Grievous Angel was the second solo album by Gram Parsons, compiled from 1973 sessions and released four months after his death. It received great critical acclaim upon release, but failed to find commercial success, a fate shared with his previous efforts solo and with The Flying Burrito Brothers. Grievous Angel peaked at number 195 on the Billboard charts. Despite its modest sales, it is viewed as a successful example of the hybrid between country and rock and roll Parsons called “Cosmic American Music”.
In 2003, the album was ranked number 429 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The released album almost certainly deviates from the intended track listing Parsons had. Parsons’ widow, Gretchen, who had never cared for Harris’ relationship with her husband, moved her originally prominent presence on the original front cover of the album (the album being credited on that cover to “Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris” and featuring a photograph of the two of them) and relegated her to a simple credit on the back cover. Additionally, Gretchen removed the original title track, “Sleepless Nights” and replaced the cover with a simple image of Parsons in a sea of blue. The rearranged album was released in January 1974.
After a ramshackle tour in the spring and summer of 1973, Gram Parsons again convened with his singing partner Emmylou Harris, various members of Elvis Presley’s “Hot Band”, including James Burton and Glen Hardin and the occasional guest (such as Bernie Leadon and Linda Ronstadt) to record his second solo album for Reprise Records. Lacking much-needed new material, Parsons quickly wrote two songs during the sessions (“Return of the Grievous Angel”, with lyrics by Boston-based poet and Parsons fan Thomas Brown; “In My Hour Of Darkness”, arranged by Harris) and looked to songs rejected for previous albums and to standard country songs to flesh out the scant material he came up with. In regards to the original material, “Brass Buttons” dated from Parsons’ brief stint as a Harvard-based folksinger in the mid-1960s; “Hickory Wind” had already been recorded with The Byrds; “$1000 Wedding”, about Parsons’ aborted plan to wed the mother of his daughter in ostentatious style, had been recorded in a plodding arrangement with the Flying Burrito Brothers circa 1970; “Ooh Las Vegas” had been rejected from GP.
In spite of the dearth of new material, the album took what its predecessor had presented and expanded the format of “Cosmic American Music”. With the album in the can, Parsons set off for Joshua Tree, California, where he would fatally overdose on September 19, 1973, dying the next day in nearby Yucca Valley.
The three tracks recorded during the sessions that had gone unreleased, “Sleepless Nights”, “The Angels Rejoiced in Heaven Last Night” and “Brand New Heartache”, were released on the posthumous 1976 Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers album Sleepless Nights.