A Retrospective Review of The Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’

June 8, 2021 | By

The Flying Burrito Brothers - The Gilded Palace of Sin - Amazon.com Music

A Review by Rob Markham

A few years ago, my co-host on “Shout Brother Shout” Brian Mulvihill and I decided to do a summer show devoted to “The Art of the Album”.  As we said then, changing technologies have led to the demise of the album as an artistic statement.  As the CD popularity has faded, music has once again entered the commercial world of the single.  The idea of an interconnected multi-song statement has faded since the new century.  The height and influence of the art of the album had weakened by the late 1980’s in any case.

In the late 1960’s, two roommates, from the recently fragmented Byrds, co-wrote six songs that would form the basis of the album to come.  They had left the Byrds in part because of a dispute over the direction the band should take.  As the Byrds, they had been a big part in the country rock direction the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” had taken.  The sales had not been up to the sales of the previous Byrds albums’ levels.  Roger McGuinn, not to mention the executives at Columbia, had been disappointed and McGuinn wanted to venture back to a more rock centered sound, while Hillman would want to continue the country rock direction.  Gram Parsons had already left the group over the Byrds playing in Sun City South Africa during apartheid.

When the band finally formed in late 1968, they had added steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow and bassist Chris Etheridge to flesh out their sound.  For the recording, they employed studio drummers and in quick order had produced the album that would become “The Gilded Palace of Sin”.  In February 1968, the album’s release would be a clear artistic statement from the cover as well as the record itself. Dressed in Nudie suits, and backed up by two models among the debris of a rail yard, it mixed the psychedelic with the country sound inside.

From the opening song of the album, Christine’s Tune, the steel guitar of Sneaky Pete is a clear statement that this will not be a typical rock or country album.  As a matter of fact, the steel guitar solos steal the song.  While the harmonies are country tinged, the tune itself is firmly in the pop tradition.

Sin City, the second song, is a send up of Las Vegas with its gold plated doors and green mohair suits giving in to “the lord’s burning rain”.  Juxtaposed to this, is the country treatment of the song.

The next two songs are the first two covers.  On Do Right Woman, we have one of Gram Parsons’ best vocals with an accomplished harmony from Chris Hillman, while their version of the Oldman-Penn soul classic, The Dark End of the Street, is nearly definitive.  It’s achingly beautiful complexity of instrumental  and vocal would be equaled but never surpassed.  This is one of the true high points of the album.

After this, My Uncle, which is about Vietnam era draft dodging, is a humorous song that would never be found on a country album of the period.  This ended the first side but didn’t hint at the great songs that side two contained.

Wheels is just brilliant .  The steel guitar ties together a song of anger and pain that never  gives up hope.  The joint harmony vocal is just infectious.  This is quickly followed by Juanita, a song that screams, as a lost Everly Brothers single that had just been un-earthed.

That leaves Hot Burrito #1 and #2.  Two love songs that have all the pain of romance gone wrong.  Parsons’ keyboard playing is especially expressive.  The second song also contains a great steel guitar solo as well as an impassioned set of vocals from Gram Parsons.

Do You Know How It Feels and Hippie Boy are the last two songs on the second side and contain humor and anger with humor the larger element of the two.  It is the end of a journey through a new genre of music that leaves you with an understanding of the range of music and emotion that country-rock could contain.  Unfortunately, it did not strike that chord when it came to popularity.  Only 40,000 copies were sold and Chris Etheridge would be looking for a better paying gig before the second album was recorded.  Nevertheless the album became popular with musicians like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.  As a matter of fact, it was Keith Richards that inadvertently became the cause of the break-up of the Hillman-Parsons partnership.  Gram became close friends with Keith Richards.  Parsons, with a well endowed trust fund decided to skip recording sessions and performances to hang out with Keith.  Chris Hillman was not in that situation and finally asked Gram to recommit to the band or leave.  He left.

In the end, no other band ever approached the heights of “The Gilded Palace Of Sin” which remains one of the most influential albums of its era.

Check the record out HERE.


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Category: Reviews