My Record Collection 46

The Byrds – I heard the single ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ long before I knew Dylan’s original version.  In fact, The Byrds brought Dylan to a much wider audience. Their take on the song was simply brilliant, those fabulous ringing guitars and the sweet vocals just make the song wonderful.   But back then in 1965 I was so in love with the Beatles that I had no time for these new American kids -they seemed to be copying the Fabs with their haircuts and all. But listening now to their records which I bought much later, I realise they were just as important, just on a different trajectory.  Their first album, Mr. Tambourine Man, has all the landmarks of the Byrds sound – the country twang, the chiming guitars and the gorgeous harmonies.  Best songs ‘I’ll feel a whole lot better’, ‘Bells of Rhymney’ and another Dylan classic ‘Spanish Harlem Incident.’  An incredible debut.   Later that same year they released Turn Turn Turn; this is a more folky record, maybe in the rush to release a follow-up they had not written quite so many new songs.  The record companies worked bands pretty hard in those days.  There are, as became their trademark, a handful of Dylan covers and a few traditional folk songs.  The best was the title track , ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ and ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’ plus a bonus track on the CD re-issue ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’.  1966 saw Fifth Dimension, and you could really feel the band moving on.  This was the year The Beatles put our Revolver; in many ways ’66 was the revolutionary year, when Psychedelia was just beginning.  This record was far more experimental with the wonderful ‘8 Miles High’, which many took as a drug song when it is about flying to London, the weird ‘What’s Happenin’ and the brilliant ‘Mr. Spaceman – there was still room for the more traditional and beautiful ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’.  Lead singer Gene Clark (see C) left in the middle of recording and vocals were completed by Crosby (see C) and McGuinn.  Interestingly no Dylan covers this time – the band were now writing their own material.   A year later they released ‘Younger Than Yesterday’, a somewhat mixed record, it doesn’t seem to hang together.  Maybe the band was struggling or experimenting with acid by now.  Some songs are good ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock’n’Roll Star’ and the Dylan cover ‘My Back Pages’, some really spaced out weird guitar breaks McGuinn called Raga Rock, vaguely Indian but meandering and boring.  And a couple of Crosby slow songs which seem to be going nowhere.  Early ’68 saw a better album The Notorious Byrd Brothers.  But even here the band seem a bit disjointed; hardly surprising as drummer Michael Clark and Crosby both left during the recording of the record, though they both feature on many of the songs.  Not a bad record surprisingly – the band moving into newer sounds and using brass in some tracks even.  The delightful ‘Goin’ Back’ – a Goffin King song, never bettered reminds us of the original folk-pop sound of the Byrds. Now many people say that the country-folk sound first came about on ‘Sweetheart’ , their next album with Gram Parsons – but the seeds were sown and are all too apparent on this very good record.  Songs like ‘Old John Robertson’ would fit perfectly on the follow-up.  But really there isn’t a poor song on the record – a treat; in some ways the excesses of ’67 were being redressed, just as The Beatles were doing with the White Album, the Byrds were doing with Notorious.  Fave songs also include ‘Draft Morning’ and ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’

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