ead Letter Office is a column of letters written by Todd Hutlock to a friend named Jimmy, who may or may not exist. The column details real-life experiences regarding work, life, and how Hutlock's obsession with music runs them both.
Watch your mailbox because I'm sending you my old CD copy of the Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. I got a promo of the awesome new two-CD Legacy Deluxe Edition (dude"Sum Up Broke" and "One Day Week" by the International Submarine Band fucking ROCK!) and I am taking this opportunity to enrich your pathetic life with one of my favorite albums of all time. I know I could never get you to buy anything that old (you downloading bastard- you're ruining it for the rest of us, you know! :)) so I figured rather than trade it in for three bucks, I would pass it on to a needy home.
Actually, I'm kind of surprised that I haven't sent you a copy of this album before- this new version makes the fifth that I have owned. I've bought plenty of albums twice (primarily during that LP/cassette to CD transition period in the late eighties/early nineties), but five times is a record for me. I guess I feel a bit less like a loser fanboy because I got this one for free, but I think we both know I would have gone out and bought the damn thing anyway. Once you've bought it four times, what's a fifth, right?
I bought my first copy as a freshman in high school on cassette (for $3.99 if I remember correctly). I already owned the Byrds' Greatest Hits on CD, and I was really into it. I looked them up in a record guide (this was pre-Internet, of course) and found that The Notorious Byrd Brothers was the first album released after GH, so I figured that I should buy that next. However, my local Camelot Music (the only place I could easily get to in those pre-driving days) only had Sweetheart in stock, so I went with that instead. Oh well.
Needless to say, when I put Sweetheart in my cassette deck for the first time, I was shocked. This was a fucking country record! At this point in the 1980s, trust me, there was nothing less cool than a country record. There was no "alt country" movement, no hipsters extolling the virtues of classic Nashville stuff, and the "modern" country of the time was dominated by big hair and rhinestones. Ugh. But as I had already blown my money on the thing, I decided to keep listening to it anyway.
Of course it grew on me, and before too long, I began to hear the connection between Sweetheart and many of my other favorite bands of the time. I heard snippets of early REM (before they signed to Warner Bros. and started to suck), the Rolling Stones (this was before I knew the extent of the Stones' connection with Gram Parsons), and even the Smiths. "One Hundred Years From Now" is an incredible tune. I still sing along to each different harmony part on the chorus of "You Ain't Going Nowhere" whenever I hear it. I can't even think of how many times I put on "You Don't Miss Your Water" following a painful break-up. A year later, the tape had been played so many times, it started to develop those annoying drop-outs. I upgraded and bought the old unremastered CD version (that's copy number two, followed by an LP, and now the two Columbia/Legacy CD versions).
I wouldn't say that listening to Sweetheart at age 14 made me a country fan per se, but it did start to affect my listening habits and musical sensibilities. When I joined my first band two years later, I tried in vain to get them to consider dropping a tongue-in-cheek cover of "The Christian Life" into our sets. Of course they declined, but I did manage to get them to play "So You Want to Be a Rock N' Roll Star" instead. We even wrote our own mock-country tune, all about women who had done us wrong, eating pork rinds, and a place called the Hot Dog Caboose (don't ask, but it seemed very "country" to us at the time). It proved to be one of our most popular numbers, and I still sing it in the shower from time to time.
So now here I am, five copies later, and I've become something of an aficionado of vintage country stuff. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, George Jones, even some Merle Haggard (although "Okie From Muskogee" still makes my skin crawl in liberal revolt). Gram Parsons occupies a sizeable chunk of my CD rack considering he only released a handful of albums when he was alive. But between the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers and the International Submarine Band and the solo albums, there's actually a surprisingly large catalog there to tap. In retrospect, I prefer much of Parsons' other material to Sweetheart, which sounds a bit jokey to me now, and much of the other Byrds material as well. But Sweetheart will always have a special place in my heart. More than any album I have ever bought (once or more than once), it showed my young and impressionable brain that it was okay to like other types of music that my friends didn't consider cool. When my friend (and Depeche Mode devotee) Scooter came over one day and heard Sweetheart on my stereo, I was lambasted for weeks, but deep down I didn't really care. After all, Scooter was a huge Howard Jones fan- who's laughing now, eh? This led to a whole new realm of possibilities for me, and I like to think it made me a better, more open-minded person in general. I might be giving that one album a bit too much credit, but hey, I'm sentimental, what can I say?
You may not wear your new copy of Sweetheart like a secret badge of honor like I did, but you owe it to yourself to check it out. And at this price, how can you say no?
Your man in the Midwest,