When what I really needed was a Bob Denver cover....
The Lineup Card (1965-1973)
Roger (aka Jim) McGuinn (vocals, Rickenbacker 12-string)
David Crosby (vocals, guitars) until 1967 also
Gene Clark (vocals, tambourine) 1965
Mike Clarke (drums) until 1967
Chris Hillman (bass) until 1968 also of Flying Burrito Brothers and others
Gram Parsons (vocals, guitars) 1968 also of Flying Burrito Brothers
Kevin Kelley (drums) 1967-1968
Clarence White (guitar) 1968-1973
Gene Parsons (drums) 1968-1973
John York (bass) 1968-9
Skip Battin (bass) 1969-1973
fall into a category of groups that very many people are familiar with, a lot
of people respect, and not a whole lotta folks other
than us pointy-headed critics still listen to. Oh, besides
But for every ossified old group of
constipated folk fans, there were legions of young record buyers, emboldened by
some of the lessons taught by the rapidly maturing Beatles, who were ready to
go for something a bit deeper than Hard Day's Night, but weren't
quite ready to settle for pinups of a pasty-faced Jew from Minnesota on their
walls. Enter The Byrds, a bunch of
The Byrds didn't stagnate, oh no...though they relied on their jangly sound for a few years, they had not a qualm about being the first to dig right in to the flavor of next year, in fact they were completely fearless of it. Whether it was psychedelia (very good, non-stupid, well-structured psychedelia, too), country, or country-rock, The Byrds were at the forefront, often not just knee deep a whole year before anyone else got even close. One of the disadvantages of all these shifts from one side of the road to the other is that the band fell apart, several times. The only constant was Roger McGuinn, and it got to the point that major, integral band members (like Gram Parsons) were leaving after only a year in the group. Finally, in about 1969, the Byrds were set for a few years...as McGuinn's sidemen. The later days of the group are often either ripped to shreds by critics (as much as they were ignored by the public...one thing record buyers don't like is an unpredictable bunch like the Byrds. Imagine it's 1968 and you're expecting another 'Eight Miles High' from your freshly-released Byrds LP, and you get...country covers. Twangy country covers. Sure, you'd be mad enough to kill someone, too. I hear Sirhan Sirhan was a former Byrds fan.), or falsely praised by historical deconstructionists (I call them fuckheads), but what shouldn't be done is ignoring the Byrds...this 60's music is good shit, man!
Really, this group of pre-Mr. Tambourine Man demo tapes (parts of which were also released as In The Beginning) ought to be considered as a 'lost debut' for the Byrds. The sound is passable, they don't play anything that overlaps other than 'Mr. Man' itself, and that's like a totally different take and stuff. Most of these tracks are originals, and once again we're reminded how great of a songwriter Gene Clark was. The Byrds this early on were very much the Gene Show, as they hadn't perfected their chiming 12-string sound ('The Reason Why' is the first one here to really employ it), and even their trademark massed harmonies aren't highly developed yet. They're a lot closer to early, crooning Beatles than they are to cutified Zimmermans...which is exactly what Gene Clark was about all along. There must've been a pretty massive power shift right around the time of the taping of Mr. Tambourine Man, because it's obvious that Clark's diminished stature, and McGuinn's resulting rise, was a much bigger deal than what we might've assumed.
Enough history lessons with the hot 28 year old 7th grade social studies teacher Ms. Brown I had who unwittingly flashed parts of her bra to me more times than I had skin on my private parts. And that one time I saw Ms. Brown in a pair of skin-tight biker shorts and an extremely wide-armholed t-shirt may have taught me one thing, and that's that these early Byrds were some suave dudes...they hadn't yet discovered the pussy drawing power of pure folk tunes, but that doesn't mean that they don't have a British Invasion-beating blast with almost all of the songs on this album. 'You Movin' rocks raw 'n vicious like Sid and a bucket of Animals, 'You Showed Me' is just fantastic Britpop, the 'Airport Song' is the prototypical David Crosby song for his entire career span, right up until his fat, disgusting, test-tube-spanking-for-lesbians present. When the strangely march-beated 'Mr. Tambourine Man' is one of the least satisfying songs on an album, you know you're writing some happy crappy for the masses to munch right down on. My favorite is the gorgeous 'I Knew I'd Want You', with tambourine by Mr. Accordion Man. Now, if only they just sounded a bit less generic...that Rickenbacker really was a master stroke, because without it, these guys may as well be the Seekers.
Capn's Final Word: Outstanding songwriting already? Geez...the Byrds before they discovered folk music and chiming, but not before they discovered greatness.
Tambourine Man -
Maybe it's no ZZ Top's First Album, but this has got to rank up with the very best debut albums by any artist ever. Not only did they spring forth from the skull of Zeus fully grown and in full control of their talents, they also cam out in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. They were, in just 31:37, able to 1) popularize some of the weird new stuff Bob Dylan was putting out, 2) Improve on some of the dishwater-dull preachy stuff Bob Dylan had put out two years prior, 3) introduce the Rickenbacker electric twelve-string guitar and it's standard-equipment 'JANG!!!!' to the world 4) foil a plan by the Phantom of the Old Campground from scaring all the people away from the campground, which somehow benefited the Old Caretaker of the Old Campground financially, though no one can figure out how, and who executed his twisted scheme by putting on a scary mask and making lots of moaning noises, and who Would've Gotten Away With It Too, If It Weren't For Those Meddling Kids!!! (The Byrds) and 4) wearing little rectangular Granny glasses and not getting the crap beat out of them by LA Hell's Angels.
thing you need to do if you've never heard the title track is to 1) kick
yourself really, really hard 2) ask someone else to do the same to you,
preferably about the head and neck area, or, failing that, at least square in
the buttocks and 3) just go and find the song, anywhere. What? You've never
heard this groundbreaking piece of American pop history? For shame! You could
even give me a call and I'll be happy to come right over and kick you in the
head myself. What the Byrds did to radio-ize the song, by reducing the length by about half, is
completely forgivable by how they made this trippy
little description of drug experimentation even more trippy,
What works is the Clark original 'Feel A Whole Lot Better' (you know...'when yerrrr gonnnnee!!'), which is my vote for the best song on the album. Clark doesn't strike twice, though, 'It's No Use' is all too much fumbling over Beatle-cliches (listen to the way they bend the note on the last line right before the chorus, I mean, come on...like I wasn't gonna catch that one!) 'I Knew I'd Want You' is all moody and blue, much like I wish the Moody Blues were more like, 'Don't Doubt Yourself Babe' oddly incorporates Bo Diddley into the jankly soup, 'Here Without You' sounds like the great grandmother of 'Eight Miles High', and also gives a peek to the country-rock that the Byrds would birth in just a few years. What's funny to remember is that the Byrds used to release an album every 8 months or so...the last one didn't even get a chance to get cold before the next one was already on the shelves. That's the way shit worked in the Sixties, you know. And the only way to keep up was to stack your albums full of covers like the Stones (and the Byrds) did. But the funny thing is that around about 1966, all those bands started releasing albums of only original material, and still they were able to keep up the pace, not to mention the quality. The Byrds went through 3 distinct styles of music from 1965 to 1968. Nowadays bands are lucky if they can get two albums out during that time, and they're under constant pressure to keep it just like everyone else. Ahhh, the Sixties, when bands were sweatshopped, but the old fart label executives had no idea how to control them artistically, so they just didn't. As long as the band kept it cheap and pushed at least one single per album up the charts, who cared what those hairy freaks were singing about?
Oh, my copy of this album (actually I have two, digitally pirated and vinylly unpirated) doesn't contain the bonus tracks they so thoughtfully tacked on to all the Byrds reissues a few years back, but I don't think that matters too much. It's a fantastic record without them. Believe me: all you need is twelve tracks anyway. Buy the bonus tracks on a rarities record and leave the original concept intact.
Capn's Final Word: Revolutionary, a smooth, highly enjoyable snapshot of a bunch of extremely talented kids who knew what they liked. Of course I wish they wrote more songs....and I also can't wait for them to weird up a bit.
Turn! Turn! Turn! -
The best thing I can say about Turn You, Goddammit!!! is that if you liked the debut, you're guaranteed to like this one too, because, well, they're the same fucking album. Starts off with another Hit For The Ages, this time ripped from today's newspapers, if today's newspapers just happen to have chapter and verse of Ecclesiastes. You know, a time to watch football, a time to watch baseball, a time to eat chips without salsa, a time to eat chips with salsa, a time to be on top, a time to let your girlfriend be on top...you get the picture. Dylan song: 'The Time's They Are A-Changin', which has to be the least risky Dylan song, and darn well the least interesting, they possibly could've chosen. Everybody and their mother knew that song! They may as well have chosen 'Blowin' In The Wind' and retired to the Lesbian Seagull circuit opening for Peter, Paul, and Mary, those leftist fags. Not only that, but it's performed without a hint of originality...talk about safe filler.
I hear a lot about the Gene Clark songs on here being the best ones, and I guess there's a point. 'Set You Free' is all wistful dewiness in a little buttercup of gentility, and the basis for most of the songs Marty Balin would ever come up with in his life. And Gene's 'The World Turns All Around Her' hints at the spacey-psychedelia to come in the next year, and 'If You're Gone' is just as stately and graceful as you please. These originals are not fantastic, unforgettable pop tunes for the ages, but they are throughly enjoyable little pieces of fatness to roll around on your tongue. They're simply not a very compelling reason to buy the album.
There's plenty more of those PBS special sorts of folk covers, like the very-Dylany country tune 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', which reminds me of warm spring days in the country, and 'Oh Susannah!' (yeah, 'goin' to Alabammy with a banjo on mah knee), which reminds me of endless, dull winter days in elementary school music class. And, um...I have a really hard time telling which of their songs are originals on this album, because the originals sound so damn much like the folkie covers...shall I say, they ALL JANGLE! They're all HIGHLY HARMONIOUS! and none of them SOUNDS A WHIT DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS! I guess Turd! Turd! Turd! is just one of those records that has to be taken in one dose to really feel how nice and smooth and easily velvety warm it all is. It's just filled with bittersweet goodness. The Byrds sound like very well-informed students rather than teachers, extremely White, extremely non-Southern, and very respectful of the tunes. Aw, to hell with this Folkways crap...quit giving us these throwaways packed with these stupid filler-diller covers! What really needs to happen is Pens Hitting Paper. These guys can write good songs. We heard what you all could do on Mr. Tambourine Man, now let's get to work!
Capn's Final Word: More jangly versions of the same old moldy folk tunes that everyone else in the coffee shop knows by heart. Good in its way, but takes absolutely no risks. Xeroxing the debut doesn't get you brownie points, dearies.
Fifth Dimension -
Yes, better even than the debut in spots,
worse than a toothbrush full of dogshit in others.
Very few covers, and not a single one of them from Another Side Of Bob Dylan!
Can you imagine the fun times on the Byrds' tour bus,
as young, bespectacled Jim McGuinn puts on Another
Side Of for the 14th time since leaving
Okay, anyway, Fifth Dimension is a fantastic album where the Byrds finally step out of their shells and begin to share that great store of songs they had been smothering under piles and piles of old, festering, moldy folk tunes for the year of 1965. They're able to write these pop gems like 'Mr. Spaceman', the sparklingly haunting 'I See You' and 'I Come And Stand At Every Door', which nods at their folky past while whisking it off a few decades into the future.
And so I was talking to my dog about hot dogs...wha? Oh! DRUGS!!! The Byrds were deeper into the grass than a platoon of VC in 1966, and I bet than most of them were tripping their propellers off at the same time. 'Eight Miles High' results from this? The only real attempt to combine John Coltrane's sax melodies with rock music...but combining them with the most sneaky of all Byrds harmonies...eiiighhht Miilllleess HIIGHHHH!!!!! Fuck yeah! They aren't yelling, they;re insinuating these things directly into your power supply, like revolutions on a genetic level. This was one of Gene Clark's last tunes before he packed up his tambourine and bagged it off to Obscurityland, but I doubt he had anything quite like this motopsycho nightmare of chromatic 12-string soloing and heavy HEAVY in mind. Right....one of my top three favorite Byrds songs ever. 'Why?', here tacked on as a bonus track, is like a speedier, spacier, sparer version of 'Eight Miles High', and is nearly as good.
The misfires on 5D are so obvious
and unmistakable that I just have trouble damning them too harshly. They're not
those kinds of bad songs that suck out loud, or, even worse, try to conceal
their very suck by keeping a low profile. Naw, there
they are, they're aware of their sucky nature, and
they just can't do anything about it. They are Just Plain Suck. 'Hey Joe'
sounds like a stupid Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs go-go dancer joke compared
with the clusterbomb Hendrix version of the following
year, but I wouldn't even say that this is a good version for 1966, either.
It's too fast, too frenetic, and makes me think that Joe is off to buy some hot
pants rather than to
What I like best about Fifth Dimension is that it takes lots of chances, which was exactly what Turn! didn't do. They're not afraid to make complete asses of themselves, and they never actually do (though 'Joe' and 'Lear Jet' come close). The stuff that plays it close to the vest, like 'I See You', ' Wild Mountain Thyme', 'John Riley', and the title track (which is a pretty sad choice for an album opener, no doubt about that) is all very melodic and interesting....you know, the 'earth' from which the weirder tracks are 'eight miles above'. And let it not be forgotten that some of the Byrds very biggest successes are on this album. I like the whole thing, even the bad songs....it's got a great bit of good humor and friendliness that never stumbles into irony or cynicism like maybe would happen later on. This is the Byrds at their most goggle-eyed and giddy, and I think, their most fun.
Capn's Final Word: It's neat when you finally find your feet....it allows you to run all over the place, willy nilly. Some places you never want to go again, but there's definite lack of self-censorship that leads to some pretty fantastic heights.
Mike Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Just a word about why Wilson and Alroy suck.
They called the title track, "Fifth Dimension," "dreary."
You simply cannot call a song that brilliant, that heartfelt, and that transcendant "dreary."
Oh, the album? Adore it. Probably my favorite Byrds album. Come on - this has "Eight Miles High" and "Fifth Dimension" on it! What more do you want? I know I'm happy with it all, anyway. The cover of "Hey Joe" does sound like incidental music at the middle school prom, but other than that lil' misfire, everything's brilliant.
Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: The Byrds really hit on something genuinely special dare I say majestic with the song Eight Miles High which just may be the best Folk Rock song ever written. When you look at the year 1966 and compare it with the Beatles and Rolling Stones material they were far ahead of their peers. Using this song, if they had rallied around Gene's Clarks songs more, just let McGuinn's arranging brilliance and picking virtuosity kick in at will, Hillman's wonderfully creative bass hooks run totally wild, Crosby high harmony and punchy rythem guitar work dance as it may then subsequent Rock history would have been very different. But alas everyone left one by one for better or worse.
Younger Than Yesterday -
This is the only place in the Byrds catalog where they make a really good album (probably their best, but I'm not saying...) despite the fact that they've not really taken any steps forward from all the groundbreakin' and earth quakin' they did on 5D. The Byrds do nothing very new here besides maybe flowering a few country and electronic trappings: again, if you liked the first three albums, I absolutely positively guarantee you you'll like Yesterday too. That's really the last time I'll be able to say that, because this is also the last pure jangle-pop album the Byrds ever put out. So far, all we've really had are variations on and interesting twists on the sound that was introduced to us on the debut record. They're just writing more and better songs now, that's all. But things after this would take some mighty wild turns, and, especially if you count the fact that this is David Crosby's last album as a Hooter, this is the last of the 'real' Byrds albums like we've come to know and love.
What's most striking to me about Yesterday
is its consistency. 5D had all these really revolutionary tracks like
'Eight Miles High' and 'Spaceman' and 'I See You' and such, but it also had
some very unapologetic stinkers ('23 Skidoo! (Ass Lick Song)'). Yesterday
is just all about the good tune. In fact, besides the hideously ugly 'Mind
Gardens', I would say that none of these tunes falls below the level of
'pleasantly forgettable filler', and nearly all of them are great in some way.
Example: I thought I'd just flat-out hate a song called 'Renaissance Fair',
thinking about all the dirty unwashed herpes cases who work at the stupid
Renaissance Festival selling funnel cakes and talking in some preposterous
half-Coventry, half Ardmore, Oklahoman accent when they're not busy collecting
Magic cards and sexually abusing their paper boy while speaking Hobbit. But,
imagine the look on my face when I actually find that this is a song about
tripping! That's less than two minutes long and still makes its point, too
(none of these Byrds albums are necessarily lengthy).
It's a typically amorphous
As for the tunes penned by McGuinn and others, 'Thoughts and Words' skates this really thin line of sounding so much like a tune Rubber Soul that I want to call foul (the descending vocal line doubling the bass is ripped straight off of one of those tunes...dammit if I can't remember which fucking one it was), but it's so dark and demanding that I love it despite the ripoff and a chorus that makes me think of some pretty stupid 60's dancing cliches (Go Go Dancing! Hot chicks in tiny polyester dresses with huge hairbands and thick eye makeup who are actually probably our mothers!...or grandmothers! Eeeeew!) 'C.T.A.-102' is a very normal song about a spaceship, obviously descended from 'Mr. Spaceman' both in subject matter and music, except they sing like two lines and then this insectoid whistling noise (sounds like a Moog wheezing while looking for it's keys under a particularly short couch...are you following me?) comes in...it's weird, and neither it nor the silly 'voices of the aliens' ruins the song, it's just very cute, a good one for the kids or anyone else you'd like to keep busy in the other room while you catch a quickie with the wife. Possibly your girlfriend, who knows....it's not my decision to make. 'So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star' is a funny, catchy classic that's gone before it's come, 'Time Between' is Hillman's, the bands first real foray into country-rock, a very charming little tune with a rattling chorus and a very satisfying vocal hook. Don't think Merle Haggard and sighing steel guitars...think the Monkees. And when you're talking Monkees, you're talking 'The Girl With No Name', but don't worry...the Monkees ruled the school just as long as that faggot Davey Jones stayed away from the microphone. But it's still country music, dammit, it's just country music played by a Sixties rock band that didn't know any better, is all. Also contains another Dylan song from fucking Another Side Of, this one being 'My Back Pages' (get it? Younger Than Yesterday...'I was so much older then...' they're so witty...), a version of 'Why' that sounds the same as the version added as a bonus track on the last album, begging the question....
WHAT THE FUCK? WE'RE GOING TO WAR
Right, I was supposed to say 'Why?' or something equally as benign, but I deftly changed the subject and made it political. Here's another political statement coming up right here:
Capn's Final Word: The Byrds at a peak, not necessarily in the lead, but a well-oiled machine nonetheless.
firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: A- better fits your criteria. To wit, "a seriously crappy song (has) reduced an A+ album to this level" that being the Crosby-penned "Mind Gardens." As somebody said at the time of it's release. "It's like somebody took a shit in the middle of side 2!" It also became known that the the aforementioned Mr. Crosby had fought mightily to get it on the record against the better judgement of Messrs. McGuinn and Hillman. Later when they rolled up to his house in their twin Porsches to fire him, allegedly because of his JFK assassination screed at Monterey, it was actually Mind Gardens that got the ball rolling towards that move. The inclusion of the song is even more unfortunate if one recognizes this record for what it really is - the birth of "country rock" (Time Between, The Girl Who Had No Name) and everything else that is good (Flying Burrito Brothers) and bad (Eagles)or in-between (Poco) about that trend.
dver/greece Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: You can't possibly miss that these guys were quite unsynchronised (like the Stones) in their playing. They were playing not as tight as they were doing harmonies. The drumming is poor and there are songs that just won't roll. I mean you get the feeling that these were not cabable musicians or the production gives a strange delay in some instruments bringing them out of the right beat. But the melodies were realy good and the hits even better. At least here and in Tambourine Man (I haven't got the 5th) it's like hearing rough demos of talented people. Can't touch the Beatles, right? Even in their very first albums they felt perfect.
Michael Bleicher Your
Any Short Comments?: The most consistent of the big four. I think "Thoughts and Words" rips off of George's "Think for yourself" on Rubber Soul ("I've got a word or two to say about the things that you do┘" sounds pretty similar to McGuinn's melody here). But George stole "Bells of Rhymney" when composing "If I Needed Someone", so I guess it's all good.
The Notorious Byrd Brothers -
When the wheels finally came off the Byrdmobile. Crosby, buff lady-killing pimp daddy like he
was, wanted to include a song called 'Triad' about, you know 'two girls at
once, man' that was considered to be a little too far off the hook by McGuinn. No doubt the idea of
Notorious Byrd Brothers is another step down the road, another stretching of the waistband, another widening of the cervix. This album screams out 'transitional' in a very sullen, slightly drunken voice. Space-country, is what it is, and not much of a jangle to speak of. McGuinn hangs up the twelve string, Hillman steps forward to fill Crosby's wide and doughy songwriting shoes, and does a more than passable job at it, and the melodies just keep a-flowin' like the well ain't never gonna stop flowin'.. This is also probably the actual 'freakiest' Byrds album, one where their particular state at the time of recording was probably at its most 'bent', what with the departure of Crosby and the letting go of the very sound that brought them this far. For the most part the songs are understated gems, and some of their most resilient ballads and mid-tempo tunes are to be found here: 'Goin Back' is pretty as a pizza pie, 'Natural Harmony' is a smoked-out jazzy lilt through the fields of green. These two lead us into the best two tracks on the album...there's the dreamy, nostalgic 'Draft Morning', which begins like the most stonedly mellow Byrds track heard so far, but then we hear the line 'learn to kill...with unknown faces', and the beat grows harder and a martial trumpet solo begins to blare before all hell breaks loose and all this ordinance is spent in an orgy of gore. Then it's back to the beauty of home again, laying us to bed to the sound of 'taps' on the electric guitar...all in the course of about a minute and a half. The total effect is a bit corny, I suppose, but at times I've found it extremely moving.
Now, my very favorite Byrds song may freak a bunch of people out, but it's 'Wasn't Born To Follow', the first truly successful step into 'country rock' for the Byrds. And this time I mean country-rock, what with the pounding Indian curry-feedback fest in the middle. But the whole thing is seemless, just a really pretty melody and some extremely fine verses ('You may beg, you may plead, you may argue with her logic...'). They toyed with country in the past, but this is the true birth of country rock....forget Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That's just country, but if you like a little touch of twang to your lysergic space rock, something that no one had even though of in late 1967, Notorious Byrd Brothers is your disc, man.
What might drag a bunch of people
down about this record is that just about the entire middle 2/3rds of the thing
is just these same, ultra-melodic, very robust little mid-tempo 'purty numbers'. They're all very differentiable from each
other...'Wasn't Born To Follow' is country, 'Get To You' is sorta
England '66 baroque, 'Change Is Now' is like 'Wasn't Born To Follow' turned
inside out...the spacey psychedelic parts on the end and the very
well-articulated country part is relegated to a chorus. But each of these songs
is just long enough to get its point across...any longer and I'm sure I'd find
this record boring. As it is, as soon as I feel like a song is getting a bit
familiar, another one comes along and I have a great time figuring what the
hell it's all about, too. Things begin to loosen up quality-wise towards the end:
I don't much like the San Fran-psych-cliche guitar on
'Tribal Gathering' and 'Dolphin's Smile' is just sort of sissy, isn't it?
'Space Oddysey' wraps the original record up by
sucking the shit out of the Byrds' butts. See...on
the cover? You can't see their butts behind the wall of the building. That's
because this beaten-down '
It's best to just skip past 'Moog
Raga', which kicks off the bonus tracks. Lemme just
share with you what it is: Okay, if you hit a key on a Moog and tell it to filter
the tone through this envelope thing, it goes 'poingggg',
kinda of really not like a sitar sound at all. Well, put some
extremely low-tech, unfunky, out-of-time, ploinky synth 'tablas' under it and you've got a much improved version of
'Moog Raga'. I mean really...was this really worth taking up disc space that
could have been given to some nice homeless bits of digital silence? Not a
chance. There's a really generic Byrds instrumental,
then 'Triad', which would've fit on the album perfectly, except it's about
double insertion. WHOOPS! Boy,
Capn's Final Word: Strong bunch of quiet earthquakes, little blows against the empire that probably had more aftershocks than Rodeo ever did. But critics are like Pakistani convenience-store owners: Talk quietly, and you'll be ignored. Be so obvious you make the windows shake and you may get some recognition.
Nick Einhorn email@example.com Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: This album is great - and I think that "Wasn't Born To Follow" is indeed one of the best Byrds songs. In fact, it made Easy Rider somewhat salvageable. And yeah, just about everything on here is great - from "Draft Morning" and "Dolphin Smile" to
Artificial Energy" and "Old John Robertson" - man! it rules! My pick for the best Byrds album, ever so slightly above the debut.
Matthew Ward firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A Any Short Comments?: Yeah, Crosby left while this album was being recorded, but he is definately ON it. Especially, check out side II--Crosby does his usual angelic harmonies on "Change is Now," and "Old John Robertson," and sings lead on "Dolphin's Smile" and "Gathering of Tribes." "Draft Morning" is mostly a Crosby song, and while most of the parties involved claim that he
doesn't sing on it (just Hillman doing a good impersonation of the Cros.) he does play guitar on it. So, Crosby is on about half this album, and was the main songwriter of three of the songs. If you count the bonus material, then he's on even more of the tunes: that earlier version of "Goin' Back" has a Cros. harmony (despite the fact that he hated the song) and, of course,
Triad is pure Crosby. Basically, I consider this to be the 1st album by the Crosby/McGuinn/Hillman/Clarke version of the band, rather than the only album by the McGuinn/Hillman/Clarke version of the band, the latter which never really existed outside from some of the later studio sessions for this album.
Oh yeah, actually, Clarke doesn't play on about half these songs, either, although he gets one of his only songwriting credits ever "Artifical Energy." So, let's say that this album was done by the 4 out of 5 original members of the Byrds, but with reduced participation by Crosby and Clarke.
Stan Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Thanks for giving my favorite Byrds album the acclaim it deserves; it gets short shrift from other writers out there. Just a couple of things: one, Crosby himself is NOT on the album cover, but appears to be represented by a horse (heh heh, good one, boys). Second, since you mentioned the CD reissue bonus tracks, get a load of, buried waaaay at the end of the CD, the excerpt of the lads trying to get "Dolphin Smile" together and giving Michael Clarke, who can't seem to play it the way Crosby wants, ribbing that quickly goes beyond good-natured and into mocking and nasty territory. It's surely included as a document of the band falling apart, and is effective in conveying as much.
of the Rodeo - Columbia 1968
Highly overrated 'birth of country rock' that is neither a 'birth' or 'rock'. Also, the public starting place for critical blow-up doll Gram Parsons, real life Southern guy from, well, somewhere where they really talk like that, a guy who had so many critical tongues lodged so far up his ass he probably died from choking on 'em. Gram Parsons is okay, don't get me wrong. He wrote several pretty good country songs in his lifetime, and was the first guy who ever played anything approaching legitimate country music that 'hip' folks from Los Angeles or New York could feel comfortable listening to. You're not gonna see some Warhol-second stringer in black leather chaps and mime makeup at a friggin' Waylon Jennings show, but Gram Parsons made it seem okay. He smoked weed, shot smack, and looked like Keith Richards after a few trips to the Golden Corral. He simultaneously made country music cool and validated everyone's love for it at the same time.
Well, if you're in the mood for a great country album made in 1968, let me suggest Johnny Cash's Live At Folsom Prison album, which has about 500 times more social weight, 1000 times more humor, 2000 times better songs, and rocks 5000 times as hard. If you really want legitimate country done well by rock guys, go for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's May The Circle Be Unbroken from 1971, starring Roy Acuff and Mama Carter and a whole bunch of other real country guys. And if country rock is what you desire, something by the Dead circa 1970-2, or Parson's own Flying Burrito Brothers is the place to go. If you want great words, get John Wesley Harding. A fun, silly Nashville good time, Nashville Skyline will work wonders, plus its nice and compact and never grows boring. Just have no illusions. With this album you really don't get anything. Number one: everything here is covers besides 'Hickory Wind', by Gram, probably best complemented by saying it sounds exactly as good as everything else on the record. Now, I'm all for hearing Dylan's 'You Ain't Goin Nowhere', one of my personal favorites of his, but come on...if I want to hear most of these songs, I don't need the Byrds ham-handing their way through them. Number two: this album never once rocks. This is not rock. It doesn't sound like rock. Not rockabilly, not rock 'n' roll, not even very punchy country music. It's just as flat country as you'll ever want. Let me make this clear. THIS ALBUM HAS NO ROCK ON IT AT ALL, SO DON'T EXPECT ANY!!! I hear about two bars of something that may resemble Byrds-style rock music in the middle of 'Nothing Was Delivered'...that's it. If you aren't prepared for a big dose of early-60's Grand Ol' Opry-style hee-haw music, don't buy this album. You'll hate it. Third, I wouldn't say that they even perform this music very well. The Byrd's vocal harmonies, even with Real Life Copenhagen-Skoal Certified Redneck Gram Parsons on board, just don't really match this material very much. Country, in my opinion, needs a bit more macho, commanding vocal delivery to get over the top. Dylan did a pretty nice job illustrating that on his 1968-9 albums. He took command of the songs. Here, the Byrds seem like they're afraid of them....it don't really make for good country, nowwattahmean?
Okay, now for how I really feel. Once you
get over the fact that this album is not anything particularly
special/groundbreaking/authentic/new/rocking at all, it's pretty pleasant
background music. If you don't focus on the less-than-stellar singing, the
sighing pedal steels and gently strummed acoustics let you fall into the
melodies of the songs, which are good. The Byrds
picked them well. If you know nothing about real, legitimate country music like
they used to make it before all the people who wrote these songs went to a
walking grave in Branson and
Capn's Final Word: I don't dislike this album because I dislike country music, but because I like it. This is a silly detour into something they didn't know too much about doing well and got way too much credit for doing.
Dr. Byrds and Mr.
The first really
disposable Byrds album, one that was made in the
depressing wake of Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman's departure from the
group. This leaves Jolly Jim Roger as the only remaining original Byrd left, and
instead of just wrapping things up about now, retiring the Byrds name and going
on making solo albums for the next twenty years, he decided to attempt to ride
the coattails of his past successes a little further, running that horse right
into the dirt in the process. Now, Roger's 12-string and tweaky voice pretty
much defined the Byrds as we knew them, but so did the amorphous songwriting of
David Crosby, the hicky country leanings of Hillman, and even the Brit Invasion
tunes of Gene Clark. Now all that stuff's lost to the past, and we're left with
Jim's current obsession, which is country rock...and um....heavily distorted
near-metal psychedelia. Wha tha fah? You heard me...new guitarist Clarence White
lets his untalented freaky flag fly on the opening 'This Wheel's On Fire' (a
Dylan cover...some things just don't change, now do they?) like his name was
Rory Gallagher or someone else he isn't fit to wipe up after. See, but this
'dichotomy' (I call it 'a schizoid level of indecision by a band that has
already cashed in all it's goodwill chips) is even illustrated by the album name
and the cover. See, on front they're genteel cowboys like we met on
Sweetheart of the Cowpatty, and on the back their spaced-out tab-gobblers in
real live space suits. Ah well. Whatever. I know which side of the band I like
better nowadays (hint: they're not exactly writing 'Eight Miles High' anymore),
but I wouldn't just go and say that the hick C-W half is all that well-fleshed
out yet either. I mean, shit, this was the band that couldn't write three lousy
songs for their last album, and now they're trying to make an album? Out of
dookie pieces like 'Old Blue' (which is a cornball piece of filler about a
dog for chrissakes.)? I guess they're not exactly writing 'Hickory Wind'
Chris Hillman's departure from the group. This leaves Jolly Jim Roger as the only remaining original Byrd left, and instead of just wrapping things up about now, retiring the Byrds name and going on making solo albums for the next twenty years, he decided to attempt to ride the coattails of his past successes a little further, running that horse right into the dirt in the process. Now, Roger's 12-string and tweaky voice pretty much defined the Byrds as we knew them, but so did the amorphous songwriting of David Crosby, the hicky country leanings of Hillman, and even the Brit Invasion tunes of Gene Clark. Now all that stuff's lost to the past, and we're left with Jim's current obsession, which is country rock...and um....heavily distorted near-metal psychedelia. Wha tha fah? You heard me...new guitarist Clarence White lets his untalented freaky flag fly on the opening 'This Wheel's On Fire' (a Dylan cover...some things just don't change, now do they?) like his name was Rory Gallagher or someone else he isn't fit to wipe up after. See, but this 'dichotomy' (I call it 'a schizoid level of indecision by a band that has already cashed in all it's goodwill chips) is even illustrated by the album name and the cover. See, on front they're genteel cowboys like we met on Sweetheart of the Cowpatty, and on the back their spaced-out tab-gobblers in real live space suits. Ah well. Whatever. I know which side of the band I like better nowadays (hint: they're not exactly writing 'Eight Miles High' anymore), but I wouldn't just go and say that the hick C-W half is all that well-fleshed out yet either. I mean, shit, this was the band that couldn't write three lousy songs for their last album, and now they're trying to make an album? Out of dookie pieces like 'Old Blue' (which is a cornball piece of filler about a dog for chrissakes.)? I guess they're not exactly writing 'Hickory Wind' anymore, either.
But, like I've said before, these Byrds are professional dudes, and they just wouldn't ever put out an album without its redeeming qualities. What's more, while they'd greatly improve on the new-style non-spacey country-rock stuff they attempt here in the next few years, the little bits of mediocre heaven they put on here aren't exactly obscenely offensive. But just compare the sloppy folk-psychedelic of 'King Apathy III' to the tight little numbers on Notorious Byrd Brothers and you'll see what I mean. The quality has just taken a step down, they're not taking any chances, and when the songs aren't really there either, what's the point? The natural spread between the best and worst songs isn't even that great...most all of them just fall right there in the 'passably marginal' category, and it's just that passably marginal country-western twang is somehow more acceptable to me than passably marginal psychedelia. They aren't good enough freak-out instrumentalists (never were, really) to make the instrumental break in 'Candy' flow like they used to, and they sure don't possess the mad energy that flushed those parts of 5D out of the woods and pumped ten ounces of buckshot in their ass. 'Bad Night At The Whiskey' is just tiresome and ponderous as a result. These guys sound like they'd rather be sleeping than anywhere near the Whiskey A-Go-Go. 'Child Of The Universe' falls under the weight of all of its attempts at sonic innovation and miles of bad verse that just choke it to death. Do any of their 'druggier' songs work at all? Fuck, no...look elsewhere for this kind of stuff done miles better.
Like I said, the hick business looked like the place to go in 1969, and it seems like the place they put most of their effort on this record. There's a cute, inconsequential instrumental that's too dull for instrumental status (though they probably just plum ran out of words to sing...you know that damned new drummer was supposed to bring the Thesaurus and he forgot, the fuckhead. Let's fire him! Okay, okay...next year.), they cover The Tune That Gram Forgot (in His Other Pants) 'Drug Store Truck-Drivin' Man', which is a hoot and a holler about the right-wing Suh-thurn types that Gram loved to piss off, and is probably the defining moment of the record...finally a nice bit of humor smack dab in the middle of a Byrds album. Not that they've been necessarily humorless (think 'So You Wanna Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star' for more Andy Rooney-calibre witticism), but this is such a nice bit of light in this ponderous chore of a record that, coupled with 'Nashville West', I actually begin to soften my heart about the whole deal around this time. Ah...but then the grand failure of 'King Apathy' comes farting up the trail and all my happy squishiness is long gone. I guess that's what mediocrities do to a person...they may clean you out, but they leave you hollow inside. Or is that 'holler inside'? Whatever. I just stole that from the Naked Gun, which was on fucking VH-1 today. VH-1? What, don't they have more footage of them sucking John Maher's dick in front of the whole world?
Capn's Final Word: Lack of direction, lack of restraint, lack of good material. Its a wonder this bizarre mix of outdated psychedelia and underbaked Country Rock went over as well as it did.
I've heard way too much good live country rock in my days (mostly done by, yes, the Grateful Dead...shall I mention them once again? I think that's the 47,312th reference to the Dead in my reviews. Do you get the point yet?) to count this as such, and I really have the idea that this version of the band, the early '69 group that had all-new stooges in it to play to McGuinn's every whim, hadn't yet had the time to gel together yet. They couldn't have been playing together for more than 4 or 5 months, could they? Ah, well, at least they're not attempting anything so challenging as group improvisation. Nah, they just play boozy honky-tonk tunes all night. How much real talent or group chemistry can doing that really demand? Probably not a whole fuckload of a lot.
McGuinn's totally off his ass at this night's performance. I guess he felt that playing rednecky country music demanded he also drink like a Lubbock long-haul trucker on his night off, so he sounds like he's about ready to keel over off the stage at any moment. He's so shaky he's nearly Hepburn-esque...and it's not like he's got a necessarily strong voice to begin with. With all the concentratin' he's doing up there, trying not to fuck up, it almost sounds like he's reading the lyrics off a page. Ah well, I can't really fault his song selection...I, for one, am glad he doesn't attempt too many real Byrds classics, (a particularly noxious medley of their big hits, 'Time Between', 'So You Want To Be...', and 'Chimes Of Freedom' are the only nods to...um...two years prior) much preferring they mumble their way through 'Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man'. It makes me realise that the early '69 Fillmore audience probably had their jaws in their laps the entire performance. Not even the precious Dead were playing quite this much pure country in early '69...they were used to Janis burning the place up, or maybe the Airplane and their earthquaking jams, not this sort of stuff that...shit, Establishment Fuckheads listened to.
Oh, that medley. Something in me says that whenever a band gets so tired of their history, and so flippant towards their audience as to relegate 'Turn! Turn! Turn!', 'Mr. Tambourine Man', and fucking 'Eight Miles High' to a medley, it's time to fucking pack it up. Go home, assholes. Don't patronize me with a minute and a half of 'Turn!' so you can go on and play dogsnot like 'King Apathy III' and the like for the rest of the evening. They just didn't care anymore. They were on their Nashville trip and that's that. At least they pay Hillman's 'Time Between' (from Younger than Yesterday in case you forgot, and there's so many good songs on that record, I wouldn't blame you if you had) with a level of respect and skill they don't much pay to anything else. If anything, this makes their newer material sound better than it otherwise would...if you play the hits badly, but play the new songs okay, I guess that's what happens. But I still don't ever want to hear 'Bad Night At The Whiskey' again, or ever hear their tuneless rape of the beautiful death-hymn 'Sing Me Back Home', or ever hear them phone in 'Chimes Of Freedom' like that again. Now, no one ever talks about the Byrds being much in the way of a live band...there's no Byrd live bootleg cult to speak of, no series of live vault releases (and after the shitstorm that this one turned out to be, I doubt there will be), and no one ever held up Clarence White as a guitar god (I hear Hendrix liked him, though...but that man was on plenty of drugs, he also though Buddy Miles was a decent drummer, for fuck's sake!). My biggest question mark belongs to the brain trust at Columbia for releasing a live record so many years after the fact by this particular phase of the band. Not the hitmakers, not the innovators, not even Gram Parson's band, which I'm sure was a lot more fun. Just this batch of juicers who already had a live record on the next year's untitled. Just not enough of those of us who know sending in postcards requesting a live record by Byrds '66, I guess.
Capn's Final Word: A misguided mess of a drunken live album, so sloppy as to be a fumble, so careless as to be intentional, and so ultimately unentertaining as to be repulsive.
The Ballad of Easy Rider -
Finally pulling themselves from beneath the songwriting boulder that has crushed them since Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Easy Rider is an album of simple, well-executed and nondescript country rock, finally and decisively excising the Dr. Byrds-style psychedelia that had grown more fungus on it than last years' cranberry jam. Good thing, that. Whether it's because of personnel changes, growing up, or simply the fact that they really couldn't do anything else effectively, the Byrds now settle into their new identity as hippie standard-bearers (pall bearers?) of the c-w sound among California cool people. They didn't give two shits about being believable anymore, but if they could be featured prominently in the anti-hippie propaganda film Easy Rider and temprarily revive their (McGuinn's) sagging fortunes, why do they need to? Just keep pumping out this easy-goin', low calorie, soft rock, and watch them bucks keep rollin' in. By this time, the newfangled Byrds have had time to break in, and they perform their songs with a quiet, workmanlike resolve that reminds me more of a faceless studio outfit than a real, working band. A lot of these songs remind me of, say, James Taylor's, except for the singing, of course. And no matter how fat and jolly he got, McGuinn was never as spineless a songwriter or performer as 90% of his fellow Californian Singer-Songwriter successors.
Ballad is nothing more than what it is...a tightening up of the soft rock/country mix that the Byrds were pioneering, with a few little nostalgic forays into folkiier stuff like 'Jack Tarr The Sailor', a sea shanty (!) which sounds like the Chieftains or something. No, it doesn't jangle, and while it may have been revolutionary in 1969 to hear a band play with country trapping like pedal steel alongside (quietly) distorted lead guitars, nowadays it sounds positively ordinary. All of the real innovation has been squeezed out of this band, and what we're left with is a worn groove, but luckily a warm one. As for the 'rockier' stuff, 'Jesus Is Just Allright' is the best by far, a much more haunting and interestingly arranged version than the Doobie Brother's boozy jock frat-brother cover. The de rigueur Dylan cover is a lite-rock favorites version of 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', which I guess is an interesting treatment (though it sounds so much like the early Eagles it's a little sickening...not that it's the Byrds fault, don't get me wrong...). The bulk of the album, though, is in the form of unobtrusive balladeering like the title track and the pretty Gene Parsons tune 'Gunga Din' (very early 70's Fleetwood Mac soft rock, to provide a touchstone). There's less successful stuff like 'There Must Be Someone', but overall this is a decent, if boring, exercise. All of the fresh-eyed viewpoints of previous years are gone, and while I'm glad they're not trying to shoot down the sun with ugly distorted lead guitar like on the last record, a big part of me hates this record for being as plain as a mayonnaise sandwich.
The very last bit of McGuinn weirdness is to be found on the final (original) track, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, a hound dog howler of a folk tune about someone actually realising the dreams of 5D the Byrds dreamt about years prior. Oh, it sucks, and it fades out before he even gets to finish his lines, but I though I neexded to mention it in case you're participating in a drinking game of something. 'If Roger McGuinn makes a complete ass out of himself trying to be 'hip' and 'spacey', take a shot. If he name checks astronauts, chug the whole bottle'. Ah, it's anything you can do to make these latter-day Byrds albums more interesting than they are on their own.
Capn's Final Word: Flat, if fairly good, bunch of soft El Lay country rock. Watch as both early 70's singer-songwriter and late 70's lite country get born on the same dull album. Throw a party! Or take a nap?
Untitled / Completely Unissued
Understanding that the best way to keep their artificially inflated popularity afloat was to include a bunch of ringer live tracks of their bygone days, untitled is a half-live, half studio double that completely destroys Live At The Fillmore on the live disc. This band really was a professional group of twangers, possibly the best instrumental live ensemble the Byrds ever had (for sure the best guitar sound, anyway, if not vocal. Definitely not vocal.), which sometimes allows them to make good, quick work of tracks like 'Mr. Spaceman', which McGuinn didn't want to do live the previous year...though who can guess whether they played these songs live just to put on the album, or whether they were a regular part of the 1970 setlist. I can only hope he'd come to grips with his past, but something tells me he had his eye on selling record the whole time. One thing for damn sure is that this live stuff has more artificial enhancement than Joan Rivers' ass quarters. If the bass solo in 'Eight Miles High' (yeah, it's 16 minutes and contains a motherfucking bass solo...as if these guys were Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or the 1910 Fruitgum Company or something!) is authentically live, then I'm the fucking campaign manager for Re-Electing Strom Thurmond, 2008. 'Just eight more years and he's 116!!' Ah well, at least they keep the jam fairly interesting despite their sore lack of real group dynamic and guitarist Clarence White's apparent misunderstanding of the song as a good place to use the blues scale. A whole shitload of guitar soloing follows, including a jazzy section fit for Chicago (the band, not the faggy movie I refuse to see) McGuinn sings one lousy verse and that's that...ah well, it still beats the shazbat out of the other live album. There's a cool version of 'Positively 4th Street', you get 'Mr. Tambourine Man' performed with something resembling reverence, and all in all a nice, professional groove keeping everything hopping. Ha! A (somewhat) purely enjoyable side of Byrds music!
'Chestnut Mare' was the last real hit the Byrds ever had, and this little ass wrinkle starts off the studio section of the album. This song does two notable things: it shows the impressive level of improvement the band has amassed over the year 1969 from the fumbling and bumbling of Dr. Bullocks and Mr. Hymen to the dull country rock contentment of Easy Rider to this, probably the best song ever about bestiality, about either a horse that McGuinn wants to keep 'just like a wife', or as a parable of a woman that Roger wants to brand, tie up in saddles and tack, and go walking around the fields playing with poisonous snakes. Either interpretation fits the lyrics, and whatever you find to be less fundamentally disgusting should probably be your particular choice on the matter. I swear to God and the Television, this is what this song is about. A very good song, but one sick perverted puppy.
In the new Byrds, Roger gives a little bit of the rapidly fading spotlight to everyone who wants to join in, and the album really begins to suffer as a result of his Christmas spirit. Clarence White sings the lameass Little Feat cover 'Truck Stop Girl', new bassist Skip Battin and drummer Gene Parsons contribute the walking-dead 'Yesterday's Train', which still isn't as bad as Skip's clumsy 'You All Look Alike', which sounds about as ready for major release as the cassette tape full of trumpet scales I recorded back in 7th grade. See, it's just this kind of half-written, non-performed nonsense that gives country music a bad name. Does this song have a melody? No! It relies on the inherently interesting quality of country music to make it worthwhile at all, kind of like a rap song that reuses an old reliable beat you've heard a thousand times before, and just wipes horrible, clichéd ghetto grunting over the top of it...a decent beat doesn't make the song any good, and relying on country-rock instrumentation and formula doesn't do it, either. It's just like an insurance policy, you know the song isn't going to ever fall below a certain level of quality as long as you cover certain fundamentals. Traditional jazz music has survived on this principle for nearly six decades now. What's more, the band doesn't even seem to interested in putting too much stock in even that on 'You all Look Alike'. I'm not even mentioning the awful, dated hicky Buddhist-chanting bullshit tune that finishes the album, penned by none other than Nah, if you want good Byrds tunes, you still have to look to the Man, who gives us the minor but undeniable pleasures of 'All The Things', the slightly funky (protest song?) 'Hungry Planet', and the gorgeous folk-rock throwback 'Just a Season' in addition to the classic 'Chestnut Mare'. It's a wonder that, even in the midst of all this formulaic songwriting wasteland arsoned to the root by his bandmates, he's found the energy and class to continue trying hard to make great songs that fit his band's new style perfectly. Can you imagine how good this band would be if they'd had two original songwriters in the fold?
Completely Unissued, as supplied by my pusher Adrian Denning, is another disc of stuff from the same 1970 period, and is astonishingly much better than the untitled album as originally released. There's alternate tracks of the untitled studio material, much of it arranged with more care than what we witnessed on the last disc. 'All The Things' kicks things off with a lot more guitar meat than before before going into a much more digestable country-folk 'Yesterday's Train' (sung by Battin? Eh, I don't really care so much as to find out) before dropping into the muddy neck-deep swamp rock studio version of 'Lover Of The Bayou', which is probably the most harrowing Byrds track since Notorious Byrd Brothers, and maybe ever. McGuinn spits out the words like swamp flies, the guitars slash and wind all around each other, and there's even a harmonica solo blowing like Armageddon is tomorrow and the dry cleaning hasn't been done yet. 'Kathleen's Song' maybe is a little weak, but the chicken-fried-steak-funky 'White's Lightnin' shows that maybe the Byrds, if given a little more time and good material, could've morphed into a pretty respectful Southern boogie band. The cover of Lowell George's (of Little Feat) 'Willin' sucks hard, maybe as a nice reminder that not all the stuff marked 'alternative studio version' or 'previously unreleased track' is automatically a winner. There's also more great live stuff along the lines of the shorter tunes on the original issue, purely enjoyable versions of 'You Ain't Goin Nowhere' and 'The Ballad of Easy Rider' and other stuff of it's ilk (no more endless jams on 'Eight Miles High', however), making for a more entertaining live experience than even untitled had to offer. I find it fascinating that they left a lot of this stuff lie fallow for so long while 'gracing' us with the good ol' fashioned, like-Daddy-used-to-make-it horse shit that populated untitled. McGuinn was trying to keep everyone happy, be they people who simply shouldn't be writing songs at all (Gene Parsons), guitarists who write erratically (Clarence White...you really gotta thank him for 'White's Lightnin', but so far he hasn't necessarily been Brian Wilson...or even Dennis Wilson), or Buddhists who shouldn't even be let near a pen (Skip Battin). The solution is that McGuinn really just needs to be put in charge of writing more of the songs, and hopefully his creative gas tank won't dry up and blow away. Well, we can hope...
Capn's Final Word: The original album defines rule by everyone, success by none, and while the outtakes are a big improvement, nothing is as good as those songs they play in the live sections.
Tha Beards make more mistakes on Byrdmaniax than probably any of their other records (granted, I haven't heard the '73 reunion disc Byrds, which sounds like a pretty fucking bad idea anyway, so maybe I'll just take my chips right off the table right now) but that don't mean it ain't still marginally okey dokey of an album. Since I've spent a lot of the last several albums saying where the Byrds are wrong, lemme spend a second or two telling y'all what they're doin' right. A short list: their musicianship is fantastic, they can still all sing with a warty geniality that covers up their lack of group harmony, McGuinn's Christianity is not of the nagging preach or the shrieking apocalyptica kind, but rather a real sweet 'I saw the light! Honest! Jesus is neato!' understated way, and even at their worst, they're still better than the Eagles, who dragged their Cali redneck corpses onto the scene this very year, ready to take the Byrds sound, buff it down to a Hollywood shimmer, methodically remove all the actual country sound, and finally end up the coke-rock heroes of 1976. The Byrds would be long gone by then, but it's clear that the band by this time is in the poop chute of life. Byrdmaniax is obviously a rush job, meaning that four men had that many fewer months to come up with a new variation on the same four chords and worn style they'd been using for the past three years. Ahhh....but you ain't gonna hear a poorly recorded album, nope nope nope. Ol' boy producer Terry Melcher, who did a bunch of the B-men's early albums, is back behind the switches, and he's brought a whole army of backup singers, ringer session men, and orchestras in his back pocket, and damned if he ain't gonna try to pull a Spector on this album. It's just that A) Melcher pulled a gun on the Byrds, and they just laughed, and no one thought that the likes of 'Tunnel Of Love' or 'Citizen Kane' were ruined by the addition of all that cavernous echo and glop, a-la Let It Be. The bloombastic, marching-band-in-an-aircraft-hangar production style may fit the Byrds like a thong on Wesley Willis, but it does probably add some weight to some otherwise awful songs...by people who aren't Jim McGuinn.
For three (four? God knows how many people were trying to write songs for the fucking Byrds by this time) people who were trying their hardest to keep up with someone who not long ago had been one of the better writers in rock 'n' roll music, they sure can't do it. 'Citizen Kane' is a song written by someone on a deadline, staying up late in front of the TV set with a fat doobie and an acoustic guitar, just waiting for inspiration to strike because something's gotta be in the can tomorrow morning at the studio, and despite having the past 6 months to write a song...well, you know how groupies and fat Thai sticks have a way of getting in the way of silly things like songwriting...EUREKA!!! Citizen Kane is on the late late show! Let's write a song about the creepy, isolated protagonist, namecheck Xanadu and Rosebud and all that artsy bullshit! Everyone's gonna say how sploogingly literate it all is! Who cares that it doesn't have a discernable melody and fewer chords than 'Mary Had A Little Lamb'? Let's just throw on some silly ragtime in the studio (ain't public domain fantastic?) and throw it on there! FAAAAHHHH-Bu-Lus!
McGuinn's songs are the best on here if you want to avoid chronic badness. The opener, white-boy gospel 'Glory Glory' is a good start, my vote for the best song on the album, and one of the few with a pulse, which is followed up by 'Pale Blue', a strong harmonica-driven country-rock ballad that kicks the everlovinghatcheckgirlasssphinkter out of the likes of 'Absolute Happiness', which limps along later in the album, after a bunch of other shitty songs like 'Tunnel Of Love' and McGuinn's main misfire, the novelty 'I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician'. 'Pale Blue' also has probably some of the best use of gratuitous orchestra on the record. Even song number three, 'I Trust', is good enough to fit right in on Big Star's #1 Record, and seems to be a great lost source of inspiration for a lot of the tracks (particularly the God ones) on that album, which came out the next year. 'Kathleen's Song' was better heard on the glop-removed alternative version on Unissued (see, I told you this album was a rush job. They're mining leftover tracks from the untitled sessions. Luckily, McGuinn had nearly enough songs on the shelf for another good album), but is still a song most people would probably kill elderly people for. Or elderly people would kill songwriters before.
Essentially, I see Byrdmaniax as having the same problem as untitled...no one but Roger is writing decent songs, and he's not writing enough good ones to carry the load. It's just that this time around, the production gets into the way, makes the album seem fat and leadfooted, and sure helps the bad ol' critics blast the shit out of it. Don't listen too closely...this album is really just slightly disappointing, and if you ignore a lot of the shittier songs in the middle half, you'll be a lot better off.
Capn's Final Word: A band on the way down, but still with a lot of tools left in their shed. Roger's just gotta make sure the other guys don't poke your eyes out with a pitchfork or somethin'.
Farther Along -
Ung. A band on it's last legs. Can we just kill this off now? Okay...so Farther Along follows the same damn formula as every fucking Byrds album since Gram left....increasingly mediocre country rock (possibly a little harder on the 'rock' side this time, in a Fifties sorta sense, but who can tell?) album with a lot of the same chord changes and clunky chord changes they've already been repeating for too long. This has far more in common with some unholy cross between the Charlie Daniels Band and Loggins and Messina than any respectable lineup of Byrds, but dammit, they just keep relying on that Byrds professionalism to carry the album. Is the paeon to Fifties rock really that much better or worse than the worn travellin' song that follows it? Didn't they already record 'Farther Along' back when it was called 'Hickory Wind'? Nothing here even sound like it has anything remotely to do with Younger than Yesterday or Turn! Turn! Turn! or even the last album...the sidemen have finally smothered whatever inspiration McGuinn had left in him. Was he the one responsible for 'The Great National Pastime', which qualifies as the 'Citizen Kane' of this album? I can't even tell who's singing what anymore. You'd think McGuinn's voice would become squawkier and whinier over time (it would later on), but here he sounds just like any of these other clowns. You realise that if they had David Crosby back, he'd destroy all these other singers faster than you can say 'crack pipe?' Shit, I'd even give Hillman decent odds!
For me, this is where the magic ends and the real sucking begins. I was able to be apologetic for Byrdmaniax and had a nice bit of discovery of how great the songs on untitled were when I heard Unissued, but this stuff is either so very formulaic to its very core (cool how I used 'very' twice there, though with two totally separate meanings...just call me Mr. 5 in AP English Comp!), or just so badly judged that I really wonder how hard they were trying by this point. No wonder this was the last album by the McGuinn and Others Band. After a failed experiment with reforming the '65 band, the Byrd name was strictly history after the release of this clunker.
Have I told you how long this album stretches on for? Right around the time of 'Precious Kate', I've turned it off about 3 times in a row now. But don't worry, I've heard the last three songs, and rest assured, they chomp the wild blue veiny one as well.
Capn's Final Word: Eeek. Finally run fresh out of redeeming factors. Is McGuinn even here?
mr manatane France
Any Short Comments?: le moins bon disque des Byrds. Le bassiste compose des chansons atroces, les orchestrations sont ratйs. Bref, on est loin de Sweetheart of the rodeo ou 5th dimension.
email@example.com Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: Actually, yes, this album is pretty weak for the Byrds, but I was going to say that you should check the reunion album out--it's really highly underrated. Clearly not as good as anything else the original (+ or - Gene Clark) version of the Byrds ever put it, it also amounts to a pretty decent country-rock album, in my book better than most of the albums put out by the latter-day version of the band. The Gene Clark numbers and Neil Young covers are excellent. Also, the boxed set rules big-time, and the four new studio tracks done by a latter-day McGuinn/Crosby/Hillman version of the band are pretty good.
Dude! Man! David Bowie! AC/DC! This album isn't bad at all...perhaps after all the punk and metal I've been stuffing my ears with lately, a little half-assed country rock album from the five original members (yup, Gene Clark, Crosby, Hillman, McGuinn, and that other guy who never amounted to anything) of the Iardbirds might be in line for some slight overrating, but this is my webspace and I don't care. Jimmy Crack Corn! This is an album for crackers, but that's okay. Considering I can count the worthwhile reunions of formerly great Sixties bands on, like, zero fingers, I can't help but be slightly encouraged that the Byrds decided to go ahead and get theirs out of the way early, back in the early 70's when production gimmicks were still more-or-less palatable and no one yet owned an electronic drumset. And since in 1973 it was still pretty unfashionable to appear totally in it solely for the money, the guys phone in their B-list material as opposed to, say, the C-list material they'd have put out if this'd been done five or ten years later when they were all burnt out worse than Crosby's 'base pipe. Nah, nobody outside McGuinn contributes their best stuff (and by 1973, McGuinn's best stuff was pretty second rate anyway) to this one-off cash-in, which sounds like each member's solo material strained through the can't-miss CSN production filter. Crosby is all amorphous and cantankerous distorto-folk on the ugly 'Long Live the King' and amorphous and expansive psychedelo-folk on the fair 'Laughing', Clark gets rootsy and genial on his way-too-similar-to-be-coincidental 'Full Circle' and 'Changing Heart', featuring real-life twelve string Rickenbacker buried in the mix, Hillman sounds West Coast slick on his country rockers 'Things Will Be Better' and 'Borrowing Time', and McGuinn pretty much copies the same sorts of rambling, confused songs that made Farther Along and Byrdmaniax such, ummm...'fun' to completely forget about. Strangely enough, the best Byrd this time around is the one who was a member of the competition back in 1966, Mr. Neil 'Making Crosby Look Like An Asshole Since 1970' Young, who contributes a CSN-ified (sissified?) version of his alt-country-grindcore classic 'Cowgirl In the Sand' and the thankfully rare 'See The Sky About To Rain'.
Since I've probably already spent as much or more time discussing this album than what was spent writing, recording, and caring about it by the artists themselves, I'll leave it that Byrds is far from being an embarrassment (and is actually better than the last few McGuinn and Hyred Help LPs recorded under the Byrds name) to any of their careers, and if approached from 'boy isn't it nice they all got together and sang again' point of view than a 'Fifth Dimension or die!!' one, you'll probably think it's nice and pleasant, too. Just don't ask me anything about it next week or you'll get a stare blanker than Paris Hilton's Particle Physics final.
Capn's Final Word: Oh to be back in 1971 again...as unified as the 'Coalition of the Willing' and nearly as greedy, but some nice laid-back sounds result anyways.