The Byrds, 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo' (1968)
Expectations ran high for the Byrds release following the Top 10 status of The Byrds' Greatest Hits in 1967. Yet January 1968's ambitious The Notorious Byrd Brothers only peaked at Number 47 on Billboard's albums chart, while its August successor, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, stalled at 77. Sweetheart, however, marks the first time an established rock band played authentic country music, and subsequently became the group's most influential release. Sweetheart also served as battleground for the competing broader Americana vision of Roger McGuinn (who wrested the bulk of its vocal credits) and that of pure-country partisan Gram Parsons (who contributed the album's only two original tracks). Bracketed by a pair of Bob Dylan songs (Nashville Skyline soon followed), Sweetheart sparked the formation of the Flying Burrito Brothers and provides the Nudie-suited shoulders on which virtually every subsequent alt-country effort stands.