Turn Turn Turn By The Byrds

July 25, 2016

The Byrds are best known for their other number one song, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” but “Turn Turn Turn” was the bigger hit.

The song has the distinction of being the number one song with the oldest lyrics. Pete Seeger had adapted the words the the Biblical Book Ecclesiastes to music. The Byrds added more of a beat and harmonies. Their version reached the top of the Pop Cart December 4, 1965, and their it remained for three weeks.

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Mr. Tambourine Man By The Byrds

February 27, 2016

Time has clouded the impact of “Tambourine Man” by The Byrds but at the time of its release, it was the first song to fuse rock and folk music.

Oddly the only group member to actually play on the original recording was Roger McGuinn, whose electric 12 string guitar was essential to the sound. Studio musicians Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, and Glen Campbell provided the rest. M.cGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark provided the vocals

On June 26, 1965, “Mr. Tambourine Man” reached the top of the singles charts in the United States. The song may have only spent one week at number one but a new musical sound was born.

 


Turn Turn Turn 45 by The Byrds

January 30, 2011

Only The Byrds could take an old folk song with lyrics taken from the bible and turn it into a hit song. Folksinger Pete Seeger had originally adapted the words from the book of Ecclesiastes.

“Turn Turn Turn” was released October 23, 1965 and topped The United States singles charts for three weeks. It was their biggest hit as Mr. Tambourine Man was number one for only 1 week.

As with many of their songs it was the 12 string guitar of Roger McGuinn in combination with the perfect harmonies that gave the song and the band its unique sound.

A great number one song from the Beatles era when not many American groups reached trhe top.


Eight Miles High 45 by The Byrds

December 16, 2010

“Eight Miles High” was a rare Byrds tune that was written by three members together, as Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby share writing credits.

It has always been associated with the drug culture of the era. Actually it was about a plane trip to London. On the other hand Crosby has stated that everyone was stoned when they actually wrote the song.

It featured the usual tight harmonies that The Byrds were known for plus had one of McGuinn’s better 12 string solo’s. It was sixties spacey rock at its best.

The song was released during the spring of 1966 and rose to the number 14 position during its 14 week run on The American singles chart.


Sweetheart Of The Radio by The Byrds

June 2, 2009

I am constantly amazed at how The Byrds could change their musical direction and survive the loss of members time and time again, yet continue to produce one excellent album after another.

Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman found themselves the only two remaining Byrds after the release of The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Hillman’s cousin, Kevin Kelley, was hired to play the drums and Gram Parsons was added as a guitarist and banjo player. The duo of Hillman and Parsons shared a musical vision of country music and that vision would dominate the group’s sixth release, Sweetheart Of The Radio. They would combine their country leanings with the rock sensibilities of Roger McGuinn and that combination would result in one of the earliest and most influential examples of the country-rock sound.

Gary Usher returned to produce his third album for the group and led them to the country capital of the world, Nashville Tennessee, for the recording sessions.

The group members would only write three original songs. Two Dylan tunes would be chosen for interpretation and they would combine with a number of classic country songs by such artists as the Louvin Brothers, Merle Haggard, and Cindy Walker to form the foundation of the album.

Gram Parsons would author two of the best songs of his career. The major problem was that he was still under contract to A&M records and producer Lee Hazlewood called him on it. Roger McGuinn would replace his vocals on some of the tracks to avoid possible legal problems. “Hickory Wind” is a lyrical song of beauty with mesmerizing harmonies in support. If you would like to hear the song in all its glory, without McGuinn’s post production interference, check out the live version on Parsons’ Grievous Angel album with Emmylou Harris providing the harmonies. “One Hundred Years From Now” features the combined voices of Hillman and McGuinn just cascading over the instrumental track.

The two Dylan tracks book ended the original release. “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” set up the tone of the album as a steel pedal guitar replaced Roger McGuinn’s usual 12 string. “Nothing Was Delivered” features a layered sound and ultimately brings the album to a gentle end.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo would contain a number of other highlights. The Merle Haggard tune, “Life In Prison,” is a song about murder and suffering and is about as country as you can get, yet the Byrds have the ability to shift it just a little from its roots toward a rock sound. “The Christian Life” finds McGuinn getting into the spirit of the album as his vocal even has a slight southern twang. Woody Guthrie’s, “Pretty Boy Floyd” features some wonderful banjo playing as the song is moved from its stark folk roots toward a country rock sound.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo did not have the commercial success of their prior albums but may have been their most influential. The country-rock sound they established would be carried on by such artists as Poco, The Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter and many others. Released in 1968, during the Vietnam War era, it provided a counterpoint to much of what was appearing at the time. Rolling Stone Magazine would rank it at number 117 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

I don’t think it is their best album and it is not my favorite, but I do considerate it their most essential. It was a revolutionary release at the time and remains a worthwhile listen today


The Byrds (Boxed Set) by The Byrds

May 27, 2009

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.


Byrds by The Byrds

May 27, 2009

The Byrds released Farther Along on November 17, 1971. Shortly thereafter Roger McGuinn fired the other three members of the group. However, the Byrds were not quite finished, as the original members were all available to different degrees and decided to re-unite for an album with the simple title of Byrds. McGuinn was working on his own solo album and Chris Hillman was touring with his group Manassas between recording sessions so David Crosby stepped forward to produce the album. It would ultimately be Gene Clarke who would provide the best music and probably put the most effort into the release. They also decided to leave their long time label, Columbia, and sign with David Geffen’s Asylum label.

The idea of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke back in the studio seemed like a good idea at the time. Interestingly this combination which had practically invented the fusion of rock and folk, who had produced some of the best music of the psychedelic era, and had played what can best be described as space rock, would put together an album similar to what the Byrds had been producing during the last several years. The album would be panned by the critics of the day but would be commercially successful.

Listening to this album 37 years later, it is not as bad as the early reviews would make it out to be. While it does not approach their best sixties material in terms of quality, it is still OK, which I must admit is faint praise.

Gene Clark is consistently excellent throughout. He pens two of the best songs with “Full Circle” and “Changing Heart.” His lead vocal on the Neil Young composition, “(See The Sky) About To Rain,” is a reminder of just how talented he was when healthy and committed.

Roger McGuinn did create one superior song. “Sweet Mary,” which includes some brilliant mandolin playing by Chris Hillman, is a gentle song of loss with an almost a folk flavor. McGuinn’s signature 12 string guitar playing would make too few appearances on this album and I can’t help but think that Clarence White is missed.

David Crosby recycles his song “Laughing” and really adds nothing new. He does provide one of his better vocals on the Joni Mitchell song “For Free.” He did take the time to produce the album well. I own the original vinyl release and the sound is crystal clear and the mix is right on.

Chris Hillman would contribute two very short songs and would admit years later that he was saving his best material for his own group.

The other song of interest was another Neil Young composition, “Cowgirl In The Sand.” The Byrds would take it in a country-rock direction with an emotional performance.

Byrds would be the final album by the group as the members would all go their separate ways again. It remains an interesting historical artifact and is the swan song by one of the more innovative groups in American rock ‘n’ roll history. It contains some pleasant, if not creative, music and is worth a listen every now and then.