Monday, 13 May 2013
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 6 The Gilded Palace of Sin
The Gilded Palace of Sin - The Flying Burrito Brothers
This position has changed between the three great Gram Parsons albums a few times and I only settled on this one when I started writing. I might even change my mind again. I think not. This is a stupendous record, with both covers and originals melding perfectly.
The Burritos were Gram's third attempt at creating Cosmic American Music and they certainly dressed cosmic. Gram's Nudie suit, with marijuana, crucifix and the flames of hell is worth the price of admission alone.
The crucifix and the flames are pretty relevant here as a "devil in disguise" and "the lord's burning rain" play a big part in the first two songs, Christine's Tune and Sin City, both composed by Parsons and Chris Hillman who had both left The Byrds after being involved in Sweetheart of the Rodeo. If they were finding it hard to get songs like these onto Byrds albums you can certainly understand why they left. Sin City, in particular, is a bravura performance, a song which works as a prophecy, state of the nation address and a (very tuneful) howl of despair. It would fit right in on Neil Young's On the Beach. The Lord is a coming to get you!
It's the two cover versions which follow them which most clearly demonstrate arson's vision of a Cosmic American Music as they cover two songs from the team of Chips Moman and Dan Penn, the soul standards Do Right Woman and Dark End of the Street. Country and soul? Oil and water, surely. Well not here, both versions are full of ecstatic heartbreak, highlighting the purity of Gram's voice.
We then get the jaunty anti-draft song My Uncle which was such an influence on George Bush. And although the cap may be set at a jaunty angle, the heart is jaundiced.
"A sad old soldier once told me a story
About a battlefield that he was on
He said a man should never fight for glory
He must know what is right and what is wrong
So I'm headin' for the nearest foreign border
Vancouver may be just my kind of town
'Cause they don't need the kind of law and order
That tends to keep a good man underground, oh yeah"
Gram then takes us on the road, where the contradictory attractions of escape and home pull each other although the journey, as we all know, will end in death. It's both a spiritual and a paean to the road where you can get higher without being saved.
But perhaps the key songs to getting this album so high (in my list) are the two Hot Burritos's #1 and #2. Both, like the covers seem to effortlessly synthesise soul and country and show that Parson's songs can stand beside the classics with ease.
Hot Burrito #1 is an expression of deep jealousy, where the voice yearns to regain the love of his ex-lover. Hot Burrito #2 ain't to far away with jealousy and yearning again in the mix but when it's done this well he can fill the whole album with it.
Any album that has a country seam running through it has to have a song about being lonesome and Do You Know How it Feels is exactly that:
"Do you know how it feels to be lonesome
When there's just no one left who really cares
Did you ever try to smile at some people
Yes, and all they ever seem to do is stare"
The last song, Hippie Boy, takes the slightly pschedelic sounds running through the album and crafts a spoken word song over the tune of Peace in the Valley telling the story of the titular "poor little hippie boy." The two voices in the song are of a straight and a hippie. They suggest a bridge. Parsons was all about bringing together different strands of American culture and making something greater of the synthesis than there were in the original elements. Having come across, strangely, the link between Parsons and Jonathan Richman while writing my last post on The Modern Lovers I can now see how Hippie Boy and I'm Straight could be seen as parallel songs and how both made music which tried to celebrate the good in American culture while being painfully aware of the many parts not to be celebrated.
From Hippie Boy:
"As he walked beside me on down the block
I noticed no unpleasing smell
He might have been on the weed or even LSD
But if he was I couldn't tell
So we walked together that way through this neighborhood
Finally he turned around to me
And he, he said, "Friend, you know we're a million miles apart
But you know something we can enjoy the sunshine and the weather
So why don't we put our differences aside
And just talk to each other""
From I'm Straight:
"I saw you today, you know, walk by with hippie Johnny.
Look, I had to call up and say, I want to take his place.
See he's stoned, hippie Johnny.
Now get this, I'm straight and I want to take his place.
Now look, I like him too, I like hippie Johnny.
But I'm straight"