Gram Parsons needs no introduction. His few months in 1968 as a member of The Byrds were enough to make him a country-rock icon and an alt-country forerunner. Yet the short-lived run that brought us Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the songs "One Hundred Years From Now" and "Hickory Wind" barely scratches the surface of his influence on countrified rock 'n' roll. Had the legendary singer, guitarist and songwriter not passed away in 1973 at the young age of 26, he might be Americana's other sharp-dressed veteran, alongside Jim Lauderdale.
With that high praise in mind, here's 10 of Parson's best songs with the Flying Burrito Brothers (1969-1970) and as a solo artist and frequent collaborator with Fallen Angels band member Emmylou Harris. Cover songs are avoided, although he and Harris cut one of the finest versions of "Love Hurts," and he introduced Bobby Bare's 1966 hit "Streets of Baltimore" and George Jones' "That's All It Took" to rock audiences. More famously, his potential authorship of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses"--first sung by Parsons on Burrito Deluxe--will always be a point of debate for classic rock fans.
10. "Ooh Las Vegas"
Posthumous 1974 solo album The Grievous Angel pairs Parsons' best work with early Harris magic. This one's a rollicking number that's sonically and thematically similar to Nikki Lane's own Sin City celebration, "Jackpot."
9. "$1000 Wedding"
The softer side of California country-rock, arguably invented by fellow Byrds alum Chris Hillman and taken to the mainstream mountaintop by The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, never sounded sweeter.
8. "In My Hour of Darkness"
Despite its dreary title, this one sounds more like a peppy blend of honky-tonk tradition and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's sunshiny version of rocking country music. To stay in the past, keep the record spinning for the next track on GP, "Kiss the Children."
7. "The New Soft Shoe"
That steel guitar accompaniment drags the "cosmic American music" perfected by the Flying Burrito Brothers back to the barrooms in one of the best collaborations between Parsons and Harris.
6. "A Song For You"
There's something indescribably surreal about Parson's nearly five-minute love ballad. The closest thing to it is the twangier material written and performed by his pal Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones.
Whether you're listening to the Monkees, Green Day or Gram Parsons, you can't go wrong with the very different-sounding songs sharing this title. In Parson's case, a simple pronoun unravels into a rich, textured story inspired by the Florida native's Southern upbringing.
4. "Brass Buttons"
This holdover from Parsons' time as a Harvard-area folk singer converted to yet another great example of country-rock. Its lyrics, said to be about Parson's mother, show an attention to detail and storytelling depth that'd soon be mastered by John Prine.
3. "Hot Burrito #1"
This cut off The Flying Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin best melds John Lennon's experimental bent with the songwriting of Parsons' honky-tonk heroes. It's a co-write with Chris Ethridge, a band mate since the latter days of The International Submarine Band.
2. "Hickory Wind"
Although it's most associated with The Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, Parsons' second-greatest masterpiece remained in his repertoire and even made it onto Grievous Angel as part of a medley with the Louvin Brothers' "Cash on the Barrelhead."
1. "Return of the Grievous Angel"
It's all here: gorgeous two-part harmonies with Harris, a story about a restless rambler and a healthy dose of surrealism. James Burton's fantastic guitar work, future Eagle Bernie Leadon's acoustic accompaniment and Byron Berline's golden hour as a fiddler accentuate the musical and lyrical high point of Parson's shortened career.
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