I am a vinyl collector and thus my Byrds collection is comprised of records and not CD’s. I do not have the inclination nor the money to replace the vinyl even though the CD’s contain extra tracks and have a better sound (although, at times, that is debatable). I do, however, tend to purchase box sets as they fill in the blanks and provide a modern listening experience. The box set in my collection that is relevant for this retrospective is the four disc set, The Byrds, issued in 1990. There is now a second box set by The Byrds, There is a Season, issued in 2006, which in many ways has supplanted the one in my collection.
The Byrds can now be found fairly cheaply and well is worth seeking out. The ninety tracks span the career of the group. It includes all of their well-known material and hit songs, a number of unappreciated gems, some unreleased tracks, a re-working of some classic songs, and four new recordings by Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and David Crosby. The enclosed booklet is informative and contains a nice biography of the group. The sound has also been cleaned up and, in most cases, is superior to that of the original releases.
Box sets present the music but many times the intent of the original albums are lost by the shuffling of songs and additional tracks. Therefore, this box set should be considered to be complimentary to their fine catalog of studio albums.
The first disc sets the tone by presenting some of the finest music of not only The Byrds but in the history of Sixties rock ‘n’ roll. “Mr Tambourine Man,” “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” “Chimes Of Freedom,” “She Has A Way,” and “All I Really Want To Do” just blast out of the speakers and serve as a reminder of the quality material that The Byrds produced during their career.
There are a number of gems to be found in this collection. First, a number of tracks from Sweetheart Of The Rodeo have the vocals by Gram Parsons reinstated. Legal problems had forced the group to replace his lead vocals when the album was first released and it is nice to hear these songs as they were originally intended.
Secondly, there has always been criticism that Byrdmaniax was over-produced. Here some of the tracks are stripped back to basics, giving them a whole new flavor. This is especially true with Roger McGuinn’s “Kathleen’s Song,” which benefits greatly from the elimination of the overdubbing on the original.
Thirdly, there are a number of live performances that show The Byrds at various points during their career. Live presentations of “Mr. Tambourine Man” with Bob Dylan and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” were recorded at a Roy Orbison tribute. “Roll Over Beethoven” is taken from a live 1967 Swedish radio show. Also presented here is an excellent live version of Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.”
Finally, listening to “This Wheel’s On Fire” is a reminder of the guitar virtuosity of Clarence White. Also the Chris Hillman vocal on the pop song “From A Distance” is one of the best of his career.
If you have not been exposed to the music of The Byrds, I would recommend any of their first six studio albums. If, however, you are familiar with their music, The Byrds [Boxed Set] is an excellent way to complete the experience as it is a collection to be savored and explored. It provides a nice curtain closer for one of the better American groups of rock ‘n’ roll history.