In our VERSIONS series this week, which takes a look at different versions of the same song, we look back to a stone-cold classic from the Burritos which went on to be covered by… well, read on and find out.
Chris Hillman allegedly said of Gram Parsons; “I only heard two great vocals out of that guy: ‘Hot Burrito #1’ and ‘Hot Burrito #2’.” While that may be a debatable point, Parsons’ singing on the original version from the first Flying Burrito Brothers album ‘The Gilded Palace of Sin’ sets a very high bar for anyone covering the song. Written around a melody from Bass player Chris Etheridge, the words are said to be about Parsons’ breakup with long-time girlfriend Nancy. As with many things about his life that could be apocryphal, but the pathos in the lyrics suggest that there were some pretty raw emotions going on when he set them down.
A couple of ex Byrds have taken runs at covering ‘Hot Burrito #1’. Gene Parsons’ version on his 1979 album ‘Melodies’ takes it as a fairly straight Country song, dominated by pedal steel. Gene is not the singer that Gram was, they aren’t related, and your view of this version depends very much on your tolerance for the more heart wringing variety of Country.
Gene Clark and Carla Olson’s ‘So Rebellious a Lover’ is one of those albums that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Far more subdued than those sung by either Parsons, it still carries the feeling of slight desperation in the words well. This was the first version to be titled ‘I’m Your Toy’, taken from the verse, “I’m your toy, I’m your old boy. But I don’t want no one but you to love me” Olson’s harmony vocal adds a twist of the Emmylou Harris/Gram Parsons duet style at the end of the song.
Elvis Costello claimed credit at one point for renaming the song, but this is clearly influenced by the Clark/Olson version. The ‘Oliver’s Army’ piano and Farfisa organ backed by a Pedal Steel guitar make this a rather muddled version musically but as one of the songs that introduced me and many others to Americana it deserves recognition, even if I would rather listen to Gene Clark now.
The Cowboy Junkies have released live takes of ‘Hot Burrito #1‘ a couple of times. It’s a song ideally suited to Margo Timmins voice and their first try at it was on the UK only and very oddly named album ‘In the Time before Llamas’. The version here comes from a 1992 EP called ‘Live’ and is notable for a particularly good Michael Timmins guitar solo.
the Mavericks version was originally on a very good tribute album to Gram Parsons ‘Return of The Grievous Angel’. A more up-tempo take than many with insistent percussion although it’s still dominated by Pedal steel Raul Malo’s voice is another good enough to stand up against Gram Parsons’ original. There are plenty of other versions by bands as diverse as Belly, The Black Crowes, and Argentine Jazz star Feliciano Brunelli, if you feel like you need to hear every version of ‘Hot Burrito #1’. My view is stick with the Pedal Steel.