Friday, September 16, 2016

110. The Byrds - Sweetheart of the Rodeo

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On this work, the square album cover art design was extended in order to fill an 18X10 resolution screen by adding more flowers to the lei, doubling up the cowboy images on the sides and
repositioning the cowboy images on top and the band's name by vertically  cascading the letters on the sides of the lei.  The finished work is still very much identical with the original - and
that is the point, for, after all,  the original album cover art design is just a detail of "Sweetheart" of the Rodeo,  a poster from 1932 by the  Uraguayan-born artist Joseph Jacinto "Jo" Mora.

The Collier Gallery labels this work "The Evolution of the Cowboy."
Image from

Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released in 1968. Columbia Records launched an accompanying print advertising campaign proclaiming "This Country's
for the Byrds" and featuring the tag line  "Their message is all country. . . their sound is all Byrds."  The album is notable for being the first Byrds LP
to be issued  exclusively in  stereo in the US.  The album reached number 77  on the  Billboard Top LPs chart,  during a chart stay of ten weeks,  but
failed to chart in the UK. 

Despite receiving generally  favourable reviews from the critics,  the country rock style of Sweetheart of the Rodeo  was such a radical departure  from the band's previous sound that large
sections of the group's counter-culture following were alienated by its contents,  resulting in the lowest sales of any Byrds album up to that point.  Barry Gifford, in the August 1968 edition
of Rolling Stone magazine,  said of the album:  "The material they've chosen to record,  or rather, the way they perform the material, is simple, relaxed and folksy. It's not pretentious, it's
pretty. The musician-ship is excellent." Gifford added that "The Byrds have made an interesting album. It's really very uninvolved and not a difficult record to listen to. 

Rolling Stone also  praised the album in its September 1968 issue,  with Jon Landau writing "The Byrds,  in doing country as country,  show just how
powerful and relevant  unadorned country music is to the music of today."  Landau added "they leave just enough  rock in the drums to let you know
that they  can still play  rock & roll."  Noted rock critic,  Robert Christgau,  described  Sweetheart of the Rodeo  in a 1969  article for  The New York
Times as "a bittersweet tribute to country music." In more recent years, AllMusic critic Mark Deming noted in his review of the album that "no major
band had gone so deep into the sound and  feeling of classic country as the Byrds did on Sweetheart;  at a time when most rock fans viewed country
as a musical "L'il Abner" routine, the Byrds dared to declare that C&W could be hip, cool, and heartfelt." 

The Byrds' biographer, Johnny Rogan, noted that the album "stood alone as a work almost completely divorced from the
prevailing rock culture.  Its themes,  mood and instrumentation  looked back to another era at a time when the rest of
America was still recovering from the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy."  Ultimately, The
Byrds'  experimentation  with the  country  genre on  Sweetheart of  the Rodeo  was slightly  ahead  of its time,  to the
detriment  of the  band's commercial fortunes,  as the international  success of  country rock  flavoured  bands like The
Eagles, America and Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show during the 1970s demonstrated. wikipedia

This is the original album cover art design.

No. 120, Rolling Stone, The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time;
No. 229, The Virgin All-Time Album Top 1000

Cover design from the work of Joseph Jacinto Mora, 1932.
Album produced by Gary Usher. Columbia 1968. 

Released at a time when  The Byrds' surprising  immersion  in the world of  country music  coincided with  their declining  commercial appeal,  Sweetheart of the Rodeo  was  certainly an
uncommercial  proposition at  the time of its release.  However,  the album has proved to be a landmark,  serving not only as a blueprint for  Gram Parsons' and Chris Hillman's  The Flying
Burrito Brothers,  but also for the  entire nascent 1970s Los Angeles  country rock movement.  The album was also influential  on the outlaw country and new traditionalist movements, as
well as the so-called alternative country genre of the 1990s and 2000s.  Among fans of The Byrds, however,  opinion is often sharply divided  regarding the merits of the album, with some
seeing it  as a natural  continuation  of the  group's  innovations,  and others  mourning the loss  of the  band's  trademark  Rickenbacker guitar jangle  and  psychedelic  experimentation. 
Nonetheless, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is widely considered to be The Byrds' last truly influential album.

Although it was not the first country rock album,  Sweetheart of the Rodeo  was the first album widely labelled  as country rock  to be released by
an internationally  successful rock act.  However,  the genre's  antecedents can be  traced back to the  Rockabilly music of the 1950s,  The Beatles'
covers of Carl Perkins  and Buck Owens' material on Beatles For Sale and Help!,  as well as the stripped down arrangements  of Dylan's John Wesley
Harding and The Byrds' own  forays into country music on their pre-Sweetheart albums.  The Band's debut album,  Music from Big Pink,  released in
July 1968,  was also influential on the genre but it was Sweetheart of the Rodeo  that saw an established rock band playing pure country music for
the first time.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo went on to inspire the name of the 1980s country duo,  Sweethearts of the Rodeo, who paid
tribute to The Byrds' album with the sleeve of their 1990 album, Buffalo Zone. wikipedia

(A) You Ain't Goin' Nowhere - I Am a Pilgrim - The Christian Life - You Don't Miss Your Water - You're Still on My Mind - Pretty Boy Floyd

(B) Hickory Wind - One Hundred Years from Now - Blue Canadian Rockies - Life in Prison - Nothing Was Delivered


"Pretty Boy Floyd" live by Rogerr McGuinn from Justice Through Music, Inc. on YouTube.


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