As utterly great as James Carr’s original version is, this one trumps it. Not that it’s a competition, of course. One’s soul and the other’s country. And despite the delicious crossover frequently enjoyed by the two, they exist apart. But where it counts – getting you right here – this version just edges it. Just.
I’ve never been a fan of all the mythology surrounding Gram Parsons. I like him well enough and enjoy his music. But really, he’s country for rock fans – and I reckon his greatness has been overplayed a bit. For instance: A few years ago the BBC ran a documentary series about country music called Lonesome Highway. They devoted more time to Parsons than they did to Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and many other genuine country music greats. That’s not right, is it?
Beautifully played and with a superb vocal that gets across all the pain and longing, The Dark End of the Street is my favourite Parsons moment (along with his duet with Emmylou Harris on Love Hurts and his take on The Green Green Grass of Home (which destroys its novelty status) and One Hundred Years From Now (one of his great contributions to The Byrds’ wonderful Sweetheart of The Rodeo LP) and loads of other great Parsons moments).
Oh, I don’t know. Does all the mythology and overplayedness really matter? Of course it doesn’t.
Anyway, another thing I love about this version is that, if you want, you can imagine the song isn’t about heterosexual adultery but about a gay couple forced to hide their love. And because I’m so right on, that’s exactly what I do. Either way, it’s both lovely and heartbreaking.