Gram Parsons - "Streets of Baltimore"

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Great song, obviously, but doesn't Baltimore seem like a random choice for a location? Listening to the song, we learn that the protagonist "sold the farm to take my woman where she longed to be." Having arrived in Maryland, the woman (girlfriend? wife?) exclaims that "the prettiest place on earth (is) Baltimore at night." Now, I like Baltimore - its nickname is the "Charm City," after all, and it's got a nice harbor and some good book and record shops. But it's hardly a glamorous place. In fact, it has lots of downtrodden areas. So my question: Did Baltimore ever have a heyday? Or is the songwriter aware of Baltimore's medium-sized status, and using it as a plot device?

mike a, Friday, 9 April 2004 17:01 (fifteen years ago) link

i think it represents the "countrypolitan"-izing of a young man, perhaps you'd have to return back to the B-more of the 50s when the song was written (bobby bare had success with it, not sure if he wrote it).

gygax! (gygax!), Friday, 9 April 2004 17:07 (fifteen years ago) link

I believe Tompall Glaser wrote that song. Looking into his background might supply some answers.

Baltimore was definitely a bustling little harbor city when the steel industry was still active. The docks must have been packed with shipping and stuff like that.

I don't want to assume too much. But, the song, I believe, is talking about a backwoods rural couple, maybe from some failed farm near Appalachia (spelling?). So, they are new to city life and probably lived in a working class neighborhood there. It was not glamorous but they are working class and their expectations are modest. These two are talking roughneck bars and whatnot. I do not believe the two in this song were psyched because Baltimore had a good record shop or DJsm or an anarchist book shop.

It's like when Sissy Spacek's character in the movie Badlands says Cheyenne was the biggest and most beautiful city she had ever seen. It's all perspective and the perspective is hillbilly.

Justin Farrar (Justin Farrar), Friday, 9 April 2004 17:16 (fifteen years ago) link

(x-post)

well, the woman proclaiming that baltimore is the prettiest place on earth is a woman who comes from baltimore and quite possibly has never seen any other city. it might mean loving the city life in general (or, conversely, hating the country life). or it might just mean loving the place you came from, no matter what it's actually like.

also, don't underestimate how easily baltimore fits into the meter and rhyming scheme of the song. it's a very musical name.

fact checking cuz (fcc), Friday, 9 April 2004 17:18 (fifteen years ago) link

Gram didn't write the song, as others have already pointed out. I agree that it's probably because the song was written at an earlier time.
Can you be a groupie for a dead rock star? Because I refer to Gram as my 'dead rockstar boyfriend.'
Is anyone else dying for that movie "grand theft parsons" to come out?

brooklynbee, Friday, 9 April 2004 18:29 (fifteen years ago) link

We had a heyday, as people who were here back then never tire of reminding you . . .

Helluva lotta folks from neighboring West Virginia came here to work in the factories, back when there were factories. In fact, many a young West Virginians still winds up moving here for "big city" purposes.

Plus "Baltimore" a little more melifluous than "Chicago," another three syllable industrialized big city that might have stood in.

Lee G (Lee G), Friday, 9 April 2004 20:31 (fifteen years ago) link

Is anyone else dying for that movie "grand theft parsons" to come out?

yes!!

lauren (laurenp), Friday, 9 April 2004 21:24 (fifteen years ago) link

I have the original version...it's actually on a Glaser Brothers album before Tompall went solo...it's a very good song and their version is as great (if very different) as Gram's

M@tt He1geson (Matt Helgeson), Friday, 9 April 2004 21:39 (fifteen years ago) link

The question is good.

I have wondered about it meself, though I know not the lyric as well as you folk.

I suppose that I like the idea of irony in that she thinks Baltimore is the metropolis.

Perhaps, in a way, it is.

'Streets of Middlesbrough'

the bellefox, Saturday, 10 April 2004 07:48 (fifteen years ago) link

'Middlesborough' doesn't rhyme with for/sore/before.

Maybe Baltimore is a big, bright, shiny metropolis compared to Spaulding, Nebraska.

Mooro (Mooro), Saturday, 10 April 2004 11:47 (fifteen years ago) link

I love this record, and indeed Gram Parsons.

Ronan (Ronan), Saturday, 10 April 2004 12:22 (fifteen years ago) link

Actually I think Middlesbrough is a better rhyme for the song than I was imagining it to be (I wasn't, till you raised it, Mooro).

the gramfox, Saturday, 10 April 2004 12:27 (fifteen years ago) link

Justin OTM

The protagonist in the song is saying that he doesn't like the city life (because it corrupts). They could have gone to NYC, but that would have been too obvious. Everybody knows NYC corrupts. It has to be an 'any city' city, because the point is the contrast between country life/values and city life/values. Maybe Baltimore wasn't a glamorous city, even then, but it doesn't really matter. The point is that city life corrupts.

Debito (Debito), Saturday, 10 April 2004 14:03 (fifteen years ago) link

Yeah, it could've been Cincinnati, another weird place where southerners went to get jobs. Cincinnati had all these people from W. Va., E. Ky. and E. Tenn. working at the Ford Plant and so forth. Of course, Cincinnati is notoriously intolerant and closed-in, so the old guard hated all those "hillbillies," as if those fucking Germans in Cincinnati have anything to brag about...at least Baltimore has always tolerated eccentrics. They had Mencken and John Waters...Cinci had, what? King Records is about it since 1950. Yep, I lived there (I'm from Middle Tennessee not East Tennessee, a distinction lost on the people in Cincinnati who seem to regard anyone from south of the Ohio River as hicks), and it was the most miserable place imaginable. Good song to put on a mixtape alongside "Streets of Baltimore": Bobbie Gentry's great "Girl from Cincinnati." And of course Randy Newman's "Baltimore." "Streets of Baltimore" is a great song. I moved back to the south, thank god.

eddie hurt (ddduncan), Saturday, 10 April 2004 14:41 (fifteen years ago) link

Does anyone else hear the woman becoming a prostitute? The song's last line is "While my baby walks the streets of Baltimore."

Rickey Wright (Rrrickey), Sunday, 11 April 2004 06:59 (fifteen years ago) link

tim hardin around then too with the baltimore

duke verv, Sunday, 11 April 2004 07:01 (fifteen years ago) link

I too thought she became a prostitute, presumably because her man had buggered back to the country.

Johnney B (Johnney B), Sunday, 11 April 2004 11:18 (fifteen years ago) link

See, this is why I love ILM - thoughtful and historical responses to my silly questions.

The Bats also did a good version of this song for their "Live at WFMU" EP. I'm not sure what the lyric meant to them, though.

mike a, Sunday, 11 April 2004 14:28 (fifteen years ago) link

The great thing about Parsons is the way he makes songs like "Streets" genuinely tragic...I also find it charming to find about Tompall Glaser "buggering" back to Tennessee or Kentucky...

eddie hurt (ddduncan), Sunday, 11 April 2004 17:30 (fifteen years ago) link

i find the song moving for the simple reason that it's wonderful to imagine a sensibility that would find baltimore the prettiest place on earth. i don't mean that condescendingly.

the tragedy is written into the song no? not that parsons doesn't do very nice things with it.

amateur!st (amateurist), Sunday, 11 April 2004 18:58 (fifteen years ago) link

p.s. good question mike.

amateur!st (amateurist), Sunday, 11 April 2004 18:58 (fifteen years ago) link

gram seems to sing it with a certain distance, as if he's gently ridiculing the cliches of the song (well noted above: the corrupting influence of the city, etc.). also the very thinness of his voice, when he performs these country chestnuts, implies a certain jovial indifference toward what's expected of a country musician. in a way i think he was doing what, 30 years later, will oldham is trying--a little too hard--to do with his latest album.

amateur!st (amateurist), Sunday, 11 April 2004 19:02 (fifteen years ago) link

fifteen years pass...

Love this tune and this version, especially when you can hear Emmylou, also the Charley Pride and Bobby Bare versions. Authorship seems to be Tompall Glaser AND Harlan Howard, who I didn’t see mentioned upthread. It’s kind of perfect and precise, lyrically and arrangement-wise, little details and rhymes that really stick out like “machine” and “neighborhood serene,” the guitar intro figure, which seems to vary from version to version, doesn’t quite seem to have a traditional verse chorus structure, just a repetitive thing where it swells up with a line that rhymes before the title is recapped, keeps inching forward as the protagonist’s state of mind keeps changing.

Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette Alone) (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 19 March 2020 05:06 (two weeks ago) link

Actually the two other versions DO have the same intro lick, which is not used here but I (Bobby) barely mind.

Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette Alone) (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 19 March 2020 05:07 (two weeks ago) link

It rivals some of those Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell classics in its machine-tooled precision mixed with deep feeling

Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette Alone) (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 19 March 2020 05:12 (two weeks ago) link

I kind of like the streets of Baltimore

velko, Thursday, 19 March 2020 05:25 (two weeks ago) link

Exactly!

Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette Alone) (James Redd and the Blecchs), Thursday, 19 March 2020 05:28 (two weeks ago) link

(x-post)well, the woman proclaiming that baltimore is the prettiest place on earth is a woman who comes from baltimore and quite possibly has never seen any other city. it might mean loving the city life in general (or, conversely, hating the country life). or it might just mean loving the place you came from, no matter what it's actually like.also, don't underestimate how easily baltimore fits into the meter and rhyming scheme of the song. it's a very musical name.

In retrospect, this was clearly Gram’s response to Randy Newman’s “Sail Away.”

Naive Teen Idol, Friday, 20 March 2020 14:15 (two weeks ago) link

Interesting. Please elaborate.

Robbie Shakespeare’s Sister Lovers (James Redd and the Blecchs), Friday, 20 March 2020 14:55 (two weeks ago) link

Well, I was joking, but it's kind of an interesting other-side-of-the-proverbial-coin if you dwell on their conceits. Where "Sail Away" is about a trader enticing an African to come to America so he can be sold into slavery, "Streets of Baltimore" about a guy bringing his (white) lady from rural Tennessee to the bright lights of the city, which she ends up loving so much she ditches the guy.

Naive Teen Idol, Friday, 20 March 2020 15:07 (two weeks ago) link

Wait, she ditches him for the guy in "Sail Away"?

Jersey Al (Albert R. Broccoli), Friday, 20 March 2020 15:46 (two weeks ago) link

Then Randy Newman writes "Baltimore" in response to Gram Parsons' response to "Sail Away".

God gave toilets rolls to you, gave toilet rolls to you (Tom D.), Friday, 20 March 2020 15:53 (two weeks ago) link


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