Customer Reviews: Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (Legacy Edition)
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on February 18, 2006
A couple of things up front....

For most people, the excellent single disk "Expanded Edition Sweetheart" is just fine. If you own it, you really don't need to buy this one. If you are thinking about buying "Sweetheart", you will not go wrong with the single disk version.

If you're a serious Byrds fan or collector you'll almost certainly want this lavishly presented 2 disk Legacy Edition with a substantial amount of new material. But you will still need the single disk as well, as some things remain unique to it.

For example, I really like the instrumental 'All I Have Are Memories', but the Legacy Edition places Kevin Kelley's vocal over this track. Two instrumental alternate takes are on the bonus disk, but both are to my ear inferior and in any case are on the wrong disk. So when I just want to hear "Sweetheart" for listening pleasure, I often still choose the 1-disk edition.

Some other outtakes and studio talk are only on the single disk; e.g., McGuinn, Parsons, and producer Gary Usher before 'The Christian Life,' and the exchange between Parsons and Usher after 'One Hundred Years'.

You will also need that edition for its booklet's notes on individual songs, and a reproduction of the back cover of the original vinyl album (only the back cover artwork is on Legacy).

That having been said...

The Legacy Edition has many good things for serious Byrds fans, even if you're not a serious Parson's fan:

(1) Legacy's Disk 1 is clearly intended for listening pleasure, with no false starts or studio talk to interrupt the experience. The original 11 track "Sweetheart" album is presented in its entirety, followed by four songs that failed to make that album, followed by three clean Gram Parsons vocals that had to be replaced by McGuinn/Hillman due to Parsons' contractual dispute with another label. The radio spot for "Sweetheart" which closes the 1998 single disk as an unlisted "hidden track" closes this one as a listed track.

(2) Sound quality is noticeably improved -- even over the excellent 20 bit sound of the single disk. This one plays louder, and with exceptional clarity.

(3) Gram Parsons' vocal for `You Don't Miss Your Water' is here. It was omitted on the single disk, and is otherwise available only on the Boxed Set.

(4) And of course Kevin Kelley's vocal on 'Memories'. I didn't know one of my favorites had lyrics, so I was glad to find this even though I prefer the instrumental.

(5) My favorite of Disk 2's bonus tracks is a completely different version of 'Pretty Polly' that has to be one of the mysteries of life.

This is not just an alternate take -- lyrics and instrumental interpretation are dramatically different. The words sound at times like Old English, despite a reference to Tennessee and expressions like "up tight". Instrumentally it is closer in feel to 'Pretty Boy Floyd', with an opening countdown and cold ending adding to its charm.

The singer seems to be some sort of court reporter, putting down on public record for his township the incident of "Pretty Polly". Despite intriguing snatches of dialogue between Polly and gambler Willie, obscure and fragmented lyrics leave it tantalizingly unclear what has actually happened. It is not even clear that there was a murder -- though one gathers whatever happened was not good.

Both versions of `Pretty Polly' are first rate polished performances and I can't choose between them, but trying to figure out what to make of them has been fun. Legacy "Sweetheart" attributes both to McGuinn-Hillman, but the single disk booklet says the first is "the traditional crime of passion song 'Pretty Polly'". McGuinn covered this version in "Cardiff Rose" where he attributes it, "Traditional, arranged and adapted by Roger McGuinn". It is a straight forward narrative tale of reckless youth, passion, and murder that nails you between the eyes.

The other - well, doesn't. It certainly sounds traditional. But is it a complete song? An abandoned attempt at an earlier traditional version? I don't think it's a joke. I suspect it is abridged fragments of a much longer song. Whatever this is, it's a thoroughly enjoyable performance that confounds only if you try to follow the lyrics.

(6) The new booklet is completely different and lavishly illustrated in color. David Fricke interviewed McGuinn and Hillman for a much more insightful second look into the creation of the album, and has some great stories about its disastrous reception.

(7) The packaging is exceptional throughout, and as much fun to explore as the original "Sgt. Pepper" album with its paper doll Beatles cut-outs insert. Especially dazzling here is a two panel panorama of the "Sweetheart" Byrds silhouetted in performance on stage, with a couple of psychedelic logos ("The Byrds") floating like wisps of smoke across a screen behind them

And finally, for those serious Gram Parsons fans... Even if you have the monaurel Parsons singles and stereo "Submarine" cuts, you've probably never heard them sound this good. Then there are a few more of his "Sweetheart" outtakes with false starts and studio talk. Those interested in listening to these will find the muscians really do try different things, and there are a number of awfully good moments and musical ideas one wishes could have survived into a final polished track.

Bottom line:

Anyone who buys this will easily get their money's worth, and it is a delicious treat for serious Byrds fans.

But not everyone needs to go that extra mile...
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on September 26, 2012
Back in the day when credit cards were mostly gas company cards and the one I had disappeared from the Interstate somewhere west of New Orleans, I was desperate to cross the state line to Orange, Texas where my grandparents lived. I had my entire record collection on the passenger floorboard of my 1966 VW Bug. The gas station attendant I offered to trade any LP for a gallon of gas (Lake Charles, La) had a preference for Motown and I didn't have any. I was nervous. He pulled out this album and studied the album cover art of the cowgirl and spurs and rope, etc. I wasn't too happy as this was one of my favorite albums. We made the deal (though he had never heard of the Byrds). I lost the LP but have it now on CD. God bless Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Roger McGuinn. Do not underestimate the power of cover art!
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on June 12, 2007
Since the extensive remastering project of the Byrds' entire Columbia catalogue that begun to appear in the shops in 1996, Sweetheart Of The Radio is the only Byrds CD to have been subsequently revised and expanded into this 2CD Legacy Edition. This says something of the importance and stature that this album has gradually acquired over the four decades since its release, to the point that it could be argued to be their most important release. Ironically, when released in 1968 it was widely reviled and nearly brought about the destruction of what was left of the band. Half of them had left during the recordings of the previous album, Notorious Byrd Brothers, leaving only Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman from the original line-up.
Even the magnificent single You Ain't Going Nowhere (with a safer B-side, Artificial Energy, drawn from Notorious Byrd Brothers) faltered at no. 74 in the US charts and did hardly any better in the UK, just nudging the Top Fifty; this despite being one of their famous interpretations of a new Dylan song, culled, like the album closer Nothing Was Delivered, from the unreleased Basement Tapes. Its follow up, Pretty Boy Floyd/I Am A Pilgrim, sunk without trace.
The new members were drummer Kevin Kelley and singer-guitarist Gram Parsons, fresh from the International Submarine Band, and it was his love of country music, widely regarded at the time to be the exclusive provenance of Southern rednecks, that had led to the startling new direction of the band - a fusion of rock music, country, bluegrass, Southern soul (filtered through William Bell and Otis Redding) and folk - at a time when country rock had not previously existed.
Furthermore, the new band had relocated from Los Angeles to Nashville and added a collection of top session men including honky tonk pianist Earl Ball and steel guitarist Jaydee Maness (Lloyd Green plays steel on One Hundred Years From Now, one of six tracks recorded later in Los Angeles), and they were unusually given license to play freely throughout, adding whatever they wished as the band played live in the studio. The country audience thought the band was a parody, and jeered at them on a Grand Ole Opry radio appearance to promote the new album, whilst previous Byrds fans could not connect with the new material, and the album stiffed.
Gram Parsons was still under contract to the Lee Hazlewood-owned label with whom he had recorded with the International Submarine Band and this led to all but three of his vocals being removed or buried, and replaced by those of Roger McGuinn (with Chris Hillman's help on One Hundred Years From Now). As he points out in the liner notes, he was embarrassed by the lyric on The Christian Life, and his version sounds sardonic and insincere, which can't have helped at the time, but by the time the album was released Gram Parsons had left the band anyway, so at least the new vocals gave a more accurate representation of the band that was to tour the record. Three Gram Parsons masters that were replaced are included as bonus tracks on disc one of the Legacy Edition (rehearsal takes were included on the 1997 special collector's edition), making it possible to program the record the way it had been originally intended. Four outtake masters are also included, including Pretty Polly, Lazy Days, later to be revived by Gram Parsons in the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the previously unreleased All I Have Are Memories featuring a vocal by Kevin Kelley (an instrumental version was included in the 1997 edition).
The bonus disc includes fourteen previously unreleased working demos, outtakes and rehearsal versions (there are four others on the 1997 disc that are not found here) including a radically different arrangement of Pretty Polly, and these make an insightful addition into the workings of making the album, and all the rehearsals, though flawed, have unique elements within them that are fascinating to hear. Although all the rehearsal takes are numbered, what other take was used as the final master is not disclosed, nor how many of each song were made, though apparently sixty attempts were made at You're Still On My Mind in Los Angeles before Take One was used on the record.
The clincher over the single disc version, apart from the improved, phenomenal sound quality throughout, is the inclusion on the second disc of six tracks by proto-country rock band the International Submarine Band, showing how much Gram Parsons brought to the Byrds. Three tracks from the album Safe At Home include an embryonic version of Luxury Liner. This was released as a single in 1967 with Blue Eyes on the flip, and was later famously taken up by Emmylou Harris and Albert Lee; whilst the other three, making their CD debut, comprise both sides of their second single, and, showing where it all began, Truck Drivin' Man, the B-side of their first single in 1966. Whereas I would recommend this over the single disc version, collectors will doubtless need both, whilst the single disc will suffice perfectly for those less given to scrutiny.
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on December 6, 2003
Sweetheart of the Rodeo gets expanded one more time with this 2 cd release. Disc 1 starts off with the album as it originaly came out in 1968 remastered and even cleaner than the 1998 addition. The bonus tracks begin with All I Have Are Memories first heard as an instrumental on the '98 reissue this time with vocals by drummer Kevin Kelly sounding like a Buck Owens tune this should have been on the original album.The rest of disc 1 has the bonus tracks from the '98 reissue.Disc 2 starts off with Gram Parsons previous band The International Submarine Band with three tracks from very rare singles that show a huge debt to the Beatles.Following those are three tracks from The International Submarine Bands sole lp Safe At Home.The rest of disc 2 are outtakes and rehersals of songs that made it on to the original lp. These offer valuable insights to the Byrds inthe studio.This is an excellant set that any Byrds fan should not be without.
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on October 8, 2003
I have to agree with the previous reviewer re record company marketing strategies. This is a 5 star album in the first place, the "original" remastered & xtra tracks made it a must for keen byrds / parsons fans (as did all the very good sony byrds re-issue series) but i suspect this is going too far.
On the other hand I expect to find it in my collection once i see it at the right price which probably will not be long as these re-issued re-issues have a fairly limited market.
But as I said once a 5 star album always a 5 star album
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on May 17, 2012
After David Crosby (rhythm guitar) and Michael Clarke (drums) were dismissed during the recording of The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the Byrds were down to the duo of Roger McGuinn (lead guitar) and Chris Hillman (bass). Kevin Kelley, Hillman's cousin, was subsequently hired as the band's new drummer and Gram Parsons was added as a keyboard player. McGuinn envisioned the Byrd's next recording as a concept double-album spanning the history of American music, from Appalachian folk to electronica but Parsons, former leader of the pioneering country-rock group, the International Submarine Band, was interested only in recording a country album and found a willing ally in bluegrass and Buck Owens/Bakersfield enthusiast, Hillman. The Byrds had dabbled in country music in their previous four albums, mostly thanks to Hillman, but Sweetheart of the Rodeo would be a complete immersion.

The Byrds worked on their sixth album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, from March 9 to March 15, 1968 in Columbia's studios in Nashville with producer Gary Usher. Several notable session musicians participated in the recordings including John Hartford (fiddle, banjo), Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar), JayDee Maness (pedal steel guitar), Earl P. Ball (piano), and Clarence White (guitar) who had also guested on the group's two previous albums. Following their recording sessions, the Byrds made appearances in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry and on DJ Ralph Emery's popular WSM radio show where they received rather cold receptions.

The Byrds continued working on Sweetheart back in Columbia's Hollywood studio from April 4 to May 27. Parson's lead vocals were replaced on three songs by McGuinn and Hillman with the explanation that legal issues involving Parsons's contract with his former record label forced the changes. However, producer Gary Usher later revealed Parsons's contractual problems had been resolved and the decision to continue with the altered vocals was made in order to rein in newcomer Parson's disproportionate presence on the record. Parsons left the band in July and would team with Hillman a few months later to form the influential country-rock band, The Flying Burrito Brothers. Following Parsons's and Hillman's departures, McGuinn would carry on the Byrds franchise with the help of hired hands until 1973, producing five more albums of uneven quality.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released on August 30, 1968 and reached #77 on the charts. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere/Artificial Energy was released as a single on April 2 and peaked at #75 followed by I Am a Pilgrim/Pretty Boy Floyd which was released September 2 and failed to chart.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is considered one of the very first country-rock albums, blazing the trail for a flurry of succeeding bands. For a major rock band to have taken such a monumental turn in 1968 was seen as both foolhardy and stunningly courageous. Both rock and country audiences rejected the album at the time but it remains a pioneering influence to this day. That a newcomer was able to exert so much influence on an established band is a testament to Parson's determination to popularize country music as well as to McGuinn's puzzling willingness to relinquish control of the Byrds. McGuinn's chiming twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar riffs, featured so prominently in the first five albums and a signature of the Byrds' sound, are almost entirely missing on Sweetheart.

Rolling Stone magazine selected Sweetheart as #117 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list released in 2003. Personally, I was not a fan of country music when I first listened to Sweetheart in the early seventies and it took many listens before I learned to appreciate "Cosmic American Music" and become a true believer.

Disc One:

Side One of Original Album:

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Dylan) - The Byrds reclaim their place as Dylan's ablest interpreters as they borrow this unreleased song from his Basement Tapes. A great leadoff song. McGuinn does a nice vocal with Lloyd Green playing some fine pedal steel and Parsons on the organ. A Byrds classic.

I Am a Pilgrim (Traditional) - It's ironic that Hillman sings this plaintive Christian tune as he'll become a born-again Christian years later. That's McGuinn on the banjo and John Hartford doing a nice job on the fiddle.

The Christian Life (Louvin, Louvin) - McGuinn's imitation of a southern accent is the album's low point. JayDee Maness shines on pedal steel and Clarence White delivers some tasty licks on guitar. One of the three tunes in which Parson's lead vocals were erased. It's ironic that, while this song was done tongue-in-cheek, McGuinn will eventually become a born-again Christian.

You Don't Miss Your Water (Bell) - The second song in which Parson's vocals were erased in favor of McGuinn. Earl P. Ball handles the ivories while JayDee masterfully supplies the pedal steel licks.

You're Still on My Mind (McDaniel) - Parsons sings lead with Ball playing some honky tonk piano and JayDee on pedal steel. Parsons claimed later that this recording and Life in Prison were strictly warm-up versions and should not have been included on the album.

Pretty Boy Floyd (Guthrie) - McGuinn takes a Guthrie folk tune to Nashville. That's Hartford on banjo and fiddle.

Side Two of Original Album:

Hickory Wind (Parsons, Buchanan) - Parsons' wistful tribute to his southern roots is considered by many to be one of his best songs. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included Hickory Wind on it's list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

One Hundred Years From Now (Parsons) - McGuinn and Hillman replaced Parsons' lead vocals. Lloyd Green handles the pedal steel while White adds some tasty guitar licks. The song is one of the few on the album that sounds like the pre-Sweetheart Byrds.

Blue Canadian Rockies (Walker) - Hillman sings a nice lead vocal. Parsons plays piano.

Life in Prison (Haggard, Sanders) - Parsons sings lead accompanied by Ball's honky tonk piano and JayDee's pedal steel. Hillman later remarked that pampered rich kid, Parsons, was out of his league singing this prison song.

Nothing Was Delivered (Dylan) - The second Dylan tune on the album also came from the unreleased Basement Tapes. Very catchy chorus. Green provides some sweet steel. That's Parsons on piano.

2003 Legacy Edition bonus tracks:

All I Have Are Memories (Kelley) - Outtake. Stick with the drums, Kevin.

You Got A Reputation (Hardin) - Outtake. Parsons sings lead on this rocking number. This song and Lazy Days had more of a rock feel and did not mesh with the traditional country material on the album.

Pretty Polly (Traditional) - Outtake. McGuinn's arrangement of a traditional folk tune.

Lazy Days (Parsons) - Outtake. A version of this rocker will appear on the Flying Burrito Brother's Burrito Deluxe.

The Christian Life (Louvin, Louvin) - This version includes the original Parsons vocals.

You Don't Miss Your Water (Bell) - This version includes the original Parsons vocals.

One Hundred Years From Now (Parsons) - This version includes the original Parsons vocals.

Radio Advertisement

Disc Two:

This disc consists of six International Submarine Band tunes from their album, Safe at Home, considered the very first country-rock album, followed by fourteen rehearsal versions from the Sweetheart sessions. The material on disc two is somewhat interesting but will strike most listeners as unnecessary or redundant.

A commemorative booklet is provided with the 2003 Legacy Edition.
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on April 25, 2015
The original Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a 5 star album only because of its historical importance and influential impact. Musically it was 4 stars, and even that might be a bit generous. With all the material that the Byrds recorded at the sessions, it could have easily been as great an album as its reputation would indicate. Personally, I blame the producer, he's the one on the team that is supposed to wear the pants and make the tough decisions. BUT do not be dismayed- we live in a blessed musical age with easy access to bonus tracks and the digital capacity to re-arrange things according to our own liking.

I will show you all you need to do to create your own perfect Sweetheart album, one that would be 5 stars and rank with the greatest of the greats.
First buy this wonderful legacy edition, and then arrange the tracks thus:

1. You Aint Goin Nowhere - this Dylan classic with Lloyd Green's pedal steel intro was and is the only way to start the album and is one of its highest points
2. I am a Pilgrim - a well chosen traditional song sung by Chris Hillman. no change from the original yet.
3. The Christian Life (Gram Parsons vocal) - when I fist got Sweetheart and heard McGuinn sing this, I thought "this isn't country, it's a bad parody of country". Then I read the liner notes where McGuinn says "my singing on The Christian Life was a parody of country singing". Whether Parsons' was prevented from having too many lead vocals on the record because of contractual restrictions, or, as Tom points out in his excellent review, it was really McGuin not wanting to cede too much control to Parsons, there was still no excuse for putting Roger's version of this one on the finished album when there were much better songs in the can. Now we can replace the album's low point with a much improved (and more sincere) Gram Parsons version. The second rehearsal from CD two may be the best version, if you have the technology to eliminate the nearly full minute of false starts. Selecting a Louvin Brothers song to cover gives the Byrds extra bonus points in cool.
4. You don't Miss Your Water (Gram Parsons vocal) - it's not that i don't like McGuinn's version, I just suspect that it was Parsons' idea to cover this country/soul nugget. Plus I think we begin to hear Gram's ragged, world weary vocal style beginning to blossom here. Plus it makes a nice lead-in to the soul songs he would cover with the Burritos.
5. Pretty Polly (electric version) - If you had something this awesome, why would you release much weaker songs like McGuinn's "Christian Life" or Parsons' "Life in Prison"? Some might make a good argument for the acoustic version of Pretty Polly found on CD2 which has some great changed lyrics, but I just like the sound of that Rickenbacker coupled with this old British folk song. Put it here so it can sit right next to the other "pretty" person on the record:
6. Pretty Boy Floyd - with lines like "As through this life you travel, you meet some funny men / Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen" this Woody Guthrie tune has to stay.
7. Hickory Wind - the glaring, glorious exception *(see track 11 below)

8. Lazy Day - I know they were going for a country feel, and this one is more rock'n'roll, but it gives the album a boost of energy. Plus, with this song included, the album could have been a forerunner of both counrty-rock AND southern rock. I'll take the more electric version heard on CD one of this legacy edition.
9. One hundred Years From Now (ROGER McGUINN vocal) - that's right, I'm keeping the McGuinn version of this Parsons penned song. Gram fanatics might call me a heretic, but I think Roger's vocal is a little better. Plus I like the group camaraderie that a McGuinn vocal implies.
10. Blue Canadian Rockies - Blueberry Hill was the first Gene Autry song to be covered by a rock'n'roll artist, I'm guessing that this was the second. (wait- I'm forgetting Elvis Here Comes Santa Claus)
11. You're Still on My Mind - here is the cold hard truth- as a general rule, and with some glaring, glorious exceptions (see track 7)*, Gram Parsons was not that good at covering or writing pure, unadulterated country songs. Nobody loved to sing country classics more than Gram, but his true strength lie in writing and singing the "cosmic American music" that he became known for. Sweetheart of the Rodeo was burdened by two attempts by Gram at pure country. Again, I'm calling out Gary Usher the producer on this one. With songs like Reputation and Pretty Polly available, it shouldn't have happened. So why am I keeping this on my 5 star version? Alongside the additions and changes I have made to the track order, this one is a nice, lighthearted piece that fits in nicely- with some terrific bar-room piano playing by Poole Ball. But "Life in Prison" was one honky-tonk Gram Parsons' song too many, so it's out.
12. Reputation - this one should definitely have been on the original album. compare its rythym and the dobro infused intro to Elvis' "Clean up Your Own Back Yard" released the following year. Also, there is a great acoustic demo version Gram recorded a couple of years earlier on another Parsons' compilation.
13. Nothing Was Delivered - not really the greatest Dylan song ever, and not one of the strongest cuts on the record, but I'm keeping it.
14. All I Have are Memories - with only 11 tracks on the original album, drummer Kevin Kelly really got the shaft when this one was cut. If you insist that the album must begin and close with a Dylan cover, just consider this an encore or a coda. If you prefer the instrumental, you also have that option.

Next, with the original album, tracks released on the anthology, and the "Naked" version, we can make the ultimate version of the album "Let It Be"!...
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on January 1, 2015
I have made a review of the remaster edition of the late 1990s. Therefore, I will point out some songs that are not on that edition. I like KEVIN KELLEY'S lead vocal on ALL I HAVE ARE MEMORIES. His singin' reminds my of CLARENCE WHITE. The other cd only had the instrumental version. Plus, I also like GRAM PARSONS lead vocal on YOU DON'T MISS YOUR WATER. In fact, he should have been allowed to sing most of the album in general.
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on August 31, 2012
Given the many informative reviews already, I have just a couple of clarifying points to relate. There are some post that suggest this is a different mastering from the single disk "Expanded Edition Sweetheart," but this does not appear to be the case to my ears. I have compared them closely, and they sound identical to me in terms of both loudness and the mastering/mix itself. The main reason to get this set for me was to get the improved mastering of the deleted/overdubbed Gram Parsons vocals, which for reasons I cannot fathom, were not included on the Expanded Edition. These cuts first saw the light of day on the Box Set, and while they sound good there, they have considerably greater clarity and impact on this edition. I find the second disc to be interesting, but hardly essential. The outtakes are interesting, but IMO, the takes used on the main volume are clearly the preferred versions, as one would expect. Still, this is a worthwhile addition to the Byrds canon, and I am glad I bought it, even though I have both the expanded edition and the box set.
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on April 21, 2013
This is one of the definitive country-rock albums, and is a must for fans. Note that Gram Parsons influenced the fabric of this album, but his voice is only on a few tracks due to legal disputes with record labels. If you're not sure you're that into it, you would probably prefer the regular edition (one CD) for a few less bucks.
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