In the same year that Bob Dylan stepped back from his electric pilgrimages by releasing an album of roots-oriented morality tales, the Byrds took a symbolic flight to Nashville. Gone was Roger McGuinn’s singular 12-string guitar sound and the acid rock that had had an effect on everyone from the Monkees to the Velvet Underground.
McGuinn now played banjo, and bassist Chris Hillman doubled on the mandolin, both seemingly reconsidering their musical approaches. And while Dylan remained the songwriter of choice, his tunes now sat alongside a rearranged hymn (“I Am a Pilgrim”), a bluegrass version of a famous outlaw tale (Woody Guthrie‘s “Pretty Boy Floyd”), and a cover of the Louvin Brothers (“The Christian Life”). This was a musical turn, turn, turn, indeed.
The obvious catalyst for all this reconstruction was the arrival of young Gram Parsons, and this album played as if it was his coming-out party. He introduced Hillman and McGuinn to a musical world that seemed totally foreign to these predecessors of the Summer of Love, but one which lay a scant hundred miles outside their L.A. windows, in Bakersfield. Parsons’ most important act was to help shape the overall sound of the album, but he contributed two original songs as well–“One Hundred Years From Now” and “Hickory Wind,” a signature composition he’d record again.
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo caused an entire musical community to reconsider the musical traditions of America.