The BYRDS – ” Eight Miles High “

Posted: October 30, 2016 in MUSIC
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The Byrds have had bigger hit songs like their recording of Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man which reached number one, as did their cover of Pete Seger’s Turn! Turn! Turn! but among the band’s self-penned tunes, none are more enduring, or as misunderstood, as Eight Miles High.

Released in 1966, “Eight Miles High” has been called the first psychedelic rock song. However, Roger McGuinn, who wrote the track with fellow Byrds members Gene Clark and David Crosby, disagrees. “It’s a unique song, sure,” he says, “but psychedelic wasn’t something we were trying for. It’s a big misunderstanding. If anything, I consider it to be the first jazz-rock song, or even jazz-fusion. But psychedelic? No, I wouldn’t call it that.”

McGuinn also dispels the widely held notion that “Eight Miles High” refers to drugs, the idea of which got the song banned on radio stations. In addition, he talks about the influence that Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane had on him during the writing of the track, along with how the version of the song that millions of listeners have heard over the years isn’t really the one the band intended to release. We Recorded it at RCA with Dave Hassinger as the engineer, but Columbia Records had a strict policy that they only used their house engineers, so we had to re-record it. It became a real sticking point between us and the label. So, in fact, we really did have kind of a demo—the RCA version is the demo. We went to the Columbia studios and redid it. Both versions are pretty good. I think the first one has more spontaneity, and the second one is better rehearsed.

We’d been doing pot and LSD at that point—everybody was experimenting with things. There wasn’t anything deliberate or intentional about that in the title. I didn’t really mean anything by it, except for the airplane trip to England that we’d been on. It was more about the trip than the drugs. The only drug reference is the word “high.”

We flew over to England—it was our first time there, our first concert tour—and a promoter had called us “America’s answer to the Beatles.” That’s a hard label to live up to. It’s all right for the studio, but it’s not so great on stage. The press was already out to get us, and we got bad reviews for the tour.

We did get to meet the Beatles—George, John and Paul. I don’t remember Ringo being around. Paul even drove us around to different gigs. I got to ride in his Aston Martin DB5, which was a thrill. Lennon asked me about my little glasses. He was interested in them because he wore prescription glasses, but he didn’t want to wear them on stage like Buddy Holly. From that standpoint, it was a great tour—well, except for myself getting the flu.

After coming home, Gene had some chord changes—the E minor, the G and the D. We started to write a song about the tour, but then I said, “Let’s make it about the airplane ride.” I’ve always been into airplanes and technology. Gene was kind of afraid of planes, but we decided to do that—make it about the plane ride. He asked me, “How high do you thing this plane flies?” And I said, “Maybe 39,000 feet”—that would be seven miles high.

At the time, the Beatles had a song called Eight Days a Week, so Gene thought eight was a cooler number than seven. I said, “Sure, let’s change it. Poetic license—who’s gonna care?” I didn’t think that the radio stations would do the math. The DJs said, “Commercial airlines don’t fly eight miles high. They must be talking about some other kind of high.”

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