The Gilded Palace of Sin
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Larry Marks, A&M Records, Released February 6, 1969, Length: 37:24
The Byrds had recorded the groundbreaking country-rock album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” in 1968, but personal and artistic differences led members Gram Parsons followed by Chris Hillman to leave the band shortly afterwards. The two country music enthusiasts soon teamed up again to realize their vision of country and rock-and-roll fusion with the formation of the Flying Burrito Brothers. For a couple of months, Parsons and Hillman holed up together in a rented house dubbed “Burrito Manor” in Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley and wrote a collection of excellent tunes. With Hillman on rhythm guitar and Parsons on acoustic guitar and keyboards, they rounded out their sound with the addition of Chris Ethridge on bass and Pete “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow on pedal steel guitar (four session drummers were used on the debut LP). A&M Records was attempting to beef up its rock and roll footprint at the time and unwittingly signed the Burritos, not knowing what they were getting themselves into.
When “The Gilded Palace of Sin” was released in early-1969, it landed with a huge thud, peaking at only #164 on the Billboard 200. Rock and roll audiences were not quite ready for the synthesis of country and rock music. But recording artists and music enthusiasts are keenly aware of this excellent pioneering effort.
The Burritos’ legacy was a short one. Their second studio album was disappointing as Parsons descended deeper and deeper into a spiral of alcohol and drug abuse. Hillman fired Parsons in 1970 and released the third and final Burritos studio LP in 1971. After two uneven solo projects (both prominently featuring a relatively unknown, young vocalist by the name of Emmylou Harris), Parsons died of a drug-overdose in 1973. Hillman would go on to have a long career, most notably as the front man for the successful country group, The Desert Rose Band, from 1985 to 1994.
While the Flying Burrito Brothers’ tenure was brief, music fans have been enjoying the “The Gilded Palace of Sin” for fifty years.
- Christine’s Tune (Parsons, Hillman) – A bitter diatribe lambasting the former founder of the Byrds’ fan club who was meddling in the band members’ already-troubled marriages. A great tune. As in the rest of the album, Hillman’s steady harmonies perfectly complement Parson’s more adventurous and fragile lead vocals. Sneaky Pete’s rocked-up pedal steel solos are overdone here, but most of his contributions on this disc are excellent.
- Sin City (Parsons, Hillman) – Hillman takes aim at the Byrds’ money-grubbing, former manager, Larry Spector. This is a country-rock classic that has been covered by many artists over the years. In this case, “Sin City” isn’t Las Vegas, but Los Angeles, and the former manager is portrayed as the much-anticipated object of the Lord’s retribution. Listen here.
- Do Right Woman (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Parsons included this and another Moman-Penn penned “Southern Soul” tune immediately following, showing his interest in fusing country, rock, and blue-eyed soul into a gumbo of “Cosmic American Music.” That’s David Crosby providing some vocal harmonies.
- Dark End of the Street (Chips Moman, Dan Penn) – Sneaky Pete’s use of the pedal steel guitar as a rock-and-roll lead guitar was radically innovative.
- My Uncle (Parsons, Hillman) – Parsons received his draft notice in the mailbox during the height of the Vietnam War, prompting this tongue-in-cheek promise to head “for the nearest foreign border.” Parsons subsequently received a 4-F deferment. He was actually the very last person in the country the U.S. Army would have wanted in uniform. In this song, Hillman goes back to his bluegrass roots with some nice mandolin weaving around Sneaky Pete’s tasty steel licks.
- Wheels (Hillman, Parsons) – Parsons’ paean to motorcycles following a minor accident with his BSA bike. He sings, “I’ll turn to Him who made my faith so strong.”
- Juanita (Hillman, Parsons) – His woman left him and he’s lower than the floor; the grist for about 90% of country music songs.
- Hot Burrito #1 (Ethridge, Parsons) – Speaking of a song about a woman leaving her man, Parsons scores the very best vocal of his short career with this lament dripping with palatable pathos. Ethridge brought the melody to Parsons who added the lyrics. Listen here.
- Hot Burrito #2 (Ethridge, Parsons) – What? Yet another song about a broken relationship? Yes, and another Ethridge melody with lyrics by Parsons. An outstanding Parsons vocal. The improbably titled Hot Burrito #1 and #2 are the finest songs on a great album.
- Do You Know How It Feels (Parsons, Barry Goldberg) – The fourth song in a row about a relationship breakup. Parsons sings in a traditional Country-Western style. Co-writer, Goldberg, would have a long career and eventually end up in Stephen Stills’ The Rides.
- Hippie Boy (Hillman, Parsons) – Hillman talk-sings through a dirge about a hippie and “redneck” trying to find common ground over the death of a hippie boy. The song was generally a plea for the generations to be more tolerant towards each other at the time of the turbulent sixties and specifically a plea for the country music community to be more accepting of “hippies” like Parsons and Hillman.
There are references to the Lord throughout the album, and much of that no doubt can be attributed to Parsons’ upbringing in Waycross, Georgia, deep in the Bible Belt. Parsons, like many other people, knew ABOUT the Lord Jesus Christ, but he didn’t KNOW Him. Parsons tried to find peace, truth, and fulfillment in the bottle, the pill box, in music, and in fame, but there was no lasting peace or redemption to be found in those things.
Chris Hillman Reflects on The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ at 50