The Flying Burrito Brothers Song That Includes a Tribute to Bobby Kennedy

I have probably heard “Sin City” by the Flying Burrito Brothers more than a hundred times.  But I never realized that one of the verses is about Robert F. Kennedy until reading an interview with Steve Earle.

In the interview, Earle recounted how the song’s co-writer Chris Hillman explained the Bobby Kennedy connection.  The following verse is about Kennedy.

A friend came around,
Tried to clean up this town;
His ideas made some people mad;
But he trusted his crowd,
So he spoke right out loud;
And they lost the best friend they had.

In another interview from many years ago in The Los Angeles Times, Hillman confirmed the above verse was about Kennedy. Hillman also explained how he and Gram Parsons came to write the song.

Hillman woke up one morning with the opening lines of the song in his head: “This old town’s filled with sin, it’ll swallow you in….”  He immediately woke up his roommate Parsons, who soon came up with the melody for the song.

Parsons and Hillman, who both had recently experienced relationship breakups, completed the song in about thirty minutes.  And they both ended up singing it on the first Flying Burrito Brothers album, The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969).

Bobby Kennedy was not the only person referenced in the song.  Hillman, who still had bad feelings about the breakup of his former band The Byrds, included an allusion to that band’s manager Larry Spector.  Hillman considered Spector a thief, and the man lived on the thirty-first floor of a condo.  Hence the line:  “On the thirty-first floor a gold plated door / Won’t keep out the Lord’s burning rain.”

Hillman further explained that they wrote “Sin City” as a cautionary tale to “people like Gene Clark from the Byrds, who came here from Kansas with all that talent and all bright-eyed and talented and idealistic, and the whole thing just swallowed him up.”  Unfortunately, that cautionary tale could equally refer to the tragic young death of Parsons.

“Sin City” remains one of the great collaborations between two great singer-songwriters. While the original recorded by the songwriters remains definitive, there have been a couple of nice covers through the years. Below in a performance from 1989, k.d. lang and Dwight Yoakam do the song justice.

Finally, here is a wonderful version by Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, and David Rawlings (Buddy Miller is also there on guitar).

And that is the story behind the song.

What is your favorite song by the Flying Burrito Brothers? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Song of the Day: Dion’s “Sanctuary”

    Among many hits, many know Dion for is his 1968 recording of Dick Holler’s “Abraham, Martin and John.” Still, much of the folk music recorded in the 1970s by the rock and roll pioneer remains overlooked. Thus, it was a nice discovery to hear Dion’s recording of another song by Holler called “Sanctuary.”

    Dion’s album Live at the Bitter End, August 1971, which was only recently released in 2015, is full of gems. But “Sanctuary” is one of those songs that grabbed me right way.

    “Sanctuary” is more personal than “Abraham, Martin and John,” where the singer recalls arriving in San Francisco. He contemplates the despair of events going on around the country. Despite the unrest, the singer finds some solace in having “John and Mary/And Sanctuary/ And Telegraph Avenue.” AllMusic concludes that the song is “an utterly poignant, melancholic masterpiece that you can’t believe you haven’t heard more often.”

    “Sanctuary” is a beautiful song about finding some personal peace amidst the turmoil of the world. And it remains timely now more than forty years later.

    There currently is not a separate version of Holler’s “Sanctuary” on YouTube, but you may hear it in this video for Dion’s entire Live At The Bitter End, 1971 album. We have queued the video to start at “Sanctuary” at the 39:10 mark.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Wonderful Redwood Tree

    On October 2, 1968, Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act that established Redwood National Park in California.  The law put 58,000 acres in the control of the National Park Service.  And in 1978, the government added an additional 42,000 acres to the park.

    The law making the area into a national park was a culmination of decades of work by preservationists.  In the late 1850s, loggers were harvesting many of the redwoods.  But by the early 1900’s, a Save-the-Redwoods League started buying up land to preserve the trees, and California began designating areas as state parks.

    Fortunately, we can still enjoy the massive trees at Redwood National Park, as well as see other giants at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national park (one of my favorite national parks).  Sequoia and redwood trees have many similarities, but they also have many differences, such that sequoias are the largest trees by volume while redwoods are the tallest.

    Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree”

    The greatest song about redwood trees would have to be Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree.”  The song first appeared on his 1972 album, Saint Dominic’s Preview, which is probably my favorite Van Morrison album.

    “Redwood Tree” begins with a boy and his dog looking for a rainbow.  And the song ends with a boy and his father looking for a lost dog, who is never found. But the song is really about memories of youth and what we learn as we age.  The redwood tree of the title provides a protective force.

    And it smells like rain,
    Maybe even thunder;
    Won’t you keep us from all harm,
    Wonderful redwood tree.

    Although “Redwood Tree” was released as a single, it only barely broke into the Billboard Top 100.  At the time, reviewer Stewart Parker in The Irish Times called the song a “simple but tuneful ditty.” Rolling Stone referred to the song as a “beautiful, sensuous cut.”

    Over time, many defenders have praised the song.  The Telegraph lists “Redwood Tree” as one of thirty Essential Van Morrison Songs.  It notes that this three-minute song about childhood is “perfection.”

    Decide for your self as you celebrate the protection of these wonderful trees with a listen to Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree.” For a bonus, below is a demo version of the song that appeared on The Genuine Philosopher’s Stone collection.

    What do you think “Redwood Tree” is about? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Meat Loaf: “For Crying Out Loud”

    On September, 27, 1947, Marvin Lee Aday was born in Dallas, Texas. As the boy grew up, his interest in acting and music led him to adopt a new name that, according to some sources, came from a dish his mom made, Meat Loaf.

    I have confessed on this blog about my love of a lot of Meat Loaf’s songs. Of course, his greatest album remains 1977’s Bat Out of Hell. The popular album had several hits that you still hear today, such as “Two Out of Three” and, of course, “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” But the song on the album that I loved the most, which apparently is also the favorite of writer Jim Steinman, is “For Crying Out Loud.”

    The song appeared as a B-side to the second single released from the album, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”  The single was released July 31, 1977, and the album would follow on October 21, 1977.

    Before Meat Loaf’s album, the song appeared in a 1975 play starring Christopher Walken called Kid Champion.  Steinman wrote the music for the play, which is about a rock star.  Steinman’s demo version of the song for the play is below.

    Of course, nobody can match Meat Loaf’s chops. In the video below, Meat Loaf performs “For Crying Out Loud” with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from 2004. While Meat Loaf’s voice may not be what it once was, it is still pretty amazing in this performance.

    In the video, Meat Loaf introduces “For Crying Out Loud” by saying he had not attempted the song live since 1978 in New York City. I do not know if it is true that so much time had passed, and I can’t remember if he played it when I saw him in the 1990s.

    There is a video on YouTube claiming to be audio of a performance from the 1993, although I did not see the song in any of the posted setlists from that year. Meat Loaf did perform the song more recently in 2013 with a voice that is more wary. But it is clear he rarely plays this great song, and this one from 2004 is pretty amazing. Check it out.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Paul McCartney & Bruce Springsteen: “I Saw Her Standing There”

    On Friday, September 15, 2017, Paul McCartney welcomed Bruce Springsteen on stage.  The two then ripped into the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.”  McCartney performed at Madison Square Garden in the midst of a run of eight shows in four different locations in the New York area.

    E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt also joined the pair on stage, providing a stellar guitar solo.  McCartney had so much fun on the song, he then had everyone play “I Saw Her Standing There” a second time.

    Below, check out Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen on the Beatles classic.

    What Beatles song would you like Springsteen to sing with Paul McCartney? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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