First there was the Everly Brothers version of the song written by Boudleaux Bryant (actually, there were two: the slow original from 1960 and an upbeat take in 1965). Then there was the appalling cover by Nazareth that became a hit. And shortly before the Scottish rockers violated this most tenderly angry heartbreak songs of all, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris did it perfect justice.
Perhaps they did so not only because both were exquisite vocalists (and Emmylou Harris is, of course, a supreme harmonist), but perhaps it was also because they were experiencing the cruelty of love – maybe of the impossible variety, or perhaps unrequited.
Gram and Emmylou are said to have felt a strong attraction to one another. Harris certainly was in love with him, but insists that there never was a romance because Gram was married, even though that marriage was on the rocks. Whatever Parsons felt for Harris (and he had a relationship with a woman called Margaret Fisher), when he died on 19 September 1973 – before ‘Love Hurts’ was released in 1974 on the Grievous Angel LP – his wife Gretchen Burrell barred Emmylou from his funeral.
Gram and Emmylou might never have been together in a physical sense, but ‘Love Hurts’ unites them forever. Note this bitter line: “Some fools think of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness. Some fools fool themselves I guess, but they’re not fooling me. I know it isn’t true.” And then rewind, and hear how Gram and Emmylou harmonise the word “togetherness”; the preceding words are mocked, but the word togetherness soars with longing. As they re-enter the stream of disillusion, their sweet harmonies are drenched in the hot blood of a broken heart.