.

At 10/13/2006 11:00:00 PM, Blogger Beth said...

M: Wasn't he beautiful, amazing, fun, brilliant? Such a loss. Did my best friend Mr. Buck tell you I sent my regards?

SCHMECKMAN: I love "Brass Buttons"; I've been singing it -- badly yet loudly -- all week long. Glad you enjoyed it ... and points for you for preferring Emmylou's grays.

At 10/20/2006 10:43:00 PM, Blogger Johnny Yen said...

My introduction to Gram Parsons was Joan Baez' version of "Hickory Wind" on my father's copy of "David's Album." If you've never heard of it, she recorded an album of country and bluegrass songs for her husband David Harris, who had gone to prison for refusing military service in Vietnam. She gathered a bunch of great country musicians like Ken Buttrey (who also played on Dylan's Blonde on Blonde), Jerry Reed and others. Highly recommended album.

At 10/24/2006 02:13:00 AM, Blogger Beth said...

I haven't thought about that album in years; I'll have to add it to the ever-expanding list of must-haves. Thanks, Johnny Yen!


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