Great Song, Bad Name: Hot Burrito #1

Gram Parsons (1946-1973) created a lot of great music in his short life. His work as a solo artist and with bands such as The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers greatly influenced the country-rock and alt-country movements. He helped Emmylou Harris start her career. He was friends with Keith Richards and supposedly influenced some of the music made by the Rolling Stones.  And he helped create the wonderful strangely named song “Hot Burrito #1.”

Burritos
Once upon a time you let me feel you deep inside

“Hot Burrito #1” appeared on the Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin (1969) album.  It was written by Parsons and the band’s bass player Chris Ethridge.

“Hot Burrito #1” is a great song with a horrible name.  The song, of course, has nothing to do with burritos, and the band’s use of the word “burrito” was not limited to the one song. The band liked to play around with the “burrito” theme, naming their next album Burrito Deluxe. And yes, there is a “Hot Burrito #2.”

Reportedly, the original use of “burrito” came from bassist Ian Dunlop, who had been in the International Submarine Band and then started a group called “The Flying Burrito Brothers” before Parsons and Chris Hillman borrowed the name for their band.  Dunlop still makes music and also is an artist.

At one point, Parsons and Hillman had a house in San Fernando Valley that they called “Burrito Manor.”

Versions of “Hot Burrito #1”

“Hot Burrito #1” has been recorded and covered by other artists, including Raoul Mao, The Black Crowes, the Cowboy Junkies, and Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket. The song has been covered around the world, including a version by Japanese band Ma’am.

Elvis Costello recorded the song, but apparently he did not like the name so he renamed it, “I’m Your Toy.” Even though “Hot Burrito #1” is an odd name for a song, “I’m Your Toy” is not really better. Similarly, Jose Feliciano renamed the song with the forgettable title, “Not That Kind of Guy.”

One sign of the greatness of the song and the melody from Chris Ethridge is that it holds up well no matter who sings it. But it is especially powerful in the Parsons version.

The song starts out with the singer speaking to a former lover, telling her how she will miss him (“You may be sweet and nice / But that won’t keep you warm at night”). Then slowly you begin to hear the aching desperation in the singer’s voice and in the lyrics (“But I don’t want no one but you / To love me, no I wouldn’t lie”).

The A Side

Interestingly, even though we know “Hot Burrito #1” as a classic song, it was not released as a single, only appearing as the B side of the only single at the time, the less memorable “The Train Song.” “The Train Song” was recorded after The Gilded Palace of Sin was completed but released as a single.

While numerous cover versions of “Hot Burrito #1” are now on YouTube, the A side is not available there at all (you may hear a clip of The Train Song on Amazon). It just goes to show that you cannot judge a song by its initial release, or by its name.

Do you like the song? What is your favorite great song with a bad name? What other songs have cover artists renamed? Drop a comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly implied that “The Train Song” appeared on The Gilded Palace of Sin. Even though the song was released as a single to promote the album, it was recorded after the album was completed. The single “The Train Song” did eventually appear on Hot Burritos! The Flying Burrito Brothers Anthology 1969-1972 (2000). September 2013 Update: A live version of “The Train Song” is now on YouTube.

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    10 thoughts on “Great Song, Bad Name: Hot Burrito #1”

    1. I love a lot of Gram Parsons songs (which I discovered after we stumbled upon a cool makeshift shrine for him at Joshua Tree National Park). But I don’t really like when he sings them–both the arrangements and his voice–I find them too hokey. What I do listen to quite often is the Return of the Grievous Angel collection of covers. And so I love Raul Malo’s cover of this terribly named song more than the version you posted. I didn’t know that was the name of the song.

    2. I must defend the title of this tune. To combat the “hokeyness”, which is part of the Parsons charm, to me, the title contrasts against the serious, melodramatic poetics of the song’s storyline. Would you rather have it called “Flying on Love” or “Once Upon a Time”? The song would be packaged nicely with either of those names, but too nicely. Give the artist his latitude…

    3. Of course, someone as brilliant as Gram Parsons may have all the latitude he likes. The title of the post was somewhat tongue-in-cheek about the unusual name. As you state and as noted in the post, other titles used by other artists like “I’m Your Toy” lack the charm of the original unusual title. You also make a good point about the contrast between the title and the song’s lyrics. Thanks for the comment.

    4. The Train Song was not on an album. It was released as a single after The Gilded Palace of Sin was released. Please stop revisionist history.

    5. Songs with odd titles often get them because the music came long before the lyrics. The writers give them names so they will have some way to refer to and remember them. Eventually words are added, and a piece is renamed to reflect the lyrics… but not always. The hot burrito songs were, I believe, piano pieces that Etheridge had messed with for a long time before Parsons added lyrics. They probably kept their old names for the very reason you point out: once completed, neither one had an obvious lyric phrase to use as a title so they stayed hot burritos #1 & 2.

      1. That sounds about right. It reminds me how “Yesterday” by the Beatles was originally called “Scrambled Eggs.” Thanks for the comment!

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