Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Byrds: Eight Miles High

The Byrds are among the greatest bands in the history of American pop music. The band is the original folk-rock outfit and was the first band to play country-rock. Pioneered by folk singer turned rocker, Roger McGuinn, the Byrds saw many lineup changes throughout the years, but despite the turnover of musicians, the band always produced original and inspired music. Originally called the “Beefeaters,” the Byrds formed in early 1964 with members, McGuinn on guitar; David Crosby on guitar; Gene Clark on guitar; Michael Clarke on drums; and Chris Hillman on bass.

The Byrds “jangly” sound was derived from McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. This trademark sound was in full evidence on their first album, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965). The album opens with the title track, a rocking hit version of the Bob Dylan classic. Dylan songs would be covered often by the Byrds and be infused with that unmistakable Byrds sound.

The Byrds next recorded the very solid, “Turn, “Turn, “Turn” album in 1965. The title track of this album also became a big hit.

Two excellent albums came next: “Fifth Dimension” (1966) and “Younger than Yesterday” (1967) spawning hits with “Eight Miles High” and “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star,” respectively.

It was at this point, seemingly at the peak of the band’s commercial and critical success, when Gene Clark and David Crosby departed to pursue solo careers. For their next project, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (1968), the band was reduced to a trio. No matter it seems when the listening to the result-a brilliant album of stunning experimental music. The album is inspired from start to finish, especially on numbers like, “Draft Morning,” “Wasn’t Born To Follow,” “Natural Harmony,” and “Get to You.”

Now a trio, the Byrds added new members, country-hippie Gram Parsons from the International Submarine Band and the superb country guitarist Clarence White. With the overt country influence of its new members, the Byrds produced the first true country-rock album, the excellent “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968). Parsons soon left the band to form the Flying Burrito Brothers.

The Byrds had reached the peak of their creative powers and would continue to record until 1973, but only the “Untitled” album released in 1970 would approach the heights they achieved in the Sixties.