The BYRDS – ” The Notorious Byrd Brothers ” Classic Album Released 15th January 1968

Posted: July 28, 2017 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Once upon a time, before The Notorious R.B.G. and even before The Notorious B.I.G., there were The Notorious Byrd Brothers, released early to mid-Jan., 1968. By the end of that month, the end of the 60s had begun because the successful Tet Offensive started, changing the course of history.
The Byrds were formed in 1964. By just 1967 they released their Greatest Hits. The sky was the limit for The Byrds. So what could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, almost nothing in the short run, despite The Byrds firing the great David Crosby the year before. Gary Usher had the horse sense to keep three Crosby co-compositions and much of his rhythm guitar and superb vocals. Producer, Gary Usher, would die of lung cancer at age 51. By using almost 20 session musicians, he played to win on this album, and won big, but avoided any sin of growing old.

The fifth album from the grandfathers of American jangle guitar doesn’t have the notoriety or hits of Mr. Tambourine Man or Turn! Turn! Turn! Still, it may be the light heavyweight champion of their catalog, pound for pound the strongest punch of the bunch. That’s an especially impressive claim if you know the band’s chaos of the day. Notorious, indeed: Founding guitarist David Crosby was fired over their recording of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back” (ironically, this album’s only single), and Michael Clarke and Gene Clark eventually ping-ponged their way out the door too. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman managed to expertly fill in the gaps with session musicians and production wizardry, outfitting their folk rock with trappings of the baroque and psychedelia—found and generated noises, poppy saxophone, the occasional sludgy riff, even early adoption of the Moog synthesizer.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers saw the band and producer Gary Usher making extensive use of a number of studio effects and production techniques, including Phasing, flanging and the introduction the sound of the pedal steel guitar into their music for the first time on the album, making it  alsoone of the first album releases on which the Moog appears.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers rings out like a glorious chiming bell and remains one of the band’s most loved albums. Its consistency is amazing, with one song after another bending one’s mind and inducing a smile. “Artificial Energy” kicks things off in fine style. Co-written by McGuinn, Hillman and Clarke, it’s a perfect album opener. The last song recorded for the album, it bursts forth with punchy horns and driving drums. Yes, it’s about speed, and it’s safe to say the lyrics probably wouldn’t fly today: “I’m coming down off amphetamine, and I’m in jail cause I killed a queen.”

The band’s take on Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Goin’ Back” is perhaps the definitive version of the song. Elsewhere, “Natural Harmony” and “Draft Morning” bask in pure beauty. (Chris Hillman’s role as composer really began to expand on Notorious, as he co-wrote eight of this LP’s 11 tracks.) Another Goffin/King song, “Wasn’t Born To Follow” offered here in all of its countrified glory – would later feature in the movie Easy Rider.

“Get to You” and “Old John Robertson” are both country-tinged numbers that glow of the era they sprang from, while “Change Is Now” is one of the band’s most beautiful songs without question, and its jingle-jangle guitars resonate for the ages.

“Tribal Gathering” has David Crosby written all over it. He and Hillman worked up this two-minute gem in homage to the “Gathering of the Tribes” festival held earlier that year in San Francisco. “Dolphin’s Smile” conjures up its own psychedelic aquatic adventure over just two minutes, before the album ends on an eerie note with “Space Odyssey.” A otherworldly drone set to a sea shanty waltz, the track is driven by a swirling wash of keyboards and guitars.

David Crosby was fired by McGuinn and Hillman in October 1967, as a result of friction arising from, among other things, Crosby’s displeasure at the band’s wish to record the song “Goin’ Back”. David Crosby felt that recording the song was a step backwards artistically, especially when the band contained three active songwriters. Another factor that contributed to Crosby’s dismissal was his controversial song “Triad”, a risqué composition about a menage a trois , The song was in direct competition with “Goin’ Back” for a place on the album.  Crosby eventually gave the tune to the Jefferson Airplane , who included a version of the song on “Crown Of Creation” Although the Byrds did record “Triad”, the song’s daring subject matter compelled McGuinn and Hillman to prevent it from being released at the time.

The results feel particularly transfused into the body of R.E.M.’s Document, and suggest multiple points in the soundtracks of Wes Anderson’s filmography.

All the elements of a psychedelic classic are here: 1) McGuinn’s distorted lead guitar; 2) Moog synthesizers by McGuinn and Usher; 3) a classic featured in the iconic counter-culture film Easy Rider“Wasn’t Born to Follow”; 4) angelic and even literally spinetingling vocals by all; 5) hypnotic drumming; 6) references to bright, sunny days; 7) references to drugs – “Artificial Energy”; cautious optimism – we need only a little courage; 9) references to harmony with nature, and sound effects of shots fired “Natural Harmony”; 10) socially aware lyrics – “Draft Morning.” The lyrics of “Ticket to Ride” and “Magic Carpet Ride” are tell-tale, placing the album somewhere between The Beatles and Steppenwolf. No wonder Paul McCartney said on tour, as David Crosby hid in the background at an LA press conference, that The Bryds were the Beatles’ favourite American band.
Typically, Rolling Stone didn’t get it, refusing to give the album 5 stars. My Grade, however, is an ‘A’. If you want — or these days need — to time travel to the 60s, take this album lasting only 28:28 as your ticket to ride.

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