100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #67 Gram Parsons – Love Hurts

Released: 1973

Similar to the legacies of other mavericks like Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Elliot Smith or Delia Darbyshire, the understanding of Gram Parsons’ influence on contemporary music is a torch largely carried now by those in the margins. The story of his brief life reads like a work of fiction, of which the circumstances of his burial – his coffin was stolen from Los Angeles airport, taken to the desert and then burned in a “ritual” set by road manager Phil Kaufman – constituted a bizarre footnote.

It’s earlier chapters were just as strangely compelling. After dropping out of Harvard he formed the International Submarine Band, a collective of young men playing country, previously a staple of America’s rusty blue rinse set; after they split up he joined The Byrds for their seminal Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, quit, supposedly wrote White Horses for The Rolling Stones and then assembled the Flying Burrito Brothers. At this point he was still only 23.

Fired by them in 1970 for his erratic behaviour as a result of drug and alcohol abuse, Parsons went on to record his first solo album GP with the little known Emmylou Harris and members of Elvis Presley’s touring band. Reconvening two years later for what would be the posthumously released Grievous Angel the singer chose to include on it a cover of Love Hurts by The Everly Brothers, but whilst duetting with Harris he transformed it into an ashy, rock-bottom plea for salvation which unintentionally echoed his personal struggles. He died of an overdose in September, 1973.

Idolising Elvis in his youth, Parsons’ melding of country and rock was the antecedent of a style which over time bridged two previously sealed off worlds of radio, the all powerful American media of the time. Without him we may ultimately have never known The Cowboy Junkies, Wilco, Giant Sand, The Avett Brothers and many more, all kin of a pioneer who continues to slowly fade away.

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