*Image of Gram Parsons taken from the internet and likely copyrighted
If someone were to ask me today, what my favorite music is, I’d give the same answer I would have given when I was in my teens. I only hate two kinds of music – country and western. Especially today’s country. I mean I’ll admit as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten into Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline and the late, great Johnny Cash. I saw Merle Haggard open for Dylan and frankly he blew Bob off the stage. His voice is liked aged whiskey, amazingly smooth. I was probably aided in my journey toward older country music by my sister-in-law who happens to be a country singer in a gigging band. That said, today’s country music is nauseating to my rock n roll sensibilities. It all sounds like re warmed Bob Seger played with an insipid twang.
However, I have to admit some of the greatest rock and roll bands/artists ever have done country songs. Or at the very least “country-ish” songs. They’ve all done tracks that are either overtly country or heavily influenced by country. I’m not talking about Bon Jovi doing a country album as a career move. I’m talking about the Stones, the Byrds or Neil Young making country rock, well, fashionable. Country rock was established in the late sixties… bands from the Buffalo Springfield to the Stones incorporated country-tinged tracks on their albums. No one more than the Byrds who did a straight-up country album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That album came out when country music was considered the property of red-necks and hicks. Which, let’s admit, it is. The Byrds actually played a show at the Grand Ole Opry… their long hair was met with sullen, menacing silence. Country rock was born!
I actually started out tangentially listening to country. My dad had a stack of singles from when he was young and cool. He had some great music in that old wire rack of his. My brother kind of took ownership of those singles and played them all the time. I remember hearing Dion, Elvis Presley and yes, Johnny Cash. Oddly though I never associated Cash’s music with country music. It sounded more fundamental to me. I thought of Johnny Cash along the same lines as Elvis, as early, earthy rock and roll. There wasn’t that much separation between Elvis and Johnny to my novice ears. It all had a steady beat. Years later during his American Recordings era I started to hear people describe Johnny as the world’s first punk rocker. Weirdly, I sorta get that.
While I was as staunchly anti-country music as I was a “Death Before Disco” guy, I was actually listening to rock acts doing country without realizing it. I can be a little thick. On the first album I ever bought, the Stones’ Some Girls, one of my favorite tracks was always “Far Away Eyes.” I loved that it lampooned people for using religion for more…temporal purposes. In the song Mick prays and sends a donation to a radio church for a girl with “far away eyes.” Praying for sex? It actually makes some sense. It was years before I realized that song was basically a country song. I finally started to realize how many great country tracks the Stones did. That was mostly from the influence of Keith Richards’ friend, Gram Parsons. Gram was the driving force in his brief period in the Byrds and got them to record Sweetheart of the Radio. Gram turned Keith onto country music and he started writing songs in that country vein. Jagger once said that while the band played straight up country he always sang it in a mocking style. Tongue in cheek (rather than sticking out through thick lips like their logo) and rolling eyes. He said he considered himself more of a blues singer than a country singer. Only later did he get into in a serious way with tracks like “Wild Horses.” Whether its blues, country or reggae (B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More) Mick can sing anything.
When I was in college I had a music addict (like me) for a roommate, Drew. Drew was the one who turned me onto Neil Young. Prior to meeting Drew I’d have said, eh, Neil, no thanks on that voice. In 1985 Neil went full on country with his album Old Ways. It was during a bit of a creative and commercial lull in Neil’s career. Geffen Records had actually sued him for purposely making “uncommercial music.” As a “fuck you” to the record company he went full on country on Old Ways. I think there’s even a duet with Willie Nelson. To this day, I’ve never heard that record. In ’85 having just been turned onto Neil and his great early catalog, I went and found Drew to announce the bad news… “Oh my God, Neil has gone country, can you believe it?” Drew, ever the wise rock and roller, shook his head and said, “Have you been listening to Neil? What do you think he meant by “Are You Ready For The Country”?” My god, he was right.
In the years since then I’ve branched out in many ways musically. I’m still not a fan of most country music but I can dig country rock. It’s, to my ears, a lot like folk rock. I’ve really gotten into the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and similar acts. One guy who was critical to the whole movement, pictured above, was Gram Parsons. Gram was in the Byrds when they did Sweetheart, as I mentioned above. He hung out with Keith at Nellcote in France, while the Stones were recording the basic tracks for Exile On Mainstreet. From the Byrds he went on to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Chris Hillman, another hugely influential band. He dreamt of an “Cosmic American Music” blending rock and country. Frankly I think ex-Byrd Gene Clark came closer than Gram did… As I started to piece this playlist together, I realized I had to represent all that great music.
I’ve attempted in this playlist to compile my favorite country rock tunes. Some of these are really full on country, some are just country influenced or tinged. I think there are some real hidden gems here. My hope, as with all of my playlists, is that you’ll hear a song you might not have heard – or haven’t heard in a long time. My dearest hope is you’ll think, man I love that song. There are probably great country/country-rock songs I’ve missed here. I’m not into say, Poco. So if I’ve missed something you dig, put it in the comment section and I’ll add it to the playlist which as always is on Spotify. This one is under “BourbonAndVinyl.net Favorite Country Rock Songs.” I always recommend pushing the “shuffle” button. Put on your cowboy hat, put a piece of grass between your teeth, grab your favorite moonshine and groove on these tracks…The link to the Spotify playlist is below.
- The Rolling Stones, “Far Away Eyes” – This is where it all started for me so I had to start here.
- Neil Young, “Are You Ready For the Country?” – Apparently in 1985, I was not ready.
- Bob Dylan, “Lay Lady Lay” – Dylan doesn’t get enough credit for starting the country rock craze with his seminal album Nashville Skyline.
- The Little Willies, “Fist City” – Norah Jones’ side project doing a Loretta Lynn cover.
- Mick Jagger, “Evening Gown” – Great, great solo Mick… covered gamely by Jerry Lee Lewis.
- Dillard & Clark, “Train Leaves Here This Morning” – Former Byrd Gene Clark was an underrated genius. Bernie Leadon recorded this song again when he was in the Eagles.
- Eagles, “Tequila Sunrise” – Speaking of the Eagles, this is one of my favs. Drinking your broken heart away, something B&V knows a lot about.
- Bob Dylan, “I Threw It All Away” – Another great track from Nashville Skyline. I love this song.
- Sheryl Crow, “First Cut Is The Deepest (Country Version)” – I wanted to incorporate more female voices and I love this version of a song made famous by Rod Stewart.
- The Allman Brothers, “Blue Sky” – “You’re my sunny day…” Great track.
- Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, “Girl From The North Country” – I avoided any overtly “country” artists but I had to sneak Johnny on here somehow.
- Neil Young, “Comes A Time” – Title track from a great album.
- Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” – What we all need in these troubled times.
- Gin Blossoms, “Cheatin'” – “Its not cheatin’ if she reminds me of you…” Great lyric.
- The Black Crowes, “Garden Gate” – From the great double album, recorded live at Levon Helms’ place, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.
- The Byrds, “Hickory Wind” – Gram Parsons’ signature track. One of the few he sang.
- Mike Ness, “The Devil In Miss Jones” – I love Social Distortion and Ness’ first solo album Cheating At Solitaire. There’s a great duet with Springsteen on there as well.
- The Flying Burrito Brothers, “Wild Horses” – It may seem like blasphemy to not put the Stones’ version of this song on here but I had so many other tracks by them to choose from.
- Norah Jones, “How Many Times Have You Broken My Heart” – Norah putting music to lyrics written by Hank Williams but never recorded.
- Hindu Love Gods, “I’m A One Woman Man” – Warren Zevon backed with 3/4 of R.E.M. doing an LP of great, eclectic covers.
- The Rolling Stones, “Dead Flowers” – Also on our heroin playlist, B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin.
- Neil Young, “Beautiful Bluebird” – From the great late period LP, Chrome Dreams II, seemingly a sequel to an album never released.
- Robert Plant, “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way”* – I put an asterisk here as its not on Spotify. If you haven’t heard this tune, seek it out somewhere.
- Fleetwood Mac, “That’s Alright” – By the time they reconvened for Mirage Stevie Nicks had become a solo sensation with Bella Donna. She made the band do a country tune for her father who loved country music. This track works for me.
- Gram Parsons, “Ooh Las Vegas” – He didn’t do a lot of solo stuff but what he did is worth checking out.
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Southern Accents” – This is more “country-ish” than country, but Mike Campbell’s superb dobro playing puts this track on the list.
- Linda Ronstadt, “Love Is A Rose” – Linda always had great taste in songwriters, doing a Neil Young track here. (Documentary Review: The Sublime ‘Linda Ronstadt, The Sound Of My Voice’).
- Talking Heads, “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel (Country Angel Version)” – Weirdest track on here? Yes.
- Doobie Brothers, “South City Midnight Lady” – People forget the Doobies were HUGE. I love this song.
- Grateful Dead, “Box of Rain” – Easily for me, their best song (Lookback: Grateful Dead’s Americana 1970 – ‘Workingman’s Dead’/’American Beauty’).
- Neil Young, “From Hank To Hendrix” – Another great country track from Neil.
- Eagles, “Lyin’ Eyes” – Every time I put a Neil Young track on this list it appears I have to put an Eagles’ song too. Gram Parsons, like the Dude, hated the Eagles. He described them unflatteringly as “a dry plastic fuck.” Not sure what that means but it doesn’t sound good.
- The Rolling Stones, “You Win Again” – Great deep track from the Stones (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks).
- Buffalo Springfield, “A Child’s Claim To Fame” – A dis track about Neil Young which caused him to write, “I Am A Child.” Musicians, what are you gonna do?
- John Fogerty, “Southern Streamline” – I could have gone with any number of CCR tracks but I like this Fogerty solo track.
- Randy Newman, “Rider In The Rain” – The Eagles sang back up on this standout track.
- Mudcrutch, “Orphan Of The Storm” – Great track from Petty, Campbell and Tench’s side project.
- Stephen Stills/Manassas, “Colorado” – One of the greatest country rock tracks ever.
- Doobie Brothers, “Black Water” – Another great Doobies track.
- The Rolling Stones, “Indian Girl” – “Little Indian girl, where is your faaaather?”
- The Little Willies, “Jolene” – Norah doing Dolly Parton this time.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd, “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” – Southern rockers had to be on here somewhere.
- CSNY, “Teach Your Children” – Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead’s pedal steel puts this track on the list.
- Rod Stewart, “What Made Milwaukee Famous” – Great cover of Jerry Lee Lewis.
- Elvis Costello, “Good Year For The Roses” – Elvis doing George Jones.
- Mike Ness, “Cheating At Solitaire” – The title track of his great first solo album.
- Stephen Stills/Manassas, “So Begins The Task” – Such a great double album, I had to double dip from it for this list.
- Grateful Dead, “Friend Of The Devil” – One of their best known tracks.
- Pete Townsend, “There’s A Heartache Following Me” – Pete covering Jim Reeves because it was his guru’s favorite song.
- Led Zeppelin, “Hot Dog” – I love this track from their last album.
- Sheryl Crow/Kid Rock, “Picture” – I despise Kid Rock but I dig Sheryl.
- Don Henley, “You’re Not Drinking Enough” – Advice I always follow.
- Eagles, “Girl From Yesterday” – Oddly most of the country rock tracks by these guys I’m drawn to were sung by Glenn Frey.
- Sting, “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” – Sting is a pretentious dick, but he captures the country ethos of my baby is gone and she took my dog here.
- Hindu Love Gods, “Vigilante Man” – A Hank Williams cover I believe.
- Peter Wolf (with Mick Jagger), “Nothing But The Wheel” – Great track with Mick on harmony vocals.
- Lucinda Williams with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse Tears” – The funniest song on this list.
- The Rolling Stones, “Do You Think I Really Care” – Another great deep track.
- Elton John, “Country Comforts” – Also really well done by Rod.
- Stevie Nicks, “After The Glitter Fades” – All the pedal steel on here puts this track on the list for me.
- Social Distortion, “Like An Outlaw (For You)” – Full-on “cow-punk.”
- The Blues Brothers, “Theme From Rawhide” – If this song doesn’t make you smile, you’re on the wrong blog.
There ya go cowpokes! Enjoy! Stay safe out there!