With the exception of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper or Dylan’s’ Another Side of Bob Dylan, few albums were as influential to future trends in popular music as the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo. This album single-handedly made country music hip by melding rock and roll and country into something even longhair hippie dope fiends could love. We can hear the fruits of the Byrds’ invention every time we turn on the radio and hear the latest “hot country” hits. At least the trend began with good intentions.
As befits an album of such importance, Sweetheart of the Rodeo has been reissued in every format except Aramaic Braille 8-track. This latest deluxe CD edition from Columbia’s Legacy division includes 26 additional tracks besides those found on the original LP. Fourteen of the additional tracks are previously unreleased material. Two alternative versions of “All I Have is Memories” join rehearsal versions of “The Christian Life,” “Life in Prison,” “One Hundred Years from Now,” and You’re Still On My Mind. ” Six selections from Gram Parson’s recordings with The International Submarine Band, as well as six versions of Byrds’ tunes first released in 1990 complete this two CD extravaganza.
Is the musical quality of the additional bonus material equal to the original LP? In large part, no. The International Submarine Band singles are especially dreary. Even a few of the alternative and rehearsal versions of Sweetheart of the Rodeo classics might perhaps have been better left buried in Columbia’s vaults. Still, hardcore fans prefer to hear for themselves that not everything the Byrds did was golden. But on the positive side, some of the rehearsal recordings are easily as good as final Sweetheart … recordings. Gram Parson’s lead vocals on “The Christian Life,” are sublime. His straight delivery coupled with Roger McGuinn’s florid harmony vocals work together beautifully.
As you might expect when you combine well-polished studio tracks with rough mixes and outtakes, the audio quality here varies from damn fine for its time to quant to pretty bad. Again, the International Submarine Band cuts are the worst offenders. Fortunately, most CD players made in the last 15 years have provisions for programming skipped tracks. Still, even the lowest-fidelity selections are rendered at least listenable due to Vic Anesini’s fine remastering. Lavish packaging includes newly penned liner notes by no less than Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke. Like I said earlier, this is a significant re-release.
There may be some folks who don’t have a copy of Sweetheart of the Rodeo . You need to have one, of course. This particular incarnation delivers the original recording in all its glory, and some of the added tracks are certainly worthy of airplay. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Gram Parson’s legacy gains any stature from his early work with the International Submarine Band. But you can form your own opinion.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.