zaterdag 20 juni 2015

The Byrds’ 20 best songs

The Byrds’ 20 best songs Tom Pinnock June 19, 2015 Famous fans and The Byrds themselves choose their greatest tracks image: byrdssongs From “So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star” to “Mr Tambourine Man”, here are the greatest Byrds tracks, as chosen by famous fans, and introduced by Roger McGuinn himself. Originally published in Uncut’s November 2012 issue (Take 186). Interviews: Rob Hughes, Tom Pinnock and Graeme Thomson _______________________ Roger McGuinn: “Looking back, you can see there were several main stages of Byrds music. We started out with the folky thing, mixing Dylan and Pete Seeger with The Beatles, then we dabbled in a bit of jazz fusion with “Eight Miles High”, which was misconstrued as psychedelic. It wasn’t meant to be, but it was branded that way. Then we did things that were purposefully psychedelic, like “Artificial Energy”, and then we got into country with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. “It was always organic, it wasn’t a conscious effort at any point. The only conscious effort was to get away from the labels the press kept putting on us. Like, ‘Let’s get out of folk-rock and do something else’, which is why we got into John Coltrane. We wanted to extend our territory. “Having said that, that early folk-rock sound is very pleasant, with the harmonies and jangling guitars. I was already a 12-string player, I’d been playing it since the late ’50s, and then we saw The Beatles with a Rickenbacker in A Hard Day’s Night. It was a different sound than you could get with an acoustic, so I had to get one of those! In the studio we put compression on it and it stretched out the sound, it made it sustain a good long time. Suddenly it really stuck out in the mix. “It’s a good sound. I still like to listen to it, and it caught on! Many other people have used it in their work. We got a hit with ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and we thought, ‘Why mess with success?’, but by the third album it was getting tired and we wanted to stretch out and see what else we could do. We decided to do more of our own material. It was always a little difficult politically because we could never do it quite evenly, and it was usually the producer who decided which songs ended up on the record. David Crosby always felt he was unfairly treated, that he didn’t get enough songs on the albums. “It was hard to get an even share but the mixture worked. Crosby brought the jazz influence, Chris Hillman and later Gram Parsons brought the country, and I was coming from folk, as was Gene Clark. Michael Clarke didn’t have that much influence on the direction, though at one point he declared we should be a blues band like The Rolling Stones! Gram was the main influence on doing an entire album of country on Sweetheart…. I wanted to do some country but not all of it. I wanted to make a two-record chronology of the history of music. “I’m grateful we decided to do the songs we did instead of bubblegum pop hits. We went for album-orientated quality. We had The Beatles as a benchmark, which made us very productive. I love all the stages of The Byrds. I can’t say I have a favourite. I love them all for different reasons.” 20 BALLAD OF EASY RIDER From Ballad Of Easy Rider (November 1969). Released on Easy Rider soundtrack, August 1969. Single October 1969. Highest US chart position: 65 Gifted the opening couplet by Dylan, McGuinn pens a brief, beautiful sundown song for the hippy idyll. His solo version played over the film credits, but the full Byrds recording is the classic. IAN McNABB: When I first got into The Byrds in the early ’80s, the consensus was that they were cool until the original lineup dissipated, and then they became less relevant. Sweetheart Of The Rodeo was seen as a complete left turn. They’d turned into a country band, and in the early ’80s that was a lot less cool than it is now! After that, it was like they were dismissed as boring old hippies. It was also hard to get all their albums. So I didn’t hear “Ballad Of Easy Rider” until much later, and I was also quite late coming to the film. I eventually tracked it down on VHS, it cost about 20 quid. Then I heard that song. It plays right at the end of the film but it’s not the final recorded Byrds version. It’s just McGuinn with Gene Parsons on harmonica. Hearing it on the film put the hook in me to check out the album, and that was the first time I heard the song in its full form. It’s really only a minute and a half long, they edited it to make it longer. They stuck the first verse on again at the end and you really can hear it! It has McGuinn’s finger-picking, beautiful strings, and no bass. It also sounds like they’ve looped the drum track by sticking various pieces of tape together. It’s a great lyric. To me, it seems to sum up the whole ethos of the late ’60s hippy dream in so few words and such a small, perfect package. It’s a call to simpler things. _______________________ 19 IF YOU’RE GONE From the album Turn! Turn! Turn! (December 1965) A lovelorn missive from master songwriter Gene Clark, with McGuinn’s pipe-like drone adding to the air of rich melancholy. J MASCIS, Dinosaur Jr: I come back to this a lot. I love the way Gene Clark’s singing is really heartfelt. When I was younger, I thought The Byrds were too wimpy for me, but I got into them in my late twenties. Maybe I got into them through the back door via Gram Parsons, who I was really into, first of all. Dinosaur Jr even did a cover of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” on an early Byrds tribute record, though I still wasn’t that into them then. I went to see the reformed Buffalo Springfield last year and they reminded me of the fact that The Byrds were kings of the hill and the Springfield always seemed to be trying to push them out of the way. The whole song is pretty cool. It’s got a great guitar line from McGuinn and the backing vocals are fantastic. Most of all, it shows Gene Clark at his best. I really appreciate his skill as a singer. The Byrds are what got me into Rickenbackers. It’s the only 12-string sound to aim for. If it doesn’t sound like The Byrds… all other electric 12-strings sound wrong. _______________________ 18 WILD MOUNTAIN THYME From Fifth Dimension (July 1966) A simple, harmony-rich reading of the British trad standard, based on Robert Tannahill’s 18th-Century Scottish folk ballad, “The Braes Of Balquhidder”. SIMONE FELICE: My initiation to this treasure came not first from The Byrds, but from Sandy Denny, rest her soul. Though, like any true folk tune, it lives on the wind, for all to own, for all to whistle. What I find unique about The Byrds’ rendition is the way they so naturally infuse their signature California harmonies and upbeat drum feel, offering a slightly joyous, dreamy take on such an old, sad, weather-beaten song. One of my favourite bits about their version is the instrumental break where they all hum the vocal line, driving it home, seducing us to hum along, know the melody, share the melody. It is this sense of reverence for 17 WHY? From Younger Than Yesterday (February 1967). B-side of “Eight Miles High”, March 1966. UK chart: 24. US chart: 14 Driven by Crosby’s growing fascination with the music of Ravi Shankar, and propelled by McGuinn’s sitar-like drone, this is a landmark of psychedelic raga-rock. BOBBY GILLESPIE: There are three different versions of this song. I love the version that’s on the B-side of “Eight Miles High”. That version is raga-rock at his best, with McGuinn’s guitar sounding like pure “White Light/White Heat”. It’s a scorching solo, totally out there. I think it’s only about three chords, but it’s always been a favourite of mine. The whole sound of The Byrds is what made them special. Yes, the 12-string is incredible, but the harmonies are out of this world. Earlier today I was listening to Preflyte, which is the album of demos, and even on there the harmonies are amazing. Listen to what Crosby and Clark are doing and it’s so beautiful. You can hear what their influences are – but at the same time it’s something completely new. I’m a Byrds fanatic, really. I love the sound; it’s really joyous, euphoric music, and the whole attitude of the band. Everyone always goes on about Sgt Pepper, but Notorious… destroys it. And the performances on Fifth Dimension, especially, are outstanding. It’s a very intense record, almost like The Velvet Underground with songs like “I See You” and “Eight Miles High”. It’s pretty primitive, as well. _______________________ 16 DOLPHIN’S SMILE From The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Jan 1968) A calm, blissed-out, hugely inventive marriage of Crosby’s timeless natural imagery and McGuinn’s modern palette of psychedelic guitar sounds. NICK POWER, The Coral: “Dolphin’s Smile” sounds like music no one had ever heard before. It’s complex, I don’t even know what the timing is, but like a lot of my favourite Byrds tunes you don’t notice how it moves. It just sort of… glides. Everything they do seems effortless. You listen and think, I could do that – and you can’t! I love the imagery on this song. It’s pure. It never comes across as the bad, naff side of hippy-dom. I don’t even think it’s an idealistic thing, it just feeds your imagination. As soon as you hear that tune – or pretty much anything off the Notorious Byrd Brothers album – it conjures up so many colours and images. It’s just unbelievable, and the vocals are stunning. They are still underrated, I think. Going from “Mr Tambourine Man” to Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in four years is just astonishing. _______________________ 15 EVERYBODY’S BEEN BURNED From Younger Than Yesterday (February 1967) B-side of “So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star”, January 1967. US chart: 29 Crosby’s jazz-scented rumination on a failed love affair actually dated from his early days on the LA folk circuit, before finally making it onto The Byrds’ fourth album in electrified form. LOU BARLOW, Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh: I’d always known about The Byrds, but when my wife and I met they became the soundtrack for our young love. “Everybody’s Been Burned” is one of those songs that made my cry, which I can’t say about many songs. We split up for a while and she became engaged to somebody else. There was this huge upheaval and I was writing all these songs on my own, and I started playing that song because it was so important to she and I. It had a very calming effect for me, just playing it. Then, when we got back together again, I was working on a record and recorded it for that. Every single word in the song meant something to me, so I thought it was ideal. The original is so incredible musically, you can’t imitate it. It’s impossible to describe that loose sound the early Byrds had. They were just coming out of this period at the Beatlesque pop end of things and were incorporating this undercurrent of jazz into the music. I thought, “Yeah, I’m gonna butcher it, musically, because lyrically I believe in it so much.” When I was in Dinosaur Jr, J [Mascis] was always bad-mouthing The Byrds: “They’re the worst, they’re so wimpy.” But I’d be defending them: “No, they’re so beautiful!” The Byrds’ 20 best songs Tom Pinnock June 19, 2015 2 Comments Share 591 Tweet 17 0 0 Share 613 14 TRIAD From the compilation Never Before (December 1987) “Why can’t we go on as three?” asks Crosby in this gorgeous ode to the inclusive pleasures of ’60s free love. Written in 1967 during the sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the song, amazingly, failed to make the final cut. DAVID CROSBY: “Triad” was just a hippy dream kind of thing. The time around “Triad” was a great time to be alive. You have to remember that this was after the invention of birth control and before the onslaught of AIDS. So we were in this pocket in history where we could just ‘do it’ a lot. A situation like “Triad” was what it was. It happened and it was a great pleasure. I know a lot of people it happened to and I had it happen to me several times. Some of those relationships were almost stable, lasted quite a while and were really wonderful. I don’t think there are any rules about how you can love somebody. There are lots of possibilities. We knew it wasn’t a stable, let’s-have-kids kind of relationship, but it was fun. At that point we were starting to explore all kinds of answers. There were people living in different groups: threes, fours, tens, twenties. As time passes, stuff gets aggrandised and takes on a kind of legendary status. But those of us who were there know it for what it was. _______________________ 13 TRIBAL GATHERING From The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Jan 1968) Written by David Crosby and Chris Hillman, this feverish jazz-rock trip captures the communal hippy ideal at its Utopian peak. MARK GARDENER, Ride: I’m a bit of a Byrds freak. My uncle turned me on to them when I was about nine years old. I got into the hits and then slowly I found my way into Notorious Byrd Brothers, which is my favourite album. In my darker, more tripped-out days, I remember coming home with a mate, hallucinating, and listening to that album from start to finish. “Tribal Gathering” is amazing. Where is that coming from? It’s so hard to place, it’s such a strange track. What were they on when they wrote it? How do you get a time signature like that? They were such a strong writing force, individually and collectively, and there was always something explorative about what they were doing as a unit. The Byrds were on that tightrope, they could have fallen to one side and been a bit fey, but they never did. They always kept it cool and interesting. You felt they were on the inside of the counter-culture, they were qualified to write and sing about it. Much more than The Beatles, in a way. I would definitely have enjoyed myself at some of Crosby’s parties! Hallucinogenics and lots of beautiful girls with flowers dancing around? I could definitely have had a piece of that. In fact, I think I tried to do my own version of a Tribal Gathering in my early Glastonburys… This song didn’t just influence my ears – it influenced my philosophy on life for a while. I’m a hippy at heart, and I guess that comes from their music. _______________________ 12 LADY FRIEND Single July, 1967. US chart: 82 The only Byrds’ A-side to be written solely by Crosby, who also oversaw the lengthy recording of the song and replaced his bandmates’ backing vocals with his own. BRENT RADEMAKER, Beachwood Sparks: I think it’s so ahead of its time with the horns. Think of all the stuff that came after, Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, white rock psychedelia, that uses horns. That song was all Crosby – he was fighting for that song to be big and it didn’t even make it on an album. It was on a single but it was a flop. That says a lot about a song as well, the circumstances in which it was written. Because when you’re in a band that has such different writers, if you ever thought enough of a song to fight for it knowing that you’re gonna get totally ridiculed by the other guys – not because the song’s bad, but just because of how passionate you might be about a song – that says a lot about it. My God, the original mix is crazy sounding. There’s so much reverb – it’s sounds like Flying Saucer Attack or something! It’s pretty heavy for The Byrds, too. And it’s so beautiful – the words… if you use words in a song to equate a girl or love or a feeling or emotion, but you’re using the waves of the ocean, it’s killer – but it doesn’t sound anything like what you think surf rock is. I could talk forever about this. 8 DRAFT MORNING From The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Jan 1968) Hillman’s undulating bass and Crosby’s carefree lyric illustrate the divide between the hippydom of California and the escalating war in Vietnam. JONATHAN WILSON: I have always loved “Draft Morning”: the production, the groove, the dulcet-toned vocals. The melody is gorgeous, but it’s the irreverent attitude and anti-war sentiment that holds your interest. The message is being wrapped in this mellow beauty. I first heard them when I was very young. My dad’s band played a few Byrds covers I heard growing up, so I probably knew who Roger McGuinn and David Crosby were before I could speak. When I listen to them, I hear the gap between The Everly Brothers and The Beach Boys, great harmony groups, and the psychedelic era of California bands like Love. I met David Crosby at his 70th birthday party and we sang together for the first time at the No Nukes concert in 2011. There’s just something larger than life about David – he lights up a room with his energy. I sang high harmony above Graham Nash on a folk song while Croz was in the wings. I said: “Jesus, man, I can’t believe I have to go out in front of 10,000 people and sing above Graham Nash, the greatest high harmony singer in the world.” Croz looked at me and said: “I used to, you can fucking do it!” I hit the parts, thank God – he yelled [encouragement] from the side stage. He’s a brilliant man and one of the coolest motherfuckers there’s ever been in the rock’n’roll game. _______________________ 7 I’LL FEEL A WHOLE LOT BETTER From Mr Tambourine Man (June 1965). B-side of “All I Really Want To Do”, June 1965. UK chart: 4. US chart: 40 A classic that embodies the early Byrds sound: ringing Rickenbacker, tambourine and heady harmonies, with Gene Clark in his imperious pomp. MIKAL CRONIN: The Byrds are one of those bands that just always seemed to be around. You’d hear their songs all the time and find out who performed them later. I really love “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”. It’s simple but has some interesting chord changes and vocal harmonies. I like how the harmonies build as the song progresses. They come in for the first time in the first chorus then continue. That’s a technique I’ve tried to incorporate in my own music. It’s a good trick to keep structurally simple songs interesting all the way through. The bassline is great in this track, too. In the third verse it seems that Hillman flubs a little bit. He hangs too long on the A before dropping down to the E with the rest of the band. I love it when bands leave in little ‘mistakes’ like this in recordings. I imagine them recording it live, the bass flubs in an otherwise great take, they look at each other, smile and keep jammin’. _______________________ 6 HICKORY WIND From Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (August 1968) Gram Parsons’ signature tune, with country greats Lloyd Green on pedal steel and John Hartford on fiddle, was a vivid evocation of Southern life, juxtaposed with the spiritual bankruptcy of wealth. EMMYLOU HARRIS: Working with Gram Parsons made me stop wanting to be a folk singer and get into country music. I suppose I was moving toward that when we were working together. But with his death, I just felt I needed to continue doing whatever it was we were doing. It was still early on and I was finding my way. Fortunately, I hooked up with some great people who shepherded me through it. “Hickory Wind” is one of Gram’s most important songs, certainly one of the saddest and most beautiful. He was a country boy and that longing was a real deep part of that. You can hear it in even his most cryptic writing. Sweetheart Of The Rodeo is very important. Unfortunately, you don’t hear him on it unless you get the versions on the boxset, but he’s all over that record. He and Chris [Hillman] are the reasons that record happened. I came to an appreciation of that album late – because I’d been right to the well with Gram – but it changed a lot of things. So much came as a result of that record. And the songs are stunning. It was so far ahead of its time. 2 MR TAMBOURINE MAN From Mr Tambourine Man (June 1965). Single April 1965. UK chart: 1. US chart: 1 Folk-rock goes boom in a 140-second starburst blending Dylan’s poetry, The Beatles’ pop jangle and heavenly harmonies. ROGER McGUINN: Dylan wasn’t able to use his original recording of “Mr Tambourine Man” because Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was singing on it, and he was a little tipsy and off key. The way Dylan worked was that whatever happened happened, he wouldn’t go back and fix it. So we heard this recording of the song that wasn’t commercially viable but was a great demo. Our manager, Jim Dickson, was convinced it was a hit record. His job was to convince The Byrds of that fact! Crosby hated it. He didn’t like Dylan’s voice, he didn’t like the 2/4 time signature and he didn’t like its length. So we pared it down to AM radio time, put on the Rickenbacker intro and outro, added the harmonies, and basically conditioned it for radio while still maintaining some of the original folk integrity. Finally, David got behind it. I remember us having to audition for Dickson about who would get the lead vocal. We all tried singing it and for some reason, I won. When it came to recording we were all shocked that the band wasn’t going to be allowed to do the backing track. The label had hired the Wrecking Crew. The only reason I was allowed to play was that I had a few years of session experience behind me in New York working for Bobby Darin. Understandably, the rest of the guys were quite upset, and campaigned to be able to play on all our tracks after that. But the Wrecking Crew were really tight. We knocked out “Mr Tambourine Man” and the flipside “I Knew I’d Want You” in one three-hour session, whereas it took The Byrds 77 takes to nail the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” backing track! Dylan and Bobby Neuwirth came to rehearsals to hear us do it, and their comment was, “Wow, you can dance to it!” Dylan wasn’t a pop star at that point, he was a folk hero. So it was probably an eye opener for him that he could do his songs in that 1 EIGHT MILES HIGH From Fifth Dimension (July 1966). Single March 1966. UK chart: 24. US chart: 14 A daring ascent into raga-rock, fusing modal jazz, Indian music and nascent psychedelia. Sounds as timeless and progressive today as it did in 1966. ROGER McGUINN: We were on tour in the United States. We were always on tour! We were in the Midwest and we stopped at some town to visit a friend of David Crosby. David’s friend had copies of John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass and Impressions, which had the track “India” on it. I had a cassette recorder and recorded both Coltrane albums on one side of a blank cassette and some Ravi Shankar on the other. We strapped the cassette deck to the Fender amp on the bus and listened to both sides of that tape over and over again on that tour. This went on for a month, and we were so steeped in this music that by the time we got back to LA it all just spilled out, almost like we’d been brainwashed by Coltrane and Shankar. “Eight Miles High” is out there. It’s spatial. I was trying to emulate Coltrane’s saxophone with my Rickenbacker. It’s got a lot of what Coltrane was going for on “India”, which was to capture the elephants in India with his wails, and there’s that tabla beat. He was trying to incorporate Indian music into jazz, and we were trying to incorporate his attempts to do that into a rock’n’roll song. So there’s a lot of things going on. Gene Clark came up with a lot of it, but he didn’t write the whole song. The airplane thing was my idea, I was always into planes and spaceships. Gene and I were talking about the trip we’d taken when we’d gone to England on tour, and the fact that the altitude was 37,000 ft, which is seven miles high. He didn’t like the number seven, because the Beatles had “Eight Days A Week” out and he thought that was much cooler. So we changed it to “Eight Miles High”, even though commercial airliners didn’t go to 42,000 ft. They do now, some of them. When radio stations heard it they thought, ‘Wait a minute, they can’t be talking about planes because they don’t fly that high. They must be talking about some other kind of high!’ Then the Gavin Report came out with a tip sheet for radio and they banned the record because they thought it was a flagrant drug ad. Some of the band still like to pretend that it is. Crosby will always say, ‘Yeah, it’s about drugs, man!’ But it’s not. It’s about touring the UK: the British press, the cars, the girls in the crowds, the weather, the street signs on the side of the buildings which we weren’t used to and couldn’t find. It’s about cultural shock. CHRIS HILLMAN: What I’m most proud of about The Byrds is that within 18 months we went from covering Bob Dylan to making “Eight Miles High”. We had grown as musicians. We stumbled into something without really thinking, which is how you should make music. It was so creative. It was a truly exciting time. People talk about the guitars and the lyrics on “Eight Miles High”, but Michael Clarke played brilliantly on that, and what about the singing? David was just a beautiful vocalist, as were Gene and Roger. They would double the lead and David would come in with a vocal that was just beautiful. It would have been interesting to have seen where we would have gone had we all stayed together, taking “Eight Miles High” as a launching point. Where would we have gone? It wouldn’t necessarily have ended up at Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. I have to pay credit to Columbia, they really didn’t put a lot of pressure on us over what we recorded. The only pressure was that we had to do two albums a year no matter what, but they weren’t too strict about content. The business was still pretty artistically orientated. The label supported “Eight Miles High” until it stopped getting played on the radio, which really killed it. That meant it fell off the charts. It’s amazing to think that it didn’t make the Top 10, but I felt so lucky to be in that band at that time. From ’65 to ’67, I think, was the best of The Byrds. Magic. And “Eight Miles High” might just be the best of the best. The History Of Rock – a brand new monthly magazine from the makers of Uncut – goes on sale in the UK on July 9. Click here for more details. Read more at more at Read more at Read more at Read more at

Geen opmerkingen: