Sweetheart of the Rodeo - Track #3 - 1968 - Written by Charles & Ira Louvin | Performed by The Byrds

My buddies tell me that I should've waited
They say I'm missing a whole world of fun
But I still love them and I sing with pride
I like the Christian life

I won't lose a friend by heeding God's call
For what is a friend who'd want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise
I like the Christian life

My buddies shun me since I turned to Jesus
They say I'm missing a whole world of fun
I live without them and walk in the light
I like the Christian life

I won't lose a friend by heeding God's call
For what is a friend who'd want you to fall
Others find pleasure in things I despise
I like the Christian life

This song begs an obvious question: is this song intended to be literal, or is it shooting for irony? Let's take a closer look.

The Byrds: A Winding Road
A brief history of The Byrds is probably in order here. The group began as part of the folk revival scene in the mid-1960s and gained fame due to their use of pop and rock elements in traditional and contemporary folk pieces; Roger McGuinn, a member of the group, referred to them at this time as sounding like "Dylan meets The Beatles." They became well known due to their covers of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!," both of which are among the songs they are still known for after the turn of the century.

Shortly thereafter, the group recorded a pair of albums of psychedelic rock ("Eight Miles High" is perhaps the best example, inspired by John Coltrane's jazz experiments), then tossed out singer/songwriter/guitarist David Crosby (actually replacing him with a horse on the cover of their album The Notorious Byrd Brothers). To replace him, the band hired Gram Parsons, whose primary musical influences were more of the Hank Williams variety, and the group proceeded to follow up their psychedelic rock experiments with a country rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Parsons actually left The Byrds before this album hit shelves, and it wasn't long before The Byrds were on to trying other things.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo sticks out of The Byrds' oeuvre like a sore thumb, much like John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline are notable in the discography of Bob Dylan. This album isn't just described as country rock - it defines country rock.

Charlie & Ira Louvin
The original songwriters for The Christian Life, Charlie and Ira Louvin were known as the Louvin Brothers and were one of the top country and western performers in the 1940s and early 1950s, although later recordings branched out into other genres, such as gospel and pop music. The pair grew up in extreme poverty and were exposed to music through gospel singing at their local church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"The Christian Life" was a moderate gospel hit for the brothers in 1953 as a follow-up to their biggest gospel hit, "The Family Who Prays."

The Louvin Brothers were one of the musical inspirations for Gram Parsons, and when his influence in The Byrds peaked, he was able to record "The Christian Life" on Sweetheart.

Homage, Irony, or Both?
The question remains: was this song recorded in irony? Gram Parsons was not openly a Christian, nor were any of the other Byrds, yet they recorded a song lyrically steeped in Christian sentimentality. Parsons' music was clearly influenced by the Louvin Brothers, yet he could have chosen many other songs by the brothers to cover that weren't so steeped in religion. Was this song intended to mock, to praise, or to make no comment one way or another?

The generally accepted perspective is that this song was chosen because the tune was very adaptable to the country-rock sound that The Byrds were shooting for at the time, and that the message of the song wasn't of consequence to them. The song was likely intended to be a strictly musical homage, with maybe a nod to the Christian values that the Louvin brothers were rooted in.

I like to think the lyrics weren't meant to signify any belief one way or another, but were there merely to challenge the listener.


The first time I heard this song, I intensely disliked the lyrics. At first glance, this song seems to outline the fundamental problem Christianity has right now: a deep superiority complex. Most evangelical Christians seem to believe that acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal savior somehow makes them "better" than others, and their mission is to "save" them. Yet through this conception of being "better," they fail to reach those who they are speaking to and thus only effectively speak to the choir. This is why well-spoken evangelists can reach huge audiences but fail in their goal: they are only speaking to people who already believe.

But keep looking. What is the Christian life? All this song really says is that the singer is happy with his (or her) life right now and that Christianity is a big part of that. The singer isn't throwing away his old friends from before ("but I still love them" and still calling them "my buddies"); instead, it is them who is making the singer an outcast ("I live without them").

I never ended a friendship because of my belief in Christianity, but I know that several potential friendships of mine were nipped in the bud simply because I said that I was a Christian and nothing else whatsoever about my faith. I guess I have made a complete turnabout with regards to this song. I now see it as a song about what is wrong in general with our society. Ask yourself this: how did you feel after the first time you read the lyrics above? And does that say anything about your own biases?

I like the Christian life.

This review was checked with special care with regards to E2 FAQ: Copyrighted Material

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