Yesterday’s blog post on folk rock prompted me to give some serious thought to country rock, a rock form to which folk rock is a distant cousin. In contrast to folk rock, which during the short time of its existence produced some classic songs, country rock is yet another instance of a hyphenated rock form that has been only marginally successful, artistically speaking. I’m not using country rock as a synonym for rockabilly, hillbilly song forms sung with blues-gospel feeling (e.g., Elvis’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky”). Indeed, as the Sun recordings of Elvis suggest, rockabilly characterized the lives of working-class Southerners (pejoratively referred to as “white trash”) the way the blues characterized the lives of black Americans throughout the Delta. Country rock is neither rockabilly nor the blues, although it borrowed certain elements of rockabilly, certainly. Arising in the late 1960s, the earliest performers of country rock--the Byrds during the Sweetheart of the Rodeo period (1968), the Flying Burrito Brothers during Gram Parsons’s tenure (The Gilded Palace of Sin, 1969)--all had long hair, signaling they had at the very least borrowed the youthful insolence of rockabilly (that is, the threatening aspects of the Fifties Elvis). In short, country rock was country music played with loud electric guitars by musicians with long hair. Gram Parsons, the figure most associated with country rock, actually hated the designation country rock and referred to it as “plastic dry fuck,” meaning that as far as he was concerned, he played authentic country music. In this sense, country rock was to the arch-conservative country music establishment what folk rock was to the folk establishment: it largely considered electric instruments as “inauthentic,” especially so when played by a bunch of hippies. Of the form’s practitioners, the later Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers are arguably the best, although groups such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones also recorded songs that might be considered country rock. Of the Beatles, Ringo Starr had the best feel for country, as exemplified by his singular solo album issued in 1970, Beaucoups of Blues, which I highly recommend.
The International Submarine Band, Safe At Home (1968; recorded 1967)
The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)
The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969)
The Flying Burrito Brothers, Burrito Deluxe (1970)
Ringo Starr, Beaucoups of Blues (1970)