Sounding Off: Byrds album opened up new genre for Goldmine reader

By Tom Likai

I’m submitting my choice for most influential album of the rock era. Please note that I am specifying “influential,” not favorite. It could be successfully argued that there are many that were more important, but I am trying to avoid retracing the oft-taken route of praising Revolver and other notable efforts. Maybe I should say, “influential but less often mentioned.”

My focal point is the 1968 Byrds release Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. In those days and in the northwest part of the country, there was a prime directive concerning the musical tastes of members of the younger generation: Do not dare to appreciate country music. Make disparaging remarks about it and ridicule it at every opportunity. For a reason I do not know, it has always appealed to me, but admitting it to anyone was out of the question and something to be ashamed of.

The Byrds were an established band by then, having charted 13 songs, two of them #1 hits. Their albums sold well, and they recorded for Columbia, one of popular music’s best-known labels. In 1968, their musical direction changed, primarily due to the inclusion in the band of new member Gram Parsons. This immensely talented Southern boy had a vision and a deep appreciation of country music. Although most of his vocals were deleted from the album due to contractual matters when it was issued, his influence was huge.

The significance of their temporarily “deserting” rock music was a daring move which had the effect of bringing along a sizable segment of the record-buying public to heretofore forbidden country material. Suddenly a modern-day hipster could like a Haggard song, like a Louvin Brothers song, and have no ridicule thrown in his direction. Personally, I felt liberated. That album opened up a vast panorama of musical pleasure which continues to expand today. This white soul music touches a place in me that never stops glowing.

Leave a Reply