The Beginner’s Guide to The Byrds
Folk-rock pioneers The Byrds are one of the most famous bands of all time. Much like a supergroup, they gave us some of the most beloved songs from the counter-cultural movement and the 1960s in general. Known for Roger McGuinn’s jangly Rickenbacker guitar riffs, and partly inspired by the folk-rock advances of the Beatles record Rubber core, the band set a precedent for bands like REM, The Smiths and even Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Best known for their cover of Bob Dylan’s 1965 track ‘Mr. Tambourine Man ‘and the iconic 1965 hit’ Turn, Turn, Turn ‘, The Byrds were much more than that, and much more than the other stellar covers of Dylan they released in their time.
No discussion of the group would be complete without touching the brilliance of their original lineup. The truth is, in retrospect, the group can be hailed as a supergroup. At the time of the group’s formation in 1964, they weren’t chosen from the surrounding hit groups, rather it was a reflection of the huge rock figures they would all become. Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman have all made giant strides.
This is the lineup that would send The Byrds to the fame they enjoyed in the ’60s. First a folk-rock band, given the rise of counterculture and drugs such as LSD and marijuana, in 1965, just a year after its formation, the group would become psychedelic heroes. Gene Clark left the group citing a fear of flying, a deep-seated fear he had had since witnessing a fatal plane crash as a child. Said by McGuinn, “If you can’t fly, you can’t be a Byrd,” Clark would then embark on a famous solo career, but that’s a story for another day.
Certainly definable as a group of the 60s, The Byrds would continue their prolific career. In December 1966, they released their fourth jazz-inspired album, Younger than yesterday, which included the McGuinn and Hillman wrote ‘So You Want to Be a Rock’ n ‘Roll Star’. The track was a satirical and heavily sarcastic jibe of the fabricated nature of bands like The Monkees, marking The Byrds to be far more than the consistent Bob Dylan cover band they are often considered to be.
Always present on the music scene of the 60s, they became more and more experimental as the decade wore on. In addition to branching out into country and western, their 1967 record The famous Byrd brothers, saw the band use pioneering studio techniques such as phasing and flanging, which, again, helped distinguish them as one of the most important bands of the time, although many didn’t. did not take into account at the time.
As with any massive group, the tension and acrimony quickly arose. Due to the drug use and bossy selfishness of David Crosby, the end of the band’s original iteration was near. Crosby and Clarke were kicked out, leaving only McGuinn and Hillman as the last men standing. The group then worked with different musicians, and 1968 saw the dawn of what is now known as the “Gram Parsons Era,” an interesting and overlooked chapter.
After this period explicitly turned to country rock, the group then hired guitarist Clarence White, before finally separating in 1973 because of comments like this one in the media, which described them as “a boring dead band”. Why such a change of fortune you will ask me?
Hillman had left the group in late 1968 and joined Parsons in The Flying Burrito Brothers. This can be seen as the final nail in the coffin of the original Byrds race. After that, and in the 70s, with each release, they drifted further and further away from the band that everyone once loved. Things finally came to a standstill after a chaotic performance at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey in 1973. Realizing that the band had fizzled out and not wanting to further damage their reputation, McGuinn ended the project.
Either way, the band’s exit in the ’60s is just iconic, and in reality we could spend all day discussing the band’s history because it’s so complex. However, this piece is intended as an introduction for those unfamiliar with The Byrds.
A brilliant and experimental group, which in its early days had one of the best musical groups of all time, still deserves to be revisited. Thus, we have listed the 6 definitive songs of the group, including the covers, because missing them would do the group a disservice. We have omitted ‘Mr. Tambourine Man ‘, however.
Join us then, as we list the 6 definitive songs from The Byrds.
The Byrds’ Six Definitive Songs:
“I will feel much better” – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
Written by frontman Gene Clark, this 1965 entry is one of the group’s most upbeat in its entire catalog. Originally released on the B-side, the song eventually managed to rank on its own due to its brilliance. What song did she release to accompany? Well, that was a blanket. Yes, you guessed it, “All I Really Want to Do” by Bob Dylan.
This song is the one that really set the pattern for the indie jangly that would go massive in the ’80s. Musically, given its catchy vocal melodies and singing guitar lines, it’s clear to see where REM, The Smiths and The Sundays have all taken some of their cues. It’s also an indicator of how good a songwriter Gene Clark is, a man who is sadly often overlooked.
‘The world revolves all around her’ – Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965)
Another Gene Clark classic, ‘The World Turns All Around Her’ was released as part of the band’s second album, 1965’s Turn! Turn! Turn!. Lyrically, it’s an objective view of a breakup. There is no jealousy or resentment, instead Clark asks his ex-partner to leave and realize his potential. It’s a remarkable breath of fresh air, especially when you factor in the song’s release time.
One of Clark’s most catchy bands, it packs all of the classic Byrds features, jangly guitars, vocal melodies and all, and is another stark reminder of how they seem to be overlooked in rock ‘n talk. roll.
‘5D (fifth dimension)’ – Fifth Dimension (1966)
The opening track from the Byrds’ psychedelic masterpiece, Fifth Dimension, this entry sees the band take on a softer sound. Not psychedelic, it’s a folk-rock classic that has all the characteristics of the group. Strangely, he also sees McGuinn giving an “Oh! Loud and prolonged. during the first chorus.
An anthemic and uplifting number, again you hear a lot of influences that influenced 80s jangly-indie, organ and all. We hear The Proclaimers, The Sundays and Inspiral Carpets. One of the best songs from The Byrds and one of the best songs of the time, this is a hidden gem that you will save right away.
Looks like the band almost knew it would be their last album, and sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. Listen to him and cry.
“Eight miles high” – Fifth dimension (1966)
During what was arguably the band’s most prolific era of the mid-1960s, they released their psychedelic masterpiece, Fifth dimension. It included the pioneering composition “Eight Miles High”, which blended the influences of sitarist Ravi Shankar and saxophonist John Coltrane, to create a colorful sonic palette that perfectly matched the fluid hedonistic spirit of the counterculture.
Beginning with the rumble of Clarke’s drums and Hillman’s bass, McGuinn’s guitar then runs through the mix with a shredding moment of genius.
Then the song really takes off. The band’s classic lineup is tied to their iconic vocal harmonies, and that makes your back shiver. Soothing but slightly sinister, it gives temperament to the rest of the song. Sounds like you are literally going into psychedelics. The song represents the band’s classic formation at their peak and is such an earworm you’re sure to repeat it.
“My back pages” – Younger than yesterday (1967)
Originally a song by Bob Dylan from his 1964 album, Another side of Bob Dylan, the band did what they were so good at again. They gave Dylan’s song a makeover. A fresh and complete version of Dylan’s protest songs, it doesn’t disappoint. The band’s vocal harmonies on the central vocal chorus of the song “Ah, but I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now” really gets the message across.
Concerned with growing old and how we are often disappointed with things that were so dear to us as teenagers, The Byrds really brings Dylan’s acoustic original to life. A calming but introspective number, it’s nothing short of a classic.
“So you wanna be a rock’n’roll star” – Younger than yesterday (1967)
Written by McGuinn and Hillman for the band’s fourth album in 1967, Younger than yesterday, ‘So You Want To Be A Rock’ n ‘Roll Star’ sees the band at one of their most ingenious moments. Lyrically mocking the fabricated rock of the era, Hillman and McGuinn’s work is deeply ironic.
The music is also refreshing. Hillman provides one of their most unstoppable basslines, and more importantly, it was the first time the band incorporated brass into their sound. With a trumpet line from none other than South African jazz hero Hugh Masekela, this upbeat number gets you moving instantly.