Posts Tagged ‘The Byrds’

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Numerous autobiographical songs have been written since the dawn of rock, but few have told the story of a band’s formation as vividly and colourfully as The Mamas and the Papas“Creeque Alley.” Released as a single in late April 1967, it climbed to No5 on the Billboard Hot 100; it also appeared on the quartet’s third album, “Deliver”

The song, credited to the group’s husband-and-wife co-founders John and Michelle Phillips, chronicles the events leading up to the 1965 creation of the Mamas and the Papas, which also included Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty. The lyrics are stocked with names and places, some of which may have been (and still are) unfamiliar to fans of the group. 

First, there’s the song’s title. “Creeque Alley” (pronounced creaky) is a real place, one of a series of alleys (actually named Creeque’s Alley and owned by the Creeque family) on the docks on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The soon-to-be members of the Mamas and the Papas spent time there shortly before changing their musical direction and taking on their new name. There they were still performing folk music, at a club called Sparky’s Waterfront Saloon, and basically trying to make ends meet and figure out their futures.

The song’s story line only makes passing reference to the Mamas and the Papas’ time on the island though, and never mentions Creeque Alley by name. It starts in the years leading up to the seemingly preordained coalescence of the four singers. The first line, “John and Mitchy were getting’ kind of itchy just to leave the folk music behind,” refers to John and Michelle Phillips activities as folk singers in the early ’60s. John Phillips, then 26, had been singing with a folk group called the Journeymen when he met 17-year-old Michelle Gilliam during a tour stop in San Francisco. They fell in love and, after John divorced his first wife, married on December. 31st, 1962, moving to New York where they began writing songs together while Michelle did modelling work to earn some cash.

By late 1964, with the rock scene exploding, John and Michelle had become, like many others, “itchy” to move away from folk. It wasn’t all that easy, they quickly discovered, and the couple, along with Doherty formed the New Journeymen in the meantime.  In the meantime, other similarly inclined folk artists were coming into one another’s orbits. First, there were “Zal and Denny, workin’ for a penny, tryin’ to get a fish on a line,” which refers to Zal Yanovsky and Dennis (known as Denny) Doherty. Both Canadians, they’d been working together in a folk trio called the Halifax Three in their home country.

In a coffeehouse Sebastian sat” brings into the picture John Sebastian, the New York City-born singer-songwriter who at the time was part of the Even Dozen Jug Band and would soon form one of the most beloved American rock bands of the era. And then there were “McGuinn and McGuire, just a gettin’ higher in L.A., you know where that’s at.” McGuinn, of course, was Jim later Roger McGuinn, whose group the Byrds would vault to the top of the charts with their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” in the late spring of ’65, while McGuire was Barry, whose rendition of P.F. Sloan’s protest song “Eve of Destruction” struck a nerve that summer, also catapulting to the No1 position.

The first verse leaves off with a name-drop of the fourth member of the Mamas and the Papas: “And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.” Cass Elliot (born Ellen Naomi Cohen), originally from Baltimore, she also had a background in folk music when she came to the attention of the other folkies in the song. She’d sung in a trio called the Big 3 with Tim Rose and Cass’ husband, James Hendricks, but like the others she saw the proverbial writing on the wall and wanted to expand her range of music. The “gettin’ fat” remark has a double meaning, however: not only was Elliot physically large but she was the only future M&P member who was making a decent living with her music, singing jazz in the Washington, D.C., area.

The second verse begins with a couple of mutual compliments: “Zally said, ‘Denny, you know there aren’t many who can sing a song the way that you do, let’s go south.’ Denny said, ‘Zally, golly, don’t you think that I wish I could play guitar like you?’” And so they headed south from Canada, soon finding themselves at a popular club in New York’s Greenwich Village: “Zal, Denny and John Sebastian sat (at the Night Owl), and after every number they’d pass the hat.” (More trivia: The Night Owl would become the home base of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sebastian and Yanovsky’s group, and much later on would be the site of the famed New York record store Bleecker Bob’s.

Meanwhile, McGuinn and McGuire were “still a-gettin’ higher in L.A.” and Mama Cass was still “gettin’ fat,” but no one had yet found their destinies. Verse three gives us some more background on Cass’ run-up to joining the group. She was planning to attend college at Swarthmore, the song says, but instead hitchhiked to New York to see if she could make it in the music world. She wanted to attend Goucher College near her hometown of Baltimore. But John Phillips needed a rhyme so he used sophomore and Swarthmore.) Upon her arrival in NYC, she met Denny Doherty and fell in love with him. “Called John and Zal and that was the Mugwumps” adds the next piece to the puzzle: The Mugwumps were a folk quintet formed in 1964 featuring Elliot, Doherty, Sebastian, Yanovsky and Hendricks. (The John here refers to Sebastian, not Phillips. The Mugwumps recorded enough material to be compiled into an album in 1967, which did not feature Sebastian, but the group was short-lived as its members were also “itchy to leave the folk music behind.”

The next verse ties up the loose ends and takes us to the point where everyone is on the verge of fame: “Sebastian and Zal formed the Spoonful; Michelle, John and Denny getting’ very tuneful; McGuinn and McGuire just a-catchin’ fire in L.A., you know where that’s at.” And there you have it: the various figures peel away from folk and move into what was then called folk-rock: Sebastian and Yanovsky teamed with bassist Steve Boone and drummer Joe Butler in the Lovin’ Spoonful; the Phillipses, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty became the Mamas and the Papas; McGuinn led the Byrds for several years; and McGuire had a chart-topping hit as a solo artist. In fact, says a previous verse, “McGuinn and McGuire couldn’t get no higher and that’s what they were aimin’ at.” “And everybody’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass,” goes the final line in that verse, inferring that success had arrived.

But there’s some unfinished business, that matter of the time spent at Creeque Alley. The last chorus/verse informs us that it wasn’t overnight success for the Mamas and the Papas by any means. It’s here, at the end of the song, that the scene shifts to the Virgin Islands. The singers, still called the New Journeymen and minus Cass at first (as the song said, they “knew she’d come eventually”) are cash-poor and borrowing on their American Express cards. They’re “broke, busted, disgusted,” but thanks to some help from a fellow named Hugh Duffy, who owned a boarding house in Creeque’s Alley, the four young singers who would soon be known worldwide were able to start thinking about their future: “Duffy’s good vibrations and our imaginations can’t go on indefinitely,” they sing toward the end of “Creeque Alley” So the four returned briefly to New York, then all headed out to Southern California to see if they could catch a break. “And California Dreaming is becoming a reality” is the final line of the song. We all know what that one means.

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As a co-founder of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris Hillman is arguably the primary architect of what’s come to be known as country rock. He went on to record and perform in various configurations, including as a member of Stephen Stills’s Manassas and as a co-founder of The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. In the 1980s he formed The Desert Rose Band, scoring eight Top 10 Billboard country hits. He’s released a number of solo efforts, including 2017’s highly acclaimed Bidin’ My Time—the final album produced by the late Tom Petty. In Time Between, Hillman shares his quintessentially Southern Californian experience, from an idyllic, rural 1950s childhood; to achieving worldwide fame thanks to hits such as “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Eight Miles High”; to becoming the first musician to move to Laurel Canyon. Featuring behind-the-scenes insights on his time in The Byrds, his productive but sometimes complicated relationship with Gram Parsons, his role in launching the careers of Buffalo Springfield and Emmylou Harris, and the ups and downs of life in various bands, music is only part of his story. Within the pages of Time Between, Hillman reveals the details of his personal life with candor and vulnerability, writing honestly about the shocking tragedy that struck his family when he was a teenager, his subsequent struggles with anger, and how his spiritual journey led him to a place of deep faith that allowed him to extend forgiveness and experience wholeness. Chris Hillman is much more than a rock star. He is truly a founding father of American music and a man who has faced down the challenges of life to discover what really matters.

The Byrds: Turn! Turn! Turn! —

The signature guitar orchestra led by McGuinn’s jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker dominates the music of the opening title track, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)”. These guitars are complimented by perfectly harmonized vocals, and Clarke’s rolling drum pattern under the chorus sections. While it is filled with so much sustained guitar textures, it stops on a dime several times between each verse/chorus sequence, including a false ending before a coda with extra intensity. The song was originally composed by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, with many of the lyrics were lifted from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, possibly written by King Solomon in the 10th century BC. With that, the song holds the distinction as the #1 pop hit with the oldest lyrics.

Like the opener, “It Won’t Be Wrong”, is another upbeat track but with more standard love song style lyrics. Co-written by McGuinn and Harvey Gerstand, this track features some interesting style changes which make it unconventional and a bit strange. Clark’s, “Set You Free This Time”, is a country/pop flavored track, especially in its vocal approach. In fact, this is the first song to feature solo lead singer, with harmonies used sparingly and with Clark’s fine harmonica solo as the song fades out.

“Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, is the first of two Bob Dylan covers on the album and is set up like a spiritual with the chorus/hook featuring heavy harmonies. Musically, this song has much the same jangly vibe and strong drums as previous tracks, but with an added heavy bass presence by Hillman. The first side concludes with an original rendition of the traditional folk tune, “He Was a Friend of Mine”, a finger-picked acoustic song with stripped down arrangement and a slight, distant organ by Melcher under the later verses.

“The World Turns All Around Her”, is a fine, pop-oriented composition by Clark which may only suffer from lack of strong rhythm presence in production mix. “Satisfied Mind”, follows as a country-esque cover of a folk song by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes. Along with the fine sparse instrumentation and harmonica lead, this track is highlighted by profound and philosophical lyrics;

Money won’t buy back your youth when you’re old, a friend when you’re lonely or a love that’s grown cold / The wealthiest person is a pauper at times compared to the man with a satisfied mind…”

Clark’s, “If You’re Gone”, is different than any other track on the album. Vocal-centric with a slow-rock backing, the song has distinct and interesting, almost haunting, chanting low-register vocals. While not quite as potent as their cover of, “Mr Tambourine Man”, the Byrds’ cover of, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” ,still dekuvers somewhat of an interesting arrangement of the Dylan classic.

Further, the group members were pleasantly surprised when Beatles George Harrison and Paul McCartney showed up during the recording of this track. “Wait and See”, is the only song to feature Crosby as a co-writer, along with McGuinn, while the group chose to do a souped up version of the popular campfire song, “Oh! Susannah”, to close the album.

Turn! Turn! Turn! peaked in the Top 20 of album charts in both the US and UK.

The Byrds

  • Jim McGuinn – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals
  • Gene Clark – rhythm guitar, harmonica, tambourine, vocals
  • David Crosby – rhythm guitar, vocals
  • Chris Hillman – electric bass (backing vocal on “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”)
  • Michael Clarke – drums (tambourine on “He Was a Friend of Mine”)

Additional personnel

  • Terry Melcher – organ on “He Was a Friend of Mine”

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Roger McGuinn discovers a long-forgotten soundboard of the Byrds’ last true live line-up sitting in his garage, sharing the flashback to a time when the band was on its way down while virtuoso guitarist Clarence White was on his way up.

The Byrds weren’t just one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time, they were several of them. There was, of course, the original folk-rock version of the Byrds, which started the psychedelic version of the Byrds, which in turn begat the country-rock version of the Byrds, which in turn begat a hodgepodge of all those iterations before the group burned out once and for all. But each version of the Byrds likewise showcased what could generously be categorized a constant shifting line-up, with Roger McGuinn as the sole constant up through the band’s somewhat unsung end in 1973.

Yet McGuinn’s not the star of the line-up captured on “Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1971”, the masters of which the singer recently found sitting in his archives.

Rather, the focal point is former bluegrass prodigy turned rocker Clarence White, whose short-lived career ended around the same time The Byrds did, when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver while loading gear. White got his start in the Kentucky Colonels, crossing paths with The Byrds several times before McGuinn eventually invited him to join in 1968 as a permanent member. His virtuoso solos and interplay with McGuinn are what kept the band interesting, especially in its later years and particularly for a band never renown for its live prowess.

Albert Hall 1971 isn’t The Byrds‘ only live album– portions of 1970’s (Untitled) were recorded live, and 2000 saw the release of Live at the Fillmore – February 1969. By this point the band’s flame was growing dimmer, its focus diffuse, and you can hear the roots of the nascent jam-band movement as the songs’ melodies give way to relatively aimless noodling. Just listen to how Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” is given a rushed and busy reading en route to a rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me to Do” which recalls what the Grateful Dead (also frequently drawn to Reed) was up to on its parallel folk-rock route.

A few of the Byrds’ better known songs are well represented, but renditions of “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Mr. Spacemen” are loose and hardly definitive. The setlist is also distractingly schizophrenic, veering from the likes of “Lover of the Bayou” to Dylan’s laid-back “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” with little in the way of segue. Singing lead on a handful of songs, such as Jackson Browne’s “Jamaica, Say You Will”, White offers a vocal counterpart to McGuinn, but the harmonies from the band’s heyday are largely nowhere to be found. The a cappella “Amazing Grace” that closes the set is a far cry from the McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman frontline that helped make the band famous.

But then there’s the guitar. McGuinn and White tear it up on cuts like “Jesus Is Just Alright” and “Lover of the Bayou”. “There are so many songs we’d all like to hear, and there are so many songs we’d like to do for you, but there’s only a little bit of time,” apologizes McGuinn before someone requests “Nashville West“. “You want to play that one, Clarence?” he asks, before letting White off his leash. Even acoustic, the pair shines. The traditional “Black Mountain Rag/Soldier’s Joy” includes two of the disc’s best minutes, easing into a 12-string free “Mr. Tambourine Man”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and Leadbelly’s “Take a Whiff (On Me)”, tracks that showcase McGuinn and White sans clunky rhythm section.

Indeed, the two later lead a radically reworked “Eight Miles High” past the 18-minute mark, but that also includes a lengthy interlude featuring the plodding bassist Skip Battin and drummer Gene Parsons who, frankly, drag down the John Coltrane-inspired epic (the liners note the section was mostly inserted to give McGuinn and White a cigarette break). It’s partly their fault that Live at the Royal Albert Hall 1971 never quite reaches the heights McGuinn and White aim for, but it’s also clear, instrumental aptitude or not, that The Byrds had moved beyond the logical end of its creative road. Listening to this set, it’s easy to imagine the band deciding to tour forever, like the Dead did, existing for fleeting moments of ephemeral glory while memories of its better days faded away. But that was not to be, and in retrospect, with fine but hardly earth-shattering documents such as this one as proxy witness, pulling the plug was probably for the best.

Setlist:
Lover Of The Bayou (3:35)
You Ain’t Going Nowhere (2:44)
Truck Stop Girl (3:25)
My Back Pages (2:20)
Baby, What You Want Me To Do (3:40)
Jamaica, Say You Will (3:30)
Black Mountain Rag/Soldier’s Joy (2:04)
Mr Tambourine Man (3:33)
Pretty Boy Floyd (2:40)
Take A Whiff (On Me) (2:45)
Chestnut Mare (5:16)
Jesus Is Just Alright (3:16)
Eight Miles High (18:35)
So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star (3:07)
Mr Spaceman (3:01)
I Trust (5:28)
Nashville West (2:39)
Roll Over Beethoven (3:02)
Amazing Grace (2:36)

Gene Clark’s classic album “White Light” coming soon on CD/SACD from Intervention Records!

Gene Clark’s (The Byrds) classic solo album White Light is coming soon , Mastered Direct-to-DSD by Kevin Gray of CoHEARent Audio from Real Analog Tapes this hybrid CD/SACD plays on medium players and features super jewel box packaging. All Music calls this 1971 masterpiece “…one of the greatest singer/songwriter albums ever made.” When you hear our reissue of White Light, we are sure you will agree.

Gene Clark’s 1971 classic “White Light” is a bittersweet and knowing statement from a singer/songwriter at the peak at his creative powers. Having fronted The Byrds, Clark on his own here is stripped down in guitarist Jesse Ed Davis‘ stark production. The lyrics, singing and guitar playing are so powerful that less production here is immeasurably more musically.

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The Byrds – 1965 – Founded in 1964 by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark, the original Byrds also included Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, and Crosby. The band, featuring McGuinn’s sublime, jangly, 12-string Rickenbacker and beautiful three-part harmonies was one of the most influential Rock bands of the era, and arguably with the Doors and Crosby, Stills and Nash, the three greatest American Rock groups of the 1960s. The original band recorded three albums: “Mr Tambourine Man,” (1965), Turn! Turn! Turn! (1966), and “Fifth Dimension,” (1966).

These albums contained some of Gene Clark’s finest compositions” “Set You Free This Time,” “Here Without You,” “She Don’t Care About Time,” and “Feel A Whole Lot Better.” He departed the band in 1966 followed by Crosby in 1967.

After an appearance with Stephen Stills at the Monterey Pop Festival, Crosby helped form the Rock super group Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968. 

The early Byrds albums are best known for their cover versions – their take on Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ launched their career, while their second album was named for Pete Seeger’s biblical ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ While Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman would write strong material for The Byrds later, the one Byrd who was an accomplished writer from the beginning was Gene Clark.

Due to group infighting in the band, Clark was limited to only three songs on their second album,Turn! Turn! Turn!This meant that the excellent ‘She Don’t About Time’ was relegated to b-side status, backing the title track. It’s one of my favourite Clark songs for The Byrds. For me the song’s most startling feature is McGuinn’s lift of Bach’s ‘Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring’ for the guitar solo, and how seamlessly it fits in. The song inspired George Harrison to write The Beatles’ ‘If I Needed Someone’.

As a Byrds fan, it took me a while to get to Clark’s solo career, but it’s often excellent please check out the records like No Other and White Light both are very strong.

As a bonus feature, here’s another strong Byrds song that never made it onto a studio album. David Crosby’s non-album single ‘Lady Friend’ was released in 1967. It’s an interesting spin on The Byrds’ usual sound, with the harmonies and McGuinn guitar the group were known for, but also a brass arrangement. It failed on the charts, and was never included on a studio album.

American singer-songwriter and The Byrds founding member Gene Clark’s 1974 solo album “No Other” is to be reissued by 4AD Records in November as a lavish box set which features no fewer than three SACDs, a blu-ray and an 80-page hardcover book!.

Originally released on Asylum Records, a year after the Byrds shortlived reunion, Clark’s psychedelic rock, folk, country and soul record cost a small fortune to make and despite being well received critically, it was a flop. It is said that Clark never really recovered from this blow. Since then, the album has gained greater prominence via a few reissues and has become recognised as a great album of its era. Recorded at the Village Recorder in West Hollywood and produced by Thomas Jefferson Kaye, “No Other” was originally released in 1974 on Asylum Records, Reaching for the stars, Gene delivered a visionary record of psychedelic rock, folk, country and soul which famously cost a small fortune to make (“It took a lot of time in the studio before we could actually get the songs to the point we wanted them,” Gene said in 1977).  Although warmly received by critics, No Other was a commercial failure and was subsequently deleted shortly after.

However, as The New York Times wrote around the record’s 40th anniversary in 2014, “hindsight has burnished No Other, as it has redeemed other albums that went on to be reconstructed as rock repertory, like Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers and Lou Reed’s Berlin,” with No Other now being increasingly recognised as one of the greatest of its time, if not all time.  Another sign of the album’s enduring charm came that year when feted Baltimore duo Beach House decided to “spread awareness”of Gene’s master work by enlisting friends – most of whom weren’t born when No Other was released – from bands such as Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and The Walkmen to tour the album note-for-note in both the UK and the US.

Five years on from then andNo Otheris finally getting the reappraisal it deserves.  The original tapes have been remastered at Abbey Road, a stunning 5.1 Surround mix of this album created for the first time (done by Neil Wilkes & B.J. Cole at Opus Productions), and both the in the studio and promotional photoshoots have been located.  Furthermore, all the studio takes have been forensically worked on and mixed by the duo of Gene Clark aficionado, author and Long Ryders frontman Sid Griffin and John Wood, More than just bonus material, these tracks offer fans an insight in to how Gene approached recording No Other; no track has been edited or composited in any way, allowing for things to be heard exactly as they went down in the studio and before any overdubbing took place.

4AD have remastered the eight-track album at Abbey Road and are reissuing it on CD and vinyl, There will also be an ‘extremely limited’ deluxe box set which contains the album on silver-coloured vinyl, three SACDs, an exclusive seven-inch single, and a blu-ray disc – which includes HD versions of all tracks, a 5.1 surround mix of the album, the original 1974 vinyl master and an exclusive documentary by Paul Kendall (the director of the 2013 film, The Byrd Who Flew Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of Gene Clark) – and a hardbound 80 page book which features essays, extensive liner notes and previously unseen photos.

All the studio takes have been worked on and mixed by the duo of Gene Clark aficionado, author and Long Ryders frontman Sid Griffin and John Wood, the producer famed for his work with the likes of Fairport Convention, Nick Drake & Sandy Denny. No track has been edited or composited in any way so what you hear is exactly what went down in the studio before any overdubbing took place.

All the SACDs are hybrid, meaning you can play the stereo audio on normal CD players. The first (multi-layer) SACD is presented in an exclusive Japanese vinyl replica sleeve and features the eight-track album and the 5.1 surround mix, while two further SACDs offer 18 session tracks and a couple of seven-inch edits. Amongst the sessions is a recording of ‘Train Leaves Here This Morning,’ an Eagles hit in 1972, written by Gene and Eagles founding member Bernie Leadon.

Coming on the eve of Gene’s 75th birthday, this reissue serves as both a celebration for fans and an introduction to soon-to-be fans.  There really is no other like No Other.

Californian folk-rock band The Byrds enjoyed immediate success in 1965 with their first single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. The song was a watershed moment in pop music – combining Dylan’s poetic, creative lyrics with Roger McGuinn’s chiming twelve string electric guitar. The song launched the genre of folk-rock, influencing acts like Tom Petty and R.E.M..

By the time of their fifth album, 1968’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers, The Byrds were in turmoil, released in January 1968, on Columbia Records With three talented singer-guitarists competing for attention in their original lineup, band relationships were competitive and strained. Ace songwriter Gene Clark had already left the band, and David Crosby was fired in October 1967, during the sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers. The breaking point was the song ‘Triad’, about a ménage à trois, a song that the other members considered too risque at the time. Drummer Michael Clarke also left the band during the recording sessions, and much of the drumming on the album is from studio players Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers was completed by the two remaining Byrds; McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman, using studio musicians to fill out the sound. The Byrds had often recorded songs from outside songwriters, famously Bob Dylan, and this time two songs from the pen of Carole King and Gerry Goffin are covered. Even though he was fired during the sessions, David Crosby’s also influential on the record – as well as contributing three songs, his rhythm guitar and vocals are on half of the songs. He also plays bass on ‘Old John Robertson’.

1967 was the year of psychedelia, but albums like Dylan’s John Wesley Harding and The Band’s 1968 debut swung the pendulum back to an earthy, homespun feel. The Notorious Byrd Brothers splits the difference – psychedelia mingles with country touches like pedal steel. There’s also the band’s usual folk-rock, and other styles are explored – ‘Old John Robertson’ starts as jaunty country, but detours into a baroque string quartet. Closer ‘Space Odyssey’ is the most disparate. a Moog coloured sci-fi experiment.

It’s these experiments in texture that make The Notorious Byrd Brothers  among The Byrds’ best album. There’s enough of the Byrds’ usual folk-rock to make Notorious a representative album but every track has a different sonic palette, lovingly thought out and distinct.

1960s themes of love and unity are prominent in songs like ‘Natural Harmony’, but there are also hints of darkness in the drug song ‘Artificial Energy’ and the anti-Vietnam war ‘Draft Morning’.

The Byrds’ first six albums are all strong, and 1967’s Younger Than Yesterday is a strong contender as the band’s best album. In the aftermath of their sixth album, 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Hillman quit the band leaving McGuinn as the only original Byrd. Later Byrds albums are more like McGuinn solo records, excepting the 1973 reunion of the original lineup on The Byrds.

The album’s opening track, “Artificial Energy”, features a prominent horn section and as such, can be seen as a stylistic relative of “Lady Friend” and “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, two earlier Byrds’ songs that made use of brass.  The song deals with the dark side of amphetamine use and it was Chris Hillman who initially suggested that the band should “write a song about speed”. The title was suggested by drummer Michael Clarke, and his input in the creation of the song was sufficient to afford him a rare writing credit Although the song’s lyrics initially seem to be extolling the virtues of amphetamines, the tale turns darker in the final verse when it becomes apparent that the drug taker has been imprisoned for murdering a homosexual man, as evidenced by the song’s final couplet: “I’m coming down off amphetamine/And I’m in jail ’cause I killed a queen. Although the press had accused the Byrds of writing songs about drugs in the past, specifically with “Eight Miles High” and “5D (Fifth Dimension)”, when the band finally did record a song unequivocally dealing with drugs it was largely ignored by journalists.

“Artificial Energy” is followed on the album by the poignant and nostalgic Goffin–King song “Goin’ Back”.With its chiming 12-string Rickenbacker guitar and polished harmony singing, band biographer Johnny Rogan has described the song as providing a sharp contrast to the negativity and violence of the opening track The song’s lyrics describe an attempt on the part of the singer to reject the cynicism that comes with being an adult in favor of the innocence of childhood.Thematically, the song recalled the title of the Byrds‘ previous album, Younger Than Yesterday, and the understated pedal steel guitar playing of Red Rhodes gives the track a subtle country flavor.

“Goin’ Back” Each of the previous Byrds albums features a iconic lead single; ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Turn Turn Turn’, ‘Eight Miles High’,and ‘So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star’are arguably their four best known songs. The nostalgia of ‘Goin’ Back’, written by King and Goffin, has flown under the radar a little, but it’s a lovely song, wistful and nostalgic.

Another song on the album that deals with the need to escape the confines of society is David Crosby’s “Dolphin’s Smile”.The song was an early example of Crosby’s penchant for using nautical imagery in his songs, a thematic trait he would utilize in future compositions, including “Wooden Ships” and “The Lee Shore”.The theme of unfettered idyllic bliss is further explored in the Hillman-penned “Natural Harmony”.Like “Goin’ Back”, “Natural Harmony” conveys a sense of longing for the innocence of youth, albeit filtered through the awareness-raising properties of psychedelic drugs. It has been suggested by some commentators that the song exhibits the strong influence of Crosby’s writing style, with its laid-back, jazzy feel and dreamy, high tenor vocal part.A second Goffin–King composition, “Wasn’t Born to Follow”, also displays country and western influences, albeit filtered through the band’s psychedelic and garage rock tendencies. The song’s country leanings are underscored by the criss-crossing musical dialogue between the electric guitar and pedal steel.The rural ambiance is further heightened by the striking imagery of the lyrics which outline the need for escape and independence: a subject perfectly in keeping with the hippie ethos of the day.

The McGuinn and Hillman composition “Change Is Now”, with its lyrics advising the listener to live life to the full, represents a celebration of the philosophy of carpe diem (popularly translated as “seize the day”).Within this context, the song’s lyrics explored a number of other themes, including epiphenomenalism, communalism and human ecology.The quasi-philosophical nature of the song prompted McGuinn to flippantly describe it in a 1969 interview as “another one of those guru-spiritual-mystic songs that no-one understood. An early instrumental recording of the song, listed under its original working title of “Universal Mind Decoder”, was included as a bonus track on the 1997 reissue of The Notorious Byrd Brothers“Change Is Now” is notable for being the only song on the album to feature both Crosby and future Byrd Clarence White together on the same track.

“Draft Morning” was one of the three songs that Crosby had contributed before he was forced from the band. McGuinn and Hillman had forgotten some of Crosby’s lyrics, so made up their own to fill in the blanks, much to Crosby’s displeasure. Despite the confused circumstances, ‘Draft Morning’ is beautiful – Hillman’s bass is loud in the mix, providing much of the melodic interest, while McGuinn’s exploratory solo temporarily upsets the serene atmosphere.

“Draft Morning” is a song about the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as a protest against the conscription of men into the military during the conflict. The song was initially written by Crosby, but he was fired from the Byrds shortly after he had introduced it to the rest of the band. However, work had already begun on the song’s instrumental backing track by the time of Crosby’s departure. Controversially, McGuinn and Hillman decided to continue working on the song, despite its author no longer being a member of the band Having only heard the song’s lyrics in their original incarnation a few times, McGuinn and Hillman couldn’t remember all of the words when they came to record the vocals and so decided to rewrite the song with their own lyrical additions, giving themselves a co-writing credit in the process. This angered Crosby considerably, since he felt, with some justification, that McGuinn and Hillman had stolen his song. Despite its troubled evolution, “Draft Morning” is often considered one of Crosby’s best songs from his tenure with the Byrds. Lyrically, it follows a newly recruited soldier from the morning of his induction into the military through to his experiences of combat and as such, illustrates the predicament faced by many young American men during the 1960s. The song also makes extensive use of battlefield sound effects, provided for the band by the Los Angeles comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre.

Another of Crosby’s songwriting contributions to the album, “Tribal Gathering”, was, for many years, assumed to have been inspired by the Human Be-In: A Gathering Of Tribes, a counter-culture happening held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on January 12, 1967. However, in recent years, Crosby has revealed that the song was actually inspired by another hippie gathering held at Elysian Park near Los Angeles on March 26, 1967. Played in a jazzy, 5/4 time signature, the song’s vocal arrangement was greatly influenced by the music of the Four Freshmen, a vocal group that Crosby had admired as a youngster.

Another song on the album that uses a 5/4 time signature, albeit with occasional shifts into 3/4 time, is the McGuinn and Clark composition “Get to You”.The song recounts a plane trip to London, England, just prior to the advent of autumn, but the identity of the enigmatic “you” mentioned in the song’s title is not specified in the lyrics and thus, can be interpreted as either a waiting lover or as the city of London itself. Although Clark helped to co-write the song, he had left the Byrds by the time it was recorded and therefore does not appear on the track.

“Get To You” Gene Clark was bought band into The Byrds to replace Crosby. He only lasted three weeks, but was around for long enough to write ‘Get To You’ with McGuinn. ‘Get To You’ has a tension between McGuinn’s folk roots and psychedelia, and the time signature shifts between 5/4 and 3/4.

“Old John Robertson”, which had already been issued some six months earlier as the B-side of the “Lady Friend” single, was another country-tinged song that looked forward to the band’s future country rock experimentation. The song was inspired by a retired film director who lived in the small town near San Diego where Hillman grew up. John S. Robertson was something of an eccentric figure around the town, regularly wearing a Stetson hat and sporting a white handlebar moustache, which gave him the appearance of a character out of the old American West. In the song, Hillman tells the children of the town and their cruel laughter at this colorful figure, as well as the combination of awe and fear that he elicited in the townsfolk. During the recording of the song, Crosby switched instruments with Hillman to play bass instead of his usual rhythm guitar. The track also makes liberal use of the studio effects known as phasing and flanging, particularly during the song’s orchestral middle section and subsequent verse. The version of “Old John Robertson” found on the B-side of the “Lady Friend” single is a substantially different mix from the version that appears on The Notorious Byrd Brothers album.

The final track on the album, “Space Odyssey”, is a musical retelling of Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel”, which was also the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.The song makes extensive use of the Moog modular synthesizer and features a droning, dirge-like melody reminiscent of a sea shanty. Since “Space Odyssey” predates the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, McGuinn and his co-writer, Robert J. Hippard, composed lyrics that referred to a pyramid being found on the Moon, as was the case in “The Sentinel”. However, the pyramid was replaced by a rectangular monolith in both the film and the accompanying novelization.

At the time of release The Notorious Byrd Brothers wasn’t a big hit album – it barely cracked the top 50 in the US,

In 1973, Jon Landau wrote in Rolling Stone: “Younger Than Yesterday and Notorious Byrd Brothers stand with Mr. Tambourine Man as their greatest albums and I used to have a hell of a time choosing between them.”

On the website Rate Your Music, The Notorious Byrds Brothers is tied with Younger Than Yesterday on 3.87/5 as The Byrds’ best album.

On the website Acclaimed Music, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is ranked as the #294 best album of all time. It’s ranked as The Byrds’ fourth best album, behind 1968’s country record Sweetheart of the Rodeo at #192, Younger Than Yesterday, and Mr. Tambourine Man.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers is included in the original edition of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, along with four other Byrds’ albums. The book also quotes Chris Hillman, who says “I’ve talked to more people over the years who’ve said that’s their favourite Byrds album”.

thanks to Aphoristic Album Reviews for the words

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Echo In The Canyon celebrates the explosion of popular music that came out of LA’s Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s as folk went electric and The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and The Mamas and the Papas gave birth to the California Sound.  It was a moment (1965 to 1967) when bands came to LA to emulate The Beatles and Laurel Canyon emerged as a hotbed of creativity and collaboration for a new generation of musicians who would soon put an indelible stamp on the history of American popular music. Featuring Jakob Dylan, the film explores the beginnings of the Laurel Canyon music scene.  Dylan uncovers never-before-heard personal details behind the bands and their songs and how that music continues to inspire today.  Echo in the Canyon contains candid conversations and performances with Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn and Jackson Browne as well as contemporary musicians they influenced such as Tom Petty (in his very last film interview), Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones.

Release Date: May 24, 2019 Director: Andrew Slater

Echo in the Canyon 
by director Andrew Slater

I did not set out to make a film about the Laurel Canyon music scene. In fact, I didn’t set out to make a “film” at all. I was looking to record some music.

Growing up in New York in the 1960s, AM radio transported me to places I wanted to be. Of course The Beatles defined mod London, and Bob Dylan defined New York. But the songs by The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas and Buffalo Springfield painted an idyllic picture of life in bohemian Los Angeles. As a young adult I was drawn to move to Los Angeles by these groups and the lifestyles they expressed in song.

Throughout my career in the music business, this earlier music of my adopted hometown was an obvious part of the bedrock of my generation’s cultural place in the universe. But I was also aware of how it remained part of the foundation of the musical palette for generations of musicians that followed.

Whether through nostalgia or some other force I cannot quite account for, as we neared the 50th anniversary of the advent of this revolutionary period in rock and roll, I was struck with the need to explore the music of this era through the eyes, ears and souls of musicians who were born into a culture where this music was always a part of the world as they knew it.

I enlisted the help of Jakob Dylan, along with a few artists of his generation, to join me, and we journeyed to places where the music was made and to the people who made it. Jakob had known many of these people his whole life, and they began telling him the stories behind the songs. And the stories we heard echoed all the things I thought I knew but never was able to articulate in a way that clearly captured what was happening at this fantastic creative moment in time.

We recorded the music that is now the Echo in the Canyon album, and luckily I must have always known this project would be more than just a record, as I began filming our experiences early on, whenever and wherever it was possible. It was not long before it became clear through our conversations with the original artists that this needed to be more than album. The stories and insights, told by my heroes, “primary sources” from this magical period of time, were too compelling to be buried in “research.” That is how this movie, which has now taken on a life of its own, came to be made.

What was happening here in the mid-‘60s, before the onset of psychedelia and the era of the singer-songwriter was obvious to me—but no one had ever told the story of this legendary place from the standpoint of how deeply and richly the artists impacted and collaborated with one another, and how the waves of influence traveled across the ocean to England and back, with The Beatles claiming The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” as a precursor to much of the musical landscape of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Personally, I embarked on the Echo in the Canyon project because these songs defined what I couldn’t say about the places that I had yearned to see. And these bands changed the way I thought about music—electrifying folk and trading ideas amongst each other that not only inspired The Beatles but inspired generations of artists to this day. And I wanted to film and record it to be experienced in a state-of-the-art movie theater, to try to recapture the magic I felt so many years ago. Thank you Landmark for helping me bring this dream to life.

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