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"When you touch down you'll find that it's stranger than known"
|Main Category:||Folk Rock|
|Also applicable:||Pop Rock, Psychedelia, Roots Rock|
|Starting Period:||The Early Years|
|Also active in:||The Psychedelic Years, The Artsy/Rootsy Years|
APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Byrds fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Byrds fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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The Byrds aren't guaranteed to get under anybody's skin upon first listen. Okay, nobody's guaranteed, but with the Byrds, it just might take a little extra time to bridge the gap between their immense critical reputation and one's personal impression of them. When I first subjected myself to a general overview of the band via a best-of collection, I know I wasn't much impressed. The sound was pleasant enough, but it all seemed to stick together and it was a real chore to remember the melodies. But the Byrds are subtle. If anything, they were the first pop band to demonstrate that pop music can survive without hooks - at least, without obvious ones - by thriving directly on values like emotion, tradition, and, uh, juxtaposition (that is, of things normally thought to be non-juxtaposable).When they first emerged upon the popular music scene, the Byrds were perceived as a sort of collective electrified take on Dylan, even if they themselves never intended to be seen as such, playing innocent Beatlesque pop and tapping into the Greenwich Village folk tradition occasionally. But it was by taking Bob's tunes and setting them to the now famous 'McGuinn twelve string Rickenbaker jangle' that they made their original reputation. That's where it all came together: the pop sensibility, the folkie chord sequences, and the inscrutable, convoluted Zimmerman poetry that no one imagined was compatible with the pop charts - not even Bob himself, whose conversion to rock'n'roll was actually mighty aided by these early Byrds records. In the process, the Byrds invented "folk-rock" - and music hasn't been the same ever since they'd shown the world that some music could be enjoyed by kids and their parents alike. Of course, making vintage revolutionary synthesis is one thing, and writing good songs is frequently another. For that matter, the band, from the very onset, boasted at least three fully competent songwriters, even if their competence didn't always shine through at the same time. First came Gene Clark and his love for catchy Merseybeat, tempered by Roger McGuinn's distinctly American playing. Next came David Crosby and his lust for all things Eastern, ancient Western, trippy, rambling, mantraic, and just plain otherworldly. Finally, there was McGuinn himself, the one stable anchor of the band, and his competing interests that included everything from roots rock to sci-fi. And that's your answer for the Byrds' success here and now. The pool of talent. During their best years the Byrds couldn't be categorised or pigeonholed; the only label you could slap on them was that they represented "Americana", in stark contrast to the Beatles or those bands, both British and American, that kept staring into the Beatles' mouths for too long. But that's hardly a limiting definition. Not content with the original dubbing as a "folk-rock" act, the Byrds embraced the blues and even a little jazz, colouring both with the newly emerging psychedelic patterns. At the height of the Summer of Love they toyed around with avantgarde and even proto-electronica. And when rock and pop music, oversaturated with excess and experiment, began the pushback towards rootsier forms, the Byrds found new comfort in taking old folk and country motives and freeing them from the usual stereotypes, effectively marrying tradition with open-mindedness and grandpa music with hippie liberalism. Of course, pools of talent rarely stay together for a long time, and the Byrds were no exception. Beginning in 1966, each year left the Byrds without one of the founding fathers, and by 1969 the band had essentially morphed into McGuinn's backing ensemble; said status was prolonged until 1972, and although some good music did come out of it (including at least one classic album that could proudly stand on its own against the proper Byrds catalog), that's what it was - good music, but nothing particularly eye-opening. Not that I mind - come to think of it, it is pretty hard to guess whatever might have been the result of the Byrds' unlikely staying together. Most probably they'd have metamorphosed into some equivalent of Crosby, Stills & Nash, with McGuinn as Stills and Clark as Nash - but since we already do have a Crosby, Stills & Nash in the flesh, what's there to lament? The Byrds were great in their time and place. That said, no one in his right mind would want to assess the Byrds' reputation based on the 1969-73 period (including the brief one-album reunion of the original lineup). The 1965-68 period, on the other hand, ranks well up there with similar "glory stretches" of the band's British and American competition. That said, my overall evaluation of these years is based as much on "respect" and "curiosity" as on actual "enjoyment". Like I said, not too many Byrdsongs have the kind of immediate hooks that make great pop songs. It is rather the individual, personal bits - not always perfectly gelling - that make them so outstanding. And the Byrds did have personality a-plenty. There is the trademark guitar sound of the Byrds, precious all by itself - sometimes, even a few seconds of distraught, directionless McGuinn strumming can work magic. There are the harmonies - rather down-to-earth and homely ones as opposed to either the Beach Boys or the Beatles, and that's the essence of their charm. There's McGuinn's voice itself, ever so friendly and slightly world-weary and encompassing all the "peace, love, and understanding" of the Sixties. There's the tremendous diversity of their output. And then there are the hooks. All of this makes the Byrds THE quintessential American band of the decade, want it or not. The Doors might have written catchier and darker tunes, Creedence Clearwater Revival might have been far more "user-friendly", and The Band might have been far more encyclopaedic and academic, but the first two bands were limited by the vision of their chief songwriters, and the third one... was really Canadian, I guess. The Byrds, at their best, set no limits for themselves, opening up the world of pop for countless "rootsy" influences as well as broadening the possibilities of "rootsy" stuff itself. Their influence on the following generations is immeasurable, and, as it happens with every great band, is both good and not all that. We certainly have the Byrds to thank for everything from Tom Petty to R.E.M. to Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, but we also have the Byrds to blame for the Eagles. Alas, few "rootsy" bands could be as open-minded as McGuinn & Co. It's hardly a coincidence that the Byrds' music plays an important role in Easy Rider. Like the main characters in that movie, the Byrds were walking the same thin line throughout their career - they were always in danger of being looked upon with condescension by the acid generation audience for pandering to traditional values and in even more danger of being bullied by the old-fashioned redneck crowds for daring to tamper with their music in their damn hippie ways (the latter danger actually resulting in not a few unpleasant incidents - well, after all, the Easy Rider story wasn't based on nothing). Somehow they pulled through, though, and today, their legacy is hardly in need of any special protection. Lineup: Jim (a.k.a., or even b.k.a. Roger) McGuinn - vocals, 12-string guitar; David Crosby - vocals, rhythm guitar; Gene Clark - vocals, tambourine; Mike Clarke - drums; Chris Hillman - bass. This lineup persisted for one year (1965, exactly), after which Clark left for good. Crosby followed suite in 1967, followed by Clarke; replaced by Gram Parsons (guitar, vocals), Kevin Kelley (drums). Parsons quit in late 1968, taking Hillman with him, after which Roger McGuinn was left as the only original 'Byrd'. Without any particular remorse, he assembled a new gang, consisting of Clarence White (guitar), Gene Parsons (drums), John York (bass, replaced in late 1969 by Skip Battin). These became the 'Byrds Mark II', and after 1969 critics usually bash the life out of them. Well, just wait and see. The most curious thing is that all of the original Byrds re-united in 1973 for an album, but it was panned just as well (unjustly), and that was the last we ever saw of the Byrds.
Listenability: 4/5. A
bit boring at times, but the Byrds always tried to be tasteful AND accessible
at the same time.
Resonance: 3/5. The harmonies sometimes bug me too much to be truly resonant. But who could resist the soulful voice of McGuinn? Who could?
Originality: 4/5. Questions? And don't you DARE to underrate their role in the development of rock.
Adequacy: 5/5. No problems in this department whatsoever.
Diversity: 5/5. Well, they went through folk-rock and psychedelia and country-rock and hard-rock and... whatever.
Overall: 4.2 = B on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
You most certainly get what you expect - naiveness and inexperience mixed with talent, enthusiasm, and, most importantly, jangle.Best song: TOMORROW IS A LONG WAYS AWAY
Track listing: 1) Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away; 2) Boston; 3) The Only Girl I Adore; 4) You Won't Have To Cry; 5) I Knew I'd Want You; 6) The Airport Song; 7) The Reason Why; 8) Mr Tambourine Man; 9) Please Let Me Love You; 10) You Movin'; 11) It Won't Be Wrong; 12) You Showed Me; 13) She Has A Way; 14) For Me Again; 15) It's No Use; 16) Here Without You; 17) Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away (acoustic version).
I guess the unbelievably high rating for nothing but a raw set of demos, recorded by the Byrds during their first recording sessions in mid to late 1964, may seem reasonably fishy to you, but extra points are given here for listenability - raw or not, In The Beginning doesn't ever trigger that feeling of 'museum listening' you get while putting on all those other outtake and demo compilations you occasionally get a glimpse of. It doesn't come across as a masterpiece, either, but manages to combine both the "historic value" and the "listening pleasure" elements in an almost unique way, well, for such an early period in rock history at the least.Nowadays, this particular compilation replaces the 1969 album Preflyte, which collected twelve of these original demos; the Rhino-issued 1988 compilation augments that number with an additional five (only too good - even with the seventeen tracks, the album still clocks in under 40 minutes), and, if I'm not mistaken, replaces several of the Preflyte versions with alternate mixes, not that I really mind; either way, this is obviously a better bet unless you earn your living by reselling old vinyl. About a third of these songs were later cleaned up, re-recorded and rearranged by the band for Mr Tambourine Man, and one more song - 'It Won't Be Wrong' - ended up on their second album. The rest can't really be found anywhere else, including the Byrds' first single which they released when they were still calling themselves 'The Beefeaters'. Quite a horrible title for a bunch of guys that never looked like beefeaters - except for maybe Crosby in his post-Byrds period - and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the main reason their first single flopped. Might as well be calling themselves 'Anal C***'. It's understandable why, of course: quite a few of these songs are tremendously immature and occasionally laughable, reflecting the state of mind of young lads just beginning to learn their craft; yet even at this initial stage they are occasionally interspersed with accidental gems that I'd heartily recommend to any dedicated Byrds fan. It's also interesting to note that the only cover tune among these seventeen is - guess what - right, 'Mr Tambourine Man'; everything else is credited to either Clark or McGuinn or the two of them, which immediately sets the Byrds apart from so many of their inferior contemporaries (although, truth be told, the actual Byrds records are much more heavy on covers). Anyway, one listen to the record is enough to note that the Byrds were pretty much willing to try anything at the time, in the process of working out their unique style. Thus, the album starts with a typical - and typically beautiful - jangly folk-rocker, 'Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away', with a memorable compositional structure, cute vocal harmonies (they didn't have them worked out fully straight at the moment, but it was only a question of time) and the famous Byrds mystique firmly in place. Although, to be perfectly frank, the band's reliance on falsetto delivery and slightly echoey production make this probably the most Jefferson Airplane-like song I've ever heard from this band, sort of like a blueprint for the Airplane's debut album. Then the second song, in direct contrast, is a pretty feeble attempt at R'n'B - the basic melody of 'Boston' is tolerable, I guess, but somehow Hillman's boogie bassline (copped from 'Memphis Tennessee' and thus giving the entire song a nasty 'borrowed' flavour), those shy rhythm guitar chords, Mike Clarke's Ringo-style bashing and thrashing, and the unperfected harmonies never blend together into anything special. Then the third tune is even worse: 'The Only Girl I Adore' pretty much sounds like a Frankie Avalon tune or some other clean-cut faux-rock composition out there, with lousy bubble-pop harmonies and everything that goes along with 'em (what a pleasure they never advanced beyond the acoustic demo). Hey, I don't mind you taking lessons from the Beatles, gentlemen, but why pick 'Ask Me Why' to be your prototype when it's already been a long time since John Lennon overcame his songwriting limitations? And then back we go to folk-pop with an early version of 'You Won't Have To Cry'... well, the further we progress, the less inconsistent the album actually becomes; I'm not sure the track arrangement is in chronological order, but the tracks were certainly arranged in such a way that it seems like the longer it takes, the better they get at emphasizing their strong sides and putting aside the weak ones. 'The Airport Song' predicts the classic Crosby-tune stereotype - dreamy, romantic, mystical, pretty, smokey, vague, and utterly unmemorable (I can't vouch it's Dave on vocals out there, but it's still pretty Crosby-like in atmosphere); 'Please Let Me Love You' is just a great little pop tune; 'You Movin' is another blatant Beatles imitation which this time around actually works - if only Mike Clarke wasn't jumping out of his skin trying to ape Ringo's cymbal-heavy style; 'You Showed Me' and 'She Has A Way' and 'For Me Again' have all got seriously beefy (beefeater-y!) hooks; and I've always thought that 'It's No Use' was as good as the Byrds' "rocking" style ever got. Oh, and it's kinda fun hearing 'Mr Tambourine Man' in such a ragged and rough version - in dire contrast to the ultra-polished, glossy, shining single as we all know and love it. Alas, it's even shorter than the official version. Flawed? Flawed. But that's almost irrelevant to a collection of outtakes. Once you get over the lack of polish, chances are you might actually love it almost as much as any given early Byrds record. Throw out the little bit of fluff, and here's living proof that the Byrds could give out credible material already in 1964 - they might have been pushed to international fame by means of the ultimate Dylan-electrifying trick (as well as perfecting their harmonies), but if you think that those early classic albums were all structured according to the "two/three good, but formulaic Dylan covers plus a bunch of unexperienced filler", In The Beginning surely proves you wrong: the Byrds had their folk-pop vibe going without Dylan there to help them. Of course, one shouldn't forget that most of the songwriting at the time was courtesy of Gene Clark, who wouldn't be tarrying in the band for too long - which, perversely enough, makes In The Beginning your best bet for evaluating that guy's talent, and your worst bet if you became addicted to the band for the sheer magic of Jim McGuinn's voice; his solo parts are kept to a minimum throughout. "In the beginning", this band belonged to Clark and no-one else. Me, I've always thought his main error was shaking the tambourine. You can't get a great foothold on your band if you're just the tambourine shaker and not the leading frontman at all times (like Roger Daltrey). Maybe he should have taken up the organ at some point. Or the electric jug, at least. Don't you think 'Mr Tambourine Man' would sound great when backed with the electric jug?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
Keywords: 12-string jangle, Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, folk rock, amazing, inspiring, entertaining, lazier-than-thou. Got it?Best song: MR TAMBOURINE MAN
Track listing: 1) Mr Tambourine Man; 2) I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better; 3) Spanish Harlem Incident; 4) You Won't Have To Cry; 5) Here Without You; 6) The Bells Of Rhymney; 7) All I Really Want To Do; 8) I Knew I'd Want You; 9) It's No Use; 10) Don't Doubt Yourself Babe; 11) Chimes Of Freedom; 12) We'll Meet Again; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) She Has A Way; 14) I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better (alternate version); 15) It's No Use (alternate version); 16) You Won't Have To Cry (alternate version); 17) All I Really Want To Do (single version); 18) You And Me.
"Throughout rock's growing years, albums consisted of a hit and a handful of fillers. Mr Tambourine Man would change that formula irrevocably." HOW SWEET of them to tell me that - and put it on the back cover of the CD, too, so that I can revel in the glorious exhilaration of the liner notes before I actually plunk down my cash for the album, which I am, of course, guaranteed to do now; who can resist the one-two-three punch of such an awesome description? Two sentences, $14.99, and FEEL yourself living out rock's history!Of course, if you give yourself a little time to cool off, you might remember a little thing called A Hard Day's Night, or, if memories of the oppressive colonial past are still haunting you, another little thing called The Beach Boys Today!, which might set you off a-wonderin' just what exactly on these albums constitutes 'one' hit (each had at least two or three) and how exactly can you get around to the 'handful' of filler. Given that both these records were released prior to Mr Tambourine Man (well, Today! came out just three months earlier, but that's a pretty big period by the measures of those times), the liner notes statement may start looking a little pale. But hey, if it helps sell more copies of the album - be my guest, Mr Truth Distorter! I'm just worried that many people won't be able to get over the initial disappointment following these glowing expectations you've set them up for. Because, yep, there's no denying - Mr Tambourine Man certainly is the most revolutionary album ever done by the band, and one of the true highlights of 1965, and in terms of historical value it sure knock Madonna's Ray Of Light out cold in the first round. However, the actual quality of the material doesn't exactly match the importance. These are good songs - but overall, it looks like the band was quite ready to go into the studio, but wasn't entirely ready yet to come out of it. Give it one listen and you'll see what I mean. All of the tracks fall into one of three categories - Dylan covers, traditional song covers and Clark/McGuinn originals - and each of the categories got problems of its own. The age of Dylan covers opens with the title track - the Byrds' truly brilliant debut single. Unlike so many other less (or more) imaginative colleagues of mine, I honestly and sincerely don't prefer this version to the Dylan original. It's shorter (the single retains only one complete verse), it's not all that moody or philosophically minded, and it lacks the subtle charm and complexity of Dylan's voice. Believe you me - there's no one like your humble servant when it comes down to preferring 'poppified' and 'watered down' versions of semi- or in-accessible tunes, but this time, no; I just admire Dylan too much to let him down this time. That said, the Byrds' version is still a magnificent effort. We get our first taste of McGuinn's soulful overtones during the verses, we get the promised 'jingle-jangle' of the morning, and we get to understand that complex, thought-provoking lyrics can be set to upbeat poppy rhythms, thus preparing the ground for late period Beatles, Pink Floyd, Rush, Styx, Kansas, Boston, and Bad Company. (What's that? You actually do not find the lines 'when I want to rock steady, I know I got to get ready' complex and thought-provoking? Who the fuck do you think you are, mister - Jean-Paul Sartre?). Yep, this is some hit single indeed... ...surrounded by a handful of fillers. The other three Dylan covers ('Spanish Harlem Incident'; 'All I Really Want To Do'; 'Chimes Of Freedom') aren't that good, and do you know why? Simply because they go and reproduce the same style over and over again. If you've heard how they do 'Tambourine Man', and also heard the other three in their original Dylan version, you can apply a simple steady algorithm to imagine exactly the way they are going to sound here. Very predictable, and what can I say about them except for the fact that they're all eminently listenable and enjoyable, but the originals are all better? Well, okay, I can say something. It's quite clever how they managed to transform one of Dylan's verses in 'All I Really Want To Do' (which all sound exactly the same in the original) into a middle eight? Now that's creativity! Too bad they had to go and use the same trick for 'Chimes Of Freedom' then. The "traditional" numbers are also nice. But maybe they will require a little getting used to. Like the lengthy janglo-mantra version of Pete Seeger's 'Bells Of Rhimney' - boring at first (like almost everything else), but then the warm plaintive intonations of McGuinn's voice start to get to you; nobody sang like that at the time, gentle and humane and so spiritually anthemic at the same time. Besides, let's also acknowledge that the main guitar line upon which the song is built was later expropriated by George Harrison for 'If I Needed Someone' - and not just the guitar line, but its climactic "juncture" with the "ah ah" vocal harmonies to form the song's coda. Beatle haters rejoice, here's one more opportunity to knock 'em down a peg. Some of the other folkish numbers are just mindless guitar fun, like 'Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe', which inexplicably (but amusingly) incorporates a Bo Diddley-ish beat in the chorus, and also has a coda that sounds like a cross between the Stones' ending to 'It's All Over Now' and the trebley sound of 'Not Fade Away'. As for the album closing 'We'll Meet Again', well, we'll just have to presume that somebody in the band must have been a big Kubrick fan (Dr Strangelove came out about a year earlier), even if there's absolutely no sign of either irony or menace to be detected here, not if you know the overall circumstances, that is. Still, most of the compliments so far were firmly grounded in the 'style' department. But style alone won't get you going, you need to write songs as well. And in early 1965, the only serious songwriter for the band was Gene Clark. Fortunately, Gene Clark was a good songwriter. He liked the Beatles - that much is obvious - and he tried to write songs like the Beatles - that much is understood. And, of course, forgivable: I mean, if Ted Nugent and Ozzy Osbourne of all people wanted to write songs like the Beatles at one time, why not Gene Clark? The Byrds were a pop band, after all. So Gene Clark wrote songs like the Beatles did, even if the lyrical matter overall was a bit too heavy on the misogynistic side for a Beatles rip-off; presumably Gene Clark didn't get to get laid nearly as often as John Lennon or Paul McCartney. (Okay, so I'm usually not that cynical, you know). The difference was that after Gene Clark wrote the song, it'd have to be played by Jim McGuinn and Dave Crosby, which, of course, immediately gave it personality and uniqueness in addition to the catchy hook. As a result, if it hadn't been for the two definite highlights on the record - 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better' and 'It's No Use' - I would have probably given the record a lower rating just for the general laziness and monotonousness, pleasant as it is. True, it's a bit odd to have the surrealistic, lexicon-heavy imagery of 'Mr Tambourine Man' sit next to the banal, terribly cliched lost-love poetry of 'I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better'. But that's still the kind of song where the music, not the words, really matter, and the music is fine. My favourite is actually the often neglected 'It's No Use': I absolutely adore the way it combines the spooky, menacing verse with the unexpectedly upbeat chorus and then brings it back into threatening territory again, without the band ever trying to sound cockier or raunchier than they actually are - it's quiet and restrained, and that's what makes it scarier. But I'm not saying this to underrate the powers of 'I'll Feel...', either. 'I'll Feel', among other things, has a much more successful guitar solo - rhythmic, fluent, and, yes, jangly (prepare to hear that word a million more times, I'm warning you), whereas on 'It's No Use' McGuinn tries playing something crunchier, going for a spontaneous delivery, and producing... nothing of particular interest. To each his own, I guess. The re-issued CD version adds some bonus tracks onto this album (as well as onto most of the other ones), but first time around the entertainment is far from top level: mostly just single and alternate versions of the same songs with barely perceptible differences (well, for instance, 'It's No Use' is thinner and sloppier played than the final version). The instrumental 'You And Me' is weak, a cute, but uninspired R'n'B jam, and the only bonus track that has any value at all is the rarity 'She Has A Way', another good original with sharp, memorable guitar lines and the kind of near-goofy high-pitched harmonies that presage early Jefferson Airplane. It can also be found on In The Beginning, though.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1965
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
"To everything there is a season" - does "everything" include "creative stagnation" as well?Best song: TURN TURN TURN
Track listing: 1) Turn Turn Turn; 2) It Won't Be Wrong; 3) Set You Free This Time; 4) Lay Down Your Weary Tune; 5) He Was A Friend Of Mine; 6) The World Turns All Around Her; 7) Satisfied Mind; 8) If You're Gone; 9) The Times They Are A-Changin' ; 10) Wait And See; 11) Oh Susannah; [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) The Day Walk (Never Before); 13) She Don't Care About Time (single version); 14) The Times They Are A-Changin' (version 1); 15) It's All Over Now Baby Blue; 16) She Don't Care About Time (version 1); 17) The World Turns All Around Her (alternate mix); 18) Stranger In A Strange Land.
Nobody would probably disagree about Turn! Turn! Turn! being a "marking time album" - a little running-on-the-spot exercise before psychedelia and sci-fi motives kicked in hard on Fifth Dimension. Yes, pretty much every Byrds album from 1965 to 1968 represented a breakthrough of sorts - except this one. But the Byrds were slow on the move, and a two-album per year schedule was a little too much for them to stomach. A temporary lack of new ideas; the relative poorness of the American scene in 1965 (not much to compete with, really, except for the Bobster, I guess); record label pressure; a backlog of perhaps inferior, but still unreleased songs; and, most importantly, the "formula attitude" which they weren't yet ready to overcome - all of this means that, well, if you loved Mr Tambourine Man dearly, you'll love this as well, but if one album of that was your natural limit, you'd be much better off somewhere else. This "sophomore" product is pretty dang good, yep, but there's nothing on here they hadn't done better already.Since their second single, 'All I Really Want To Do', flopped in the face of the far superior (in the public's eye, that is - not mine!) Sonny and Cher version, it was probably thought that, with all these new acts hopping on the "let's make some bucks in the name of R. Zimmerman" wagon, it'd be wiser to invest in something at least technically different. So the place of 'Mr Tambourine Man' is reassigned to 'Turn! Turn! Turn!', a little textual excerpt from Ecclesiastes mostly famous for the throwing-stones-gathering-stones metaphor, originally reworked and set to music by Greenwich guru Pete Seeger. They certainly hit the jackpot that way, landing on top of the charts and turning the Damocles' sword of being forever labeled as a one-hit-wonder over to the scrap iron pile. However, despite all the similarities - anthemic nature, jangly arrangements, heavenly harmonies - I still care for 'Mr Tambourine Man' much more. Ecclesiastes is a real bitch when set to music - the 'a time to be born, a time to die' section is great folk-pop, but the 'to everything, turn turn turn, there is a season, turn turn turn...' part I've always found a little clumsy, and the Byrds really have nothing to do with it; it's all Pete's fault. Plus, there is no solo section for Roger, and any Byrds number in which there is no solo section for Roger - including Dave Crosby tunes and instrumentals - immediately sets me thinking about just how cooler it would be if McGuinn spread his dictatorial wing over the hills and plains. BUT! There is one great thing about 'Turn! (x3)' that annihilates all these complaints. Okay, two great things. Great thing number one is it's just a great song, simple as that. Great thing number two is the stop-and-start structure. I'd betcha anything Seeger didn't have that in his version. The sudden stops seem to almost divide the tune into several short ones, turning its four minutes (hardly a neglectable length for a 1965 pop single in its own rights) into eternity - and they sound so goddamn natural, with the melody swirling, twisting, then gently, but firmly descending into one final CHUNK! then recommencing from where it all began. Face it, it's still the most recognizable thing about the song. The Dylan covers haven't been neglected, though - one doesn't abandon a steady source of golden eggs that easily. However, just as the Byrds were the first ones to successfully cover a Dylan tune, so are they the first ones (or among the first ones, at least) to demonstrate that not every Dylan song can be covered successfully. Article in question: "The Times They Are A-Changin'", which simply doesn't work at all. The Byrds are nice guys; they look like nice guys, play like nice guys, and sing like nice guys. It is possible that they were privately beating up their girlfriends and sneaking out in the middle of the night in order to urinate on public property, but it has never been reflected in their artistic legacy. Consequently, all poison has been drained out of Bob's original (and one thing you can definitely say about Bob is that he was by no means a nice guy) and the song acquires pretty much the same dreamy atmosphere as 'Mr Tambourine Man' had. The result is silly and uncomofortable, even if by no means completely unpleasant, and McGuinn wouldn't ever try converting the "angry Dylan" any more, with the possible exception of 'Wheels Of Fire'. On the other hand, 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' - a song that wasn't even properly "laid down" in the studio by Bob himself at the time - almost ends up recapturing the 'Tambourine Man' vibe. It's a little slower and more "funereal", but if we count 'Tambourine Man' as perfection, then this is just a few steps away from perfection. Of particular interest is Hillman's bass part, mixed significantly higher than normally and for good reason, as it pretty much carries the song, playing a melody all its own; it's tunes like these that really accentuate the true meaning of the "folk-rock" or "folk-pop" term - when the rhythm section is essentially playing a rock/pop tune and the guitars are playing a folk tune and then they come together and you spend the next several years coming up with a suitable way to describe the results. Finally, while 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' is not technically a Dylan song, it is very probable that the band took the number over from Bob (his own version might be found on The Bootleg Series). McGuinn did tweak the lyrics a little, though, giving the nameless "he" of the song an unmistakable identification - 'he died in Dallas town' - and turned in his most heartfelt performance so far; lyrically and emotionally, another "major minor" breakthrough for the pop world. Rounding out the traditional pool is... well, I must confess that I'll take 'Oh Susannah', with its Alabamas and banjos on my knee, over 'We'll Meet Again' as an album closer any month of the week of the day. But maybe it's just personal. You see, years - heck, decades - ago there was this cool PC arcade called Tapper where you were the bartender and you had to serve beer mugs to several counterfuls of customers as quickly as possible before the customers would reach your end of the counter and grab you and drag you away to be beaten up for lack of professionalism. (Pretty cool concept - too bad the arcade never survived the XT age). Well, the point is that the background muzak was 'Oh Susannah' repeated over and over again on the PC speaker. It was then I realized that me and the Byrds were born for each other. Well, okay, so I'd actually never heard of the Byrds back then. I didn't even know the tune was called 'Oh Susannah'. But, to quote the words of just about every Star Wars character to ever hit the screen, 'you cannot escape your destiny'. Irrelevant nostalgia aside, not many, I think, will disagree about the melody of 'Oh Susannah' being far catchier than that of the majority of the Byrds' self-penned numbers on here. In terms of songwriting, absolutely nothing new, and not too much interesting stuff is put on the table. Okay, so Gene Clark does contribute one more classic. 'The World Turns All Around Her' is Beatlish in melody, Stonesish in lyrics, Byrdish in jangle, and rather faceless in vocal harmonies (I do really prefer the verses sung by McGuinn solo and then the chorus kicking in with the multi-part thing). It is a pretty good pop song, though. But the rest have always escaped me. The line "please let me love you and it won't be wrong", for instance, strikes me as exquisitely clumsy for such a repetitive chorus (for some reason, it reminds me of that anecdote about young British gentlemen confessing their true feelings for their objects of passion by saing 'I don't object to you, you know'). And some of the upbeat stuff ('Wait And See') is left without hooks at all, which is pretty bad when the sound is already so predictable. It all boils down to whether they did put a spell on you or whether they didn't. I know it fine because me, I find McGuinn's vocals by far the most attractive part of the band's sound, far more so than the proverbial jangle. Thus, wherever there are passionate solo performances - like on 'Set You Free This Time' or 'If You're Gone' - the emotiono-meter slowly starts rising; but whenever the sound drifts back into the collective harmony haven, I start losing interest pretty quickly. And nobody's guilty of it but the Byrds themselves, willingly shutting themselves in one corner where - as the following album would soon prove - they could actually get scattered all over the great plains and effortlessly shoot all the game in sight. On the other hand, I do admit it's possible to look at it from a different side: Turn Turn Turn pretty much carries the early formula to the extreme, and if you ever thought that the true richness of the Byrds' debut was concentrated in the 'Bells Of Rhymney'-like stuff and all the Britpoppy hooks only fucked up the picture, you just might find your nirvana this second time around. My idea, however, is that the Byrds were one of the few early era American bands capable of true eclecticism, and so I'm always eager to skip this one. The bonus tracks, however, are slightly more recommendable this time. These include a decent B-side ('She Don't Care About Time'), another patented Clark pop ditty with a Bach-inspired guitar solo, no less; one of the band's best ever Dylan covers with a congenial resolution of the harmonizing problem ('It's All Over Now Baby Blue', previously unreleased and later re-done by McGuinn in an inferior variant on Ballad Of Easy Rider; note also how they begin the song with a teasing snippet of the riff from Bob's 'I Don't Believe You'); a weird "rocker" ('The Day Walk (Never Before)') that blatantly appropriates the riff of 'Satisfaction' and almost gets away with it; and a countryish instrumental tune ('Stranger In A Strange Land'), possibly the best of all the short instrumental demos the record company usually inserts at the end of each and every Byrds re-release. The interweaving guitars give it an almost mantra-like feel, and I like that.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1966
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 14
Fifth dimension indeed - just look at the scope of this thing.Best song: EIGHT MILES HIGH
Track listing: 1) 5D (Fifth Dimension); 2) Wild Mountain Thyme; 3) Mr Spaceman; 4) I See You; 5) What's Happening; 6) I Come And Stand At Every Door; 7) Eight Miles High; 8) Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go); 9) Captain Soul; 10) John Riley; 11) 2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song); [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Why (single version); 13) I Know My Rider (I Know You Rider); 14) Psychodrama City; 15) Eight Miles High (alternate version); 16) Why (alternate version); 17) John Riley (version 1).
Inarguably the Byrds never ever made a bigger leap in their career than from the twin brother albums of 1965 to Fifth Dimension, and it is precisely that leap that firmly secures their high-classed position on this site. They were, of course, rolling with the times, but to a certain extent they were rolling the times, if you know what I mean, and besides, even in 1966 you were perfectly free not to roll with the times if you didn't want to. The Byrds wanted to, and with their third album sort of crossed into the "Prophets of Their Time" department.Of course, the songwriting team was still writing songs the way it used to. 'Eight Miles High', when you take the time to really suck it in, is, after all, not all that different melodically from 'Turn Turn Turn' or, well, just about any other harmony-ruled, jangle-powered pop anthem on the 1965 albums. You could take away the atmosphere, change the lyrics to something more socially conscious and give it to Pete Seeger. But as it is, Pete Seeger would probably not be overpowered by the rumbling, psychotic bass, or by the messy jazzy guitar soloing that reportedly represents McGuinn trying to imitate John Coltrane's sax style (which, in turn, was brought to the band's attention by Crosby). Yet whenever the song is mentioned, it is always the instrumental aspects of it that are praised before everything else - at least when it is mentioned by clever exotic people who give their girlfriends Velvet Underground records for their birthdays. Whaddaya know, it's a frickin' great tune. It doesn't sound so great if you analyse all its elements separately, though - it's the synthesis that does it. The fact that you can have this crazy free-form jazz soloing and the ethereal vocal harmonies and the half-psychedelic, half-garage bass elephant all in one place. And that the crazy free-form jazz soloing comes not from a professional jazz musician, which would make it boring, but simply from a very inspired guy, yes, who wants to sound like Coltrane but ends up somewhere in between that and Dave Davies on 'You Really Got Me'. Back in its day, people used to wonder if it was about drugs; the Byrds responded no, it's all about flying - and fear thereof, which, ironically, eventually caused Gene Clark, one of the song's coauthors, to leave the band. Of course, the most natural answer is that it's about both - but more importantly, it's about opening up. It's a song that has so much more real freedom oozing out of it than any direct statement of the epoch, like, oh, I dunno, the Stones' poseurish 'I'm Free', for instance. Drugs, flying, making Coltrane shake hands with Peter, Paul, and Mary, it all goes together if you really want it. Those were the best of times, and I don't think the Byrds ever made anything that adventurous again. Granted, some listeners may have been too thick to realise just how adventurous the release of 'Eight Miles High' as a single in early '66 had been. So in the title track to the new LP McGuinn does not beat around the bush: 'All my two dimensional boundaries were gone, I had lost to them badly'. Although, funny enough, musically 'Fifth Dimension' strays much less from the tried-and-true formula than 'Eight Miles High' ever tried. It reads more like a traditional folk ballad, and the gist of its "perversion" is, of course, the clash between the music and the lyrics. But even here the Byrds are trying to progress, creating a lush wall of sound that, when it comes to the instrumental coda, combines twelve-string jangle with a "religious" electric organ solo, and that's class. Taking it from there, the album starts running off in every direction the Byrds could think of - almost as if they realized themselves how much they'd jarred themselves in the "folk-rock" corner with their second record and were now frantically shaking off the chains of the "four dimensions". That's the main reason why so many people think of 5D as a somewhat inferior record: if it ain't the jangle, and if it ain't the Hillman bass, and if it ain't the harmonies, it ain't the Byrds. Which is a perfectly legal school of thought, but for me, ever so often I happen to think that a band's least typical record just might be its best one - if only accidentally. And 5D happens to represent one of the accidents, although it took me a long time to gather enough courage and step out of the closet. The subjectively objective fact of my, perhaps one-dimensional, life is that not only do I not find one bad tune on the record, which, after all, isn't that important, but that I never ever feel bored while listening to it. Yeah, so I do respect the Byrds and all, but there are times in life when every single one of their records leaves me grateful - and cold. Not this one, which has the bounce-'n'-chug of 'Mr Spaceman' sitting cozily right next to the rampant orchestration of 'Wild Mountain Thyme' and to the psycho-romance of 'I See You', and so on ad infinitum. Half of this stuff is beyond reproach, and the other half is at least redeemed by the first one. Certainly the Byrds don't make my heart beat like a hammer when they're trying to be grizzly and/or funky. Their version of 'Hey Joe' inevitably pales in comparison with the classic Leaves rendition, not to mention how Jimi would soon metamorph it into a sonic spaceship. Likewise, the instrumental guitar workout 'Captain Soul' is primarily there to show us they can do "stingin' blues" and there's somebody in the band who can blow some harmonica, too. But 'Hey Joe' is a fine song (granted, a little hard to tell behind all of Crosby's paranoid yelling), and 'Captain Soul' makes a pleasant impression. They'll vanish into thin air, but leaving a fresh aftertaste. And I don't mind having a 'Captain Soul' in between all the wall-o'-jangle from time to time. Not that the wall-o'-jangle ever gets annoying. 'Wild Mountain Thyme' diversifies it by adding the already mentioned orchestration, which is fairly atypical of the times - not the fact of it being added, that is, but the fact that it tries to break away from the "Hollywood Soundtrack" stereotype; some of the string movements, in fact, sound vaguely 'Indian' to me, which could also hint at Crosby's infatuation with Ravi Shankar. 'I Come And Stand At Every Door' is titled and initiated in the most traditional way possible, but the song is, in fact, about the bombing of Hiroshima, and is also memorable for me because of its weird tempo, with the rhythm section clashing against the guitars in order to create a strange, loose, disorienting feeling. And 'John Riley' is unusually fast-paced for a Byrds ballad, and it's got a riff - simple, repetitive, and pleasantly melancholic (and its pleasant melancholy shines through even better on the instrumental version found among the bonus tracks). Every bit as good as these 'old-style' anthemic beauties are McGuinn's 'Mr Spaceman', Roger's passion for sci-fi taking on the guise of an ultra-catchy sing-along pop song; and Crosby's 'I See You', already bearing all the trademarks of Dave's greatness ("visionary" attitude, beautiful vocals, exquisitely tasteful atmosphere) and practically none of his suckness, even though that's not a word (there's a real tangible melody for Chrissake!). Same goes for 'What's Happening?', where the melody gets harder to find but the rhythm section doesn't seem to mind and saves the day while Cros ensures decisive victory with more of that unbelievably beautiful singing - he's seriously starting to rival McGuinn as the voice of the band, which, I guess, must have contributed to his eventual departure. Finally, I have yet to see somebody who likes '2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)', but I do. It's fun! And they actually recorded the sound of a jet plane two years before the Beatles did it - how's that for competition? As if that wasn't enough, the bonus tracks provide yet more wealth by including the great pop single 'Why', the fine jazz-blues workout 'Psychodrama City', and the moody instrumental version of 'John Riley', among other things; there's also a 'hidden bonus' - a lengthy radio interview with McGuinn and Crosby during their first visit to Britain, with all the replicas of the interviewer deleted so that the band members' sparse replies sort of materialise out of nowhere with eerie pauses between them; a nod, perhaps, to the general "surreal" style of the album itself? Weird. And to think that for years I've been conformingly clinging to the much more general opinion of Younger Than Yesterday being their best album. It's an excellent piece of work, no doubt about it, but 5D is a far more convincing balance of creative freedom and respectable tradition, and nothing beats the wildness of 'Eight Miles High', the catchiness of 'Mr Spaceman', or the beauty of 'John Riley'. To that 1967 album now goes the honour of 'quintessential', because it is indeed far more typical of the Byrds than the rampant spree of 5D. But deep down inside, I've always felt 5D was their exceptional masterpiece, and now I've gathered enough courage to come out and say it. Yep. Now it's time for me to get back to chucking wood and feeding penguins.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 13
The album where the guys' individual talents show through best of all, even if the album's not revolutionary at all...Best song: THOUGHTS AND WORDS
Track listing: 1) So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star; 2) Have You Seen Her Face; 3) C.T.A.-102; 4) Renaissance Fair; 5) Time Between; 6) Everybody's Been Burned; 7) Thoughts And Words; 8) Mind Gardens; 9) My Back Pages; 10) The Girl With No Name; 11) Why; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) It Happens Each Day; 13) Don't Make Waves; 14) My Back Pages (alternate version); 15) Mind Gardens (alternate version); 16) Lady Friend; 17) Old John Robertson.
Believe it or not, but this album clearly demonstrates that the Byrds' main talent lies in inspired songwriting rather than music ideology revolutionizing - unlike their successors, the Jefferson Airplane, who quickly cashed in on their innovative techniques and became unbearingly boring in just about two or three years time, the Byrds just wrote good songs. There's nothing groundbreaking in Younger Than Yesterday, and yet it's often considered their best album, which I more or less agree with. Not that it has a lot of truly outstanding tunes, but it's just consistent, more so than any of their other records (well, Fifth Dimension is close enough, but it has two significant misfires, while Younger only got 'Mind Gardens'). Even without Clark, they did manage to churn out a strong set of numbers: Crosby finally emerged as a significant songwriter, Hillman led them in their country direction, and McGuinn did his usual tricks.The 'album of surprises', I'd like to call it. I mean, most of the songs here have something unpredictable about it - sometimes nasty, but more often pleasant and intriguing. The best example is 'C.T.A.-102', a fast jolly ditty which looks like a throwaway during the first verses, but suddenly metamorphoses into a wild technophilic groove stuffed with weird electronic noises (what are they? Mellotron? Hydroelectric power station signals? Who gives a damn?) They sound terribly dated, of course, but they're still engaging. They also experiment with other 'psychedelic' elements, like backwards guitar solos. The strangest thing is that they're present and play a large part in both the best and the worst songs on the album. 'Thoughts And Words', my personal favourite, is a dark, melancholic 'love' song with stunning changes in tempo and an other-worldly refrain ('I knew what you wanted to do...') spiced with hallucinogenous backwards guitar licks. On the other hand, 'Mind Gardens' is an erratic Crosby raving which could have been passable, if not for the disgusting cacophony of backwards guitars which make the song sound as if it was recorded inside a real beehive. Fortunately, bonus tracks on the album include an earlier version with simple acoustic guitars instead: it doesn't really convince me that there was a reason for the song to be recorded in the first place, but at least this version could not have marred this masterpiece of an album so badly. Later on, Crosby managed to control his ravings and make them charming (like on CSN's 'Guinevere', for instance), but here it is obvious he's only trying. Wait, though. I forgot all about 'Everybody's Been Burned', his obvious chef-d'oeuvre on the album. No backwards solos, no banal quotations from Shakespeare, the song sounds almost like a confession and should be played in churches. Of course, if you don't like Crosby's style, you'll hate the song; otherwise, you'll just have to spend a little time listening to it until it sinks into you - Crosby's that kind of guy. Right. Other goodies on here include the self-parody anthem 'So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star', complete with audience screaming noises and almost self-deprecatory lyrics; the countryish 'Time Between' which starts suspiciously close to Dylan's 'I Want You' but quickly transforms itself into something reminiscent of the Who's 'Don't Look Away' (only it's nowhere near as primitive); the pleasant throwaway 'The Girl With No Name'; the contemplative rocker 'Why'; and, of course, the beautiful ringing melody of 'Renaissance Fair', probably the most famous song on here. Don't know whether it has something to do with 'Scarborough Fair': the subject matter certainly hasn't, but the general romantic, hypnotic atmosphere, and the stunning harmonies certainly have. Oh! The album also features a return to Dylan covers, and if you wonder why the hell they had to fall back on old Bob when they had already enough material to fill up an old barnyard, don't worry: 'My Back Pages' is as good a cover as anybody's gonna get, with McGuinn sounding as high and romantic as possible. I don't know whether harmonizing on the '...I was so much older then...' refrain was a good idea, but it doesn't spoil the song much. Of course, the album's title is based on the song, as you might have guessed. Yeah, the album is so perfect that even the bonus tracks don't do much here. Alternate versions of 'My Back Pages' and 'Mind Gardens' don't help much (like I said, the latter just isn't a very good song regardless of anything); Crosby's 'Lady Friend' is a brassy waste of vinyl, and only 'It Happens Each Day' is good and thought-provoking enough to hold up to everything else. Shucks, no matter. The album gets a solid, immaculate 10. But don't buy it if you're willing to understand the Byrds' place in the story of rock'n'roll. Get either Tambourine Man or Fifth Dimension then. This is just a better album - as we know, "innovative" and "well-written" don't often equal each other. In fact, come to think of it, they almost never equal each other: "well-written" usually follows "innovative", being based on the actual innovations and improving upon them. The Byrds' career moves are perfect proof.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
Transitional album, with the sci-fi side, the hippie side, and the country-western side kicking each other's ass. Not always a pretty sight.Best song: GOIN' BACK
Track listing: 1) Artificial Energy; 2) Goin' Back; 3) Natural Harmony; 4) Draft Morning; 5) Wasn't Born To Follow; 6) Get To You; 7) Change Is Now; 8) Old John Robertson; 9) Tribal Gathering; 10) Dolphin's Smile; 11) Space Odyssey; [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) Moog Raga; 13) Bound To Fall; 14) Triad; 15) Goin' Back (version 1); 16) Draft Morning (alternate end); 17) Universal Mind Decoder.
This one's easily the most turbulent album in the entire Byrds catalog. Starting from the fact that it's eerily short - clocking in at under thirty minutes, almost like one of those early Beach Boys albums, and ending with the fact that within these thirty minutes it manages to pack a whole boatload of ideas, scattered, mishmashed, bumped against each other, and without any coherence or conception whatsoever. And it's not that surprising considering the circumstances. The band was by then entirely lost in its ideals, with band members not quite understanding each other's, or even their own, purposes. The oh-so-ever-hippiefying David Crosby was kicked out of the band in the early autumn of '67; and drummer Michael Clarke followed suite in late autumn (he's still pictured on the album sleeve, but that's an anachronism since by January '68, when the record did come out, he was no longer a band member in any sense).That said, Notorious Byrd Brothers is still a classic McGuinn/Hillman/Crosby collaboration, and the last 'true' Byrds album in any particular sense. It already announces the first signs of the radical transition the Byrds were to effectuate later in the year, with a couple direct country-western sendups; yet essentially it is still "art-pop" a la Sixties, the band's main and most obvious contribution to the Summer of Love, with Guru Crosby taking lead whenever he can, and when he cannot, Guru McGuinn steps forward and indulges in his acute sci-fi urges. And occasionally they merge the styles together, too. The album is very hard to get into - in fact, at times I was almost grateful that it was so short, because that gave me an opportunity to tune in to each of the songs in a more detailed way. None of the songs are bound to grab you at once, and many of them are bound to confuse you. And remember, the Sixties were not only the perfect time niche for producing timeless masterpieces, it was also a time rife on failed experimentation. Sincerely, that's the only "polite" epithet I can give for something as incredibly dated and dumb as the closing track to this record, 'Space Odyssey'. I like Anglo-Saxon ballad-style vocal melodies when they're set to Anglo-Saxon instrumentation. But when you take a long (four minutes - a very impressive length for this album) long long monotonous ballad melody and instead of setting it to some nice acoustic guitar, or maybe mandolin or bagpipe, and set it to a psychedelic rhythmless distorted guitar and a wailing spacey Moog, all you get is pointless novelty shit. I don't care if the Byrds were the first to use Moogs on a rock record (and actually, they weren't - I know for sure the Monkees used it earlier), they don't do anything good with it on this song. It's the album's 'Mind Gardens', and even sicker. Fortunately, it's the only openly offensive number on this record. Everything else ranges from tolerable to enjoyable to occasional genius, and yeah, it's all very much a product of its time, but unless you belong to that rigid class of people claiming that the only good music in the late Sixties was being done by the Kinks (or, in a different camp - by the Velvets and the Stooges), you'll find plenty of excuses for liking the material. It pretty much goes to show how perturbed the band was at the moment, though, if the two best songs on the album were penned by Goffin and King. 'Goin' Back', an older hit for Dusty Springfield, is here revitalized in typical Byrds fashion, with dreamy angelic harmonies and great chimes in the right speaker; and the fast rollicking country-western number 'Wasn't Born To Follow', with guest star and future Byrd Clarence White on guitar, is miles more exciting and uplifting than most of the Byrds' country stuff that'd follow - of course, the insane use of phasing during the mid-section is mighty questionable, but doesn't really spoil the song much. As for the band's original material, there's plenty to laud as well. The brass-dominated drug ode 'Artificial Energy' opens the album on an excellent note - you could say the song's anthemic brass-based sound is a direct nod to Sgt Pepper, and you'd probably be right, but it's a fun nod. The anti-war number 'Draft Morning' (with a melody that McGuinn appropriated from Crosby and lyrics that he rewrote after firing him) really shows how different the Byrds were from your average San Francisco band like the Jefferson Airplane - despite the chaotic gunfire section in the middle, it's actually all peaceful and loving and full of heavenly vibes throughout, none of the Airplane's aggression and venom. 'Get To You' is an extremely pretty country ballad, "graced" by something weird in the mid-section (eh, sounds like somebody's voice processed through a Hammond organ - no idea, really). 'Old John Robertson' picks up the same tempo as 'Wasn't Born To Follow' but rips it up in a far more energetic way, with acoustic guitars, electric guitars, strings, obligatory phasing, and an unexpected string quartet passage in the middle. And while Crosby's 'Tribal Gathering' is yet another in his long string of hippie throwaways, 'Dolphin's Smile' is exquisite and beautiful. Of course, it's the bonus tracks this time that help to make the experience more complete. At least two of them - 'Moog Raga' is a hilarious attempt at imitating Indian music with synthesizers (and a successful one!), and then there's 'Triad', Crosby's infamous menage-a-trois epic eventually recorded by the Jefferson Airplane. Sue me, I like the Airplane version far more because I'm such a sucker for Grace Slick's voice, but this here ain't no sucker either. McGuinn's refusal to include it onto the completed Byrd Brothers was a major reason for Crosby's leaving the band - symbolizing the ultimate breakup between McGuinn the folkster and Crosby the burgeoning hipster. And if that doesn't give you an exact indication at the tensions in the band, then wait until you get to the 'hidden track', a bit of studio dialog between the band during the recording of 'Change Is Now', where Michael Clarke can't seem to figure out what it is exactly that McGuinn wants him to play and the band just goes nuts over it. Very similar in mood to the Let It Be footage.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
The famous beginnings of country-rock, but the album as a whole is dang uninteresting.Best song: YOU AIN'T GOING NOWHERE
Track listing: 1) You Ain't Goin' Nowhere; 2) I Am A Pilgrim; 3) The Christian Life; 4) You Don't Miss Your Water; 5) You're Still On My Mind; 6) Pretty Boy Floyd; 7) Hickory Wind; 8) One Hundred Years From Now; 9) Blue Canadian Rockies; 10) Life In Prison; 11) Nothing Was Delivered; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) You Got A Reputation; 13) Lazy Days; 14) Pretty Polly; 15) The Christian Life (rehearsal); 16) Life In Prison (rehearsal); 17) You're Still On My Mind (rehearsal); 18) One Hundred Years From Now (rehearsal); 19) All I Have Is Memories.
You never know how much a 'secondary' figure in the band can suddenly influence the sound of the whole band. Just like Mick Taylor revolutionized the Stones' sound a year later without the band even realizing it, the arrival of Gram Parsons on the scene proved to be crucial and, in the long run, disastrous for the Byrds. McGuinn originally planned a double album drawing on every genre in the history of American music, a kind of anthology of Folk, Bluegrass, Country, Jazz And Blues - an idea later shared by the Doors, surprisingly. However, neither of the bands had enough guts to carry out the idea, so the Doors recorded The Soft Parade (bummer), and McGuinn took Parsons' advice and recorded an all-country album instead. This isn't even country-rock - it's just pure country, with pedal steel guitar as the only prominent instrument in existence. The result is that it gets boring. And boy, does it get boring...Now I don't know that much about country music - I'm no expert, really. But I know for damn sure country music can be really really entertaining - like, for instance, the countryfied version of Dylan's 'You Ain't Going Nowhere' that opens the album. Once again, McGuinn does an outstanding singing job on this one, maybe their third best Dylan cover after 'Mr Tambourine Man' and 'My Back Pages': for once, the composition can be called 'improved upon', at least as compared to the rather sloppy version on The Basement Tapes. And the Parsons-led choruses are particularly impressive, with the band soaring up to the skies with simple and uncomprehensible, but beautiful lyrics ('ooh-wee, ride on high/Tomorrow's the day my bride's gonna come...') But what about the rest? One after another, we get ten dull, gloomy, ploddering numbers that resemble each other like two drops of water and make the record sound horrendously dated and pointless - sometimes it seems that McGuinn didn't really care at all about what he was singing as long as it featured some steel pedal. The songs are all covers, except for the sole Parsons original ('Hickory Wind') which everybody seems to love for no obvious reason - to me, it sounds like everything else on here: a slow, dreamy pedal steel ballad with a primitive melody and typical country lyrics. It's... how do you describe it? It's like the proverbial country song - all the necessary ingredients to form a country song are there, but there's nothing to distinguish it from every other country song in existence. In fact, I pretty much prefer listening to Woody Guthrie's 'Pretty Boy Floyd': at least it's fast, and I like the tongue-in-cheek accent of McGuinn on this one. Another good number is 'Nothing Was Delivered', yet another Dylan cover: which actually convinces me as further proof to the fact that they just didn't get enough good material. 'The Christian Life'? 'Blue Canadian Rockies'? 'Life In Prison'? Bores the living hell out of me. I mean, really, country music can be much more exciting. It's not the great melodic diversity, of course - like all 'root' genres, country is pretty limited - but it's the interesting tricks and mood shifts you get that make a country track sound great. Songs like the above mentioned ones, or, for instance, 'You Don't Miss Your Water', don't lift their heads up from the 'zero level' not for a single second: just the same expressionless, formulaic slide guitars (God knows I love slide guitars - but you gotta diversify the chords, too), expressionless, soulless vocals, and trivial arrangements. Berk. Country my ass. I'll take Dylan's Selfportrait over this stuff easily, at least Bob shifts tempos and puts some colour and flavour into his voice as he goes along. On the positive side, I don't have anything in particular against this stuff - it doesn't offend me nohow. But I tell you, these songs shouldn't have all made it to the same album, because it ruins their individual charm (not that all of them have individual charm: 'Blue Canadian Rockies' is as dull as may be). And some sound like countrified takes on their earlier and better material ('I Am A Pilgrim', a pale shadow of the far superior 'I Come And Stand At Every Door'). The endless bonus tracks on here mostly add alternate takes with Parsons vocals instead of McGuinn ones, which isn't as interesting as it might seem. However, it does include three previously unreleased cuts which liven up things quite a bit, just because they break with the pattern: 'You Got A Reputation' is still countryish, but it sounds mean and menacing, with an atmosphere that recalls the dangerous psychedelia of 'Thoughts And Words'; 'Lazy Days' is a groovy Chuck Berry-style rocker where McGuinn sounds like Ringo Starr, so you just have to give it a listen; and 'Pretty Polly' is one of those scary, nightmarish folk songs that Bob Dylan was so fond of, with a lyrical subject that reminds me of 'House Carpenter'. Why they haven't made the grade back in 1968 seems obvious - they have next to none pedal steel; however, in retrospect it seems that, were they included, the album would only have benefited from that. And yet - didn't they inspire Dylan for Nashville Skyline? I mean - lead for once instead of follow? Who cares? Skyline isn't one of his best albums, anyway.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 9
A totally excessive record - an uninspired mess of derivative country rock and heavy metal. This ain't even the Byrds - it's just Roger McGuinn.Best song: DRUG STORE TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN
Track listing: 1) This Wheel's On Fire; 2) Old Blue; 3) Your Gentle Way Of Loving Me; 4) Child Of The Universe; 5) Nashville West; 6) Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man; 7) King Apathy III; 8) Candy; 9) Bad Night At The Whiskey; 10) My Back Pages/B. J. Blues/Baby What You Want Me To Do; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) Stanley's Song; 12) Lay Lady Lay; 13) This Wheel's On Fire (alternate version); 14) My Back Pages/B. J. Blues/Baby What You Want Me To Do (alternate version); 15) Nashville West (alternate version).
The Byrds are one group that have certainly been outlived by the epoch. Everything was against them, in fact, and since Hillman and (Gram) Parsons took their leave right after Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, leaving McGuinn as the only founding member, with none of the other ones even approaching veteran status, this should be the perfect moment to bring the band to a close. But Roger decided to carry on, and the only thing he managed to achieve, with a couple of sudden surprising exceptions like Easy Rider (see below), was a really bad tarnishing of its long-time, hard-earned reputation. Let me get it straight: I don't hate the 'Roger McGuinn Experience' (as Brian Burks calls it), at least, not what I heard up to now. But this album always leaves me with a burning feeling of absolute confusion, because I just don't feel the need for its existence. This is the first Byrds' album with not even a single original idea. This is especially uncomfortable since the Byrds had always rode on the back of revolution - their albums were always more notorious for their radical musical ideas, rather than the actual songwriting. Their first albums introduced us to the 12-string folk rock guitar, then they dipped us into proto-psychedelia, and finally became the forefathers of country rock. On Dr Byrds And Mr Hyde, they don't do nothing interesting. At all. Moreover, we're not even lucky to witness any entertaining songwriting - Crosby, Hillman, Parsons and Clark are long gone, and that only leaves poor Roger.The album title is bound to symbolize the band's 'dual' personality: their 'roots obsession' of country rock and McGuinn's cherished image of 'space rockers', temporarily abandoned on Sweetheart but clumsily reprised here. This explains the band's being portrayed as cowboys on the front cover and spacemen on the back one. But it doesn't make for a good listen, because most of the tunes are at best marginal. The country ditties that McGuinn gets on here are at least endurable - of course, it's kinda miserable to hear one of the one-time all-greatest world rock bands engage in archiprimitive lyrics celebrating a dog named Blue ('Old Blue'), but it's also kinda funny, you know, and the tune could have fit easily on Sweetheart. Then there's one of the best ballads on here, the sweet 'Your Gentle Way Of Loving Me', and, of course, the famous Parsons leftover - 'Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man', with lyrics so politically engaged that it was even sung by Joan Baez at Woodstock. It's just a solid, memorable country rock tune with nothing special to recommend it, but, after all, Parsons was never an absolute musical or lyrical genius - he just wrote one crafted vehicle after another, and that's just one more. There's also a minor instrumental ('Nashville West'), but it's totally insignificant - for some reason, every little country-practising band or artist considered it their due to record a little throwaway country boogie with the word 'Nashville' in it (take Bob Dylan or Ringo Starr for further examples). By the way, do you think Bob's falling in love with country had anything to do with the Byrds? And if what - who influenced who? Nashville Skyline came out a year after Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, of course, but then there were already multiple country elements on The Basement Tapes. Seems like the regular thing, after all - McGuinn and the boys just ripping off one more Dylan facet. Now if you pardon my digressing, we'll move on to the nastier side of the album, the 'psychedelic' rockers. This is where the hatred towards the album lies. Some of these songs are totally and unpardonably crappy, like the ridiculous, sloppy 'Child Of The Universe' which seems to be nothing more than a conventional tribute to the epoch's 'spiritual' requirements; but 'Bad Night At The Whiskey' is little better, and only two of these 'exotic' numbers make the grade somehow - the riff-full, bouncy 'King Apathy III' (which sounds to me like an old folk rip-off, but I can't prove that), and the obligatory Dylan cover: maybe the procedure did already resemble a stone around the neck, but, after all, the Byrds always saved their butt in that matter - when there was no good material left, they took Dylan songs. Here it's a full-blast, metallic take on 'This Wheel's On Fire', with a pathetic McGuinn vocal, generic metallic solo by guitarist Clarence White and some dated synthesizer noises at the end. Not that I ever liked the song in the first place (but I kinda dig The Basement Tapes more now that I've assimilated these two Byrds records). Finally, after another totally bland ballad ('Candy'), they embarrass themselves with a four-minute R'n'B jam that unexplainably begins with a reprise of one verse of 'My Back Pages' and turns into 'Baby What You Want Me To Do' halfway through - but these Byrds weren't certainly qualified enough for this kind of stuff. I mean, even if we take away our bias and try to imagine the Byrds as rockers, this is still a rather feeble affair. Taken together, all these circumstances wouldn't make me give the album a rating of more than 4, but the bonus tracks are enlightening here: the alternate versions of 'This Wheel's On Fire' and the above-mentioned jam are actually better, because they don't try to sound like Led Zeppelin, and the cover of 'Lay Lady Lay', released here, is miles better than the overblown version released later on single. So I kindly give the album a 5 and tell it to go to hell. Nothing can be actually more distasteful than hard-rocking Byrds.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 2000
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
There's a lot of expressive country-rock charm here, but a lot of a mess as well.Best song: HE WAS A FRIEND OF MINE
Track listing: 1) Nashville West; 2) You're Still On My Mind; 3) Pretty Boy Floyd; 4) Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man; 5) Medley: Turn Turn Turn/Mr Tambourine Man/Eight Miles High; 6) Close Up The Honky Tonks; 7) Buckaroo; 8) The Christian Life; 9) Time Between; 10) King Apathy III; 11) Bad Night At The Whiskey; 12) This Wheel's On Fire; 13) Sing Me Back Home; 14) So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star; 15) He Was A Friend Of Mine; 16) Chimes Of Freedom.
Two things strike you the most about this archive reissue of the Byrds' performance at the... well, just look at the title anyway. One is the singing. I sometimes can't believe it's actually McGuinn that does the singing. It's not like he misses the notes or something, but he gives the impression as if he's deadly drunk, deadly stoned, and deadly brainwhacked at the same time. The singing is stuttering, the voice is trembling, the high notes are gone for shit, it's almost pathetic. Amazingly, he still sounds good in spite of all that, but it's a very different sort of goodness; it's the goodness of a friendly, but shy, timid, nervous, paranoid fellow who's either on the brink of a breakdown or just had one. At least on the faster numbers he manages to pull his act together, but the slow numbers just sound like the vocals are gonna explode and run steamin' down the sides of the bucket at any minute. Hee.The second thing is an almost total lack of response from the audience - either they were all stoned like Roger, or the hall was less than half full. Or, most probably, the Fillmore audiences just weren't ready for that performance. You know, that's San Francisco, not friggin' Nashville: if you're in San Francisco, you're supposed to be playing whacky hippie music, stuff like 'Eight Miles High' and a million clones thereof. Well, they actually do 'Eight Miles High', but not much else - a good seventy percent of this album or so is straightforward country-rock stuff. Obviously, the audience was only moderately active. At least they didn't boo the Byrds offstage or anything (the days of booing at Bob Dylan were long gone by, after all). Why this release anyway? The liner notes never give a hint at why for the first (and so far, the only) archive release of a Byrds concert Columbia didn't find anything better than unearthing a show with Roger McGuinn as the only "true" surviving Byrd, not to mention that this particular Byrds lineup already had a live release - the live half of 1970's Untitled. Maybe they just didn't have good quality recordings from the preceding year or two, or maybe the original Byrds totally sucked live, I have absolutely no idea. Look at the track listing for God's sake - with such a huge emphasis on the band's two worst Sixties albums... It's amazing that it still came out as good as it did. I guess the major good thing about the record is that in a live setting, the interaction between McGuinn's and White's guitars works really well. This is not pure country any more; this is certainly country-rock, as the guys only use electric guitars, and this immediately gives the tunes a certain power and "quirkiness" that was lacking on the original recordings. Of course, no electric guitar power can save a tune as totally wretched as 'The Christian Life' (certainly one of the more "offensive" songs to be played before a San Franciscan audience, no doubt), and lots of the songs still fall together in an undiscernible mess. But I'll tell you what, I actually have fun listening to Clarence ripping it up on the generic, but pleasant instrumental 'Buckaroo', his tribute to his mighty friend Buck Owens, and the same goes for their inspired performance of 'Nashville West' and the speedy runthrough of 'Pretty Boy Floyd'. They're also busy explaining the story behind 'Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man' (apparently dedicated to their being pissed off at a redneck Nashville DJ who "said he didn't like hippies"), somewhat 'redeeming' themselves in the faces of the tripped out fans by indirectly denying that they have sold out to Nashville, and the song itself is full of great tasty licks as well, some of which seem to have been appropriated from 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere', by the way, but don't quote me on that. Yet at the very same time they end the "main" portion of their show with Merle Haggard's 'Sing Me Back Home', so whatever. The "oldies", naturally, don't occupy a major place in the setlist. The big, and weird, surprise is Hillman's 'Time Between' (from Younger Than...) - most probably, chosen due to being the most 'countryish' song in their pre-1968 repertoire. As for the rest, they cram the three "biggies" ('Turn Turn Turn', 'Mr Tambourine Man', and 'Eight Miles High') into a rather stupid medley, sort of giving the fans the proper indication that they don't want to refer too much to their past, out of which only 'Eight Miles High' can be called outstanding with some reservations, due to excellent solo trading between White and McGuinn; and end the show with three more oldies, with a particularly heartfelt rendition of 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', for which McGuinn actually pulls his vocal abilities together and, for once, sounds like the real true Jim McGuinn of old. 'So You Want To Be...' and 'Chimes Of Freedom' are performed with enough verve, but they're nothing special anyway. So think what you want of this album; me, I think it's one of the more pointless and disappointing live releases of Sixties archives, but that's on a relative basis - with two or three exceptions, the setlist is pretty good, and besides, add on something like a half-point for historical importance; after all, the Byrds audacious enough to rip apart the sacred psychedelic halls of the Fillmore with their straight-up country-western attack is certainly a historical event worth preserving. Now you people in Columbia, pull it up together and release something from an earlier period. Please?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
A sudden regeneration of good taste - the nice-sounding guitars and heartfelt vocals are back.Best song: BALLAD OF EASY RIDER
Track listing: 1) Ballad Of Easy Rider; 2) Fido; 3) Oil In My Lamp; 4) Tulsa County Blue; 5) Jack Tarr The Sailor; 6) Jesus Is Just Alright; 7) It's All Over Now Baby Blue; 8) There Must Be Someone; 9) Gunga Din; 10) Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos); 11) Armstron, Aldrin & Collins.
Surprise surprise - this record is very good, and indeed for some time it seemed that the Byrds were back, even if with just one original member. It's almost as if Roger had taken a retrospective analysis of the preceding album and filtered out the very mistakes I've been complaining about. First of all, the Byrds never try any more noisy distorted sludgefests: apparently, Roger decided that the band didn't really have enough guts to keep up with mammoths like the Who or Led Zeppelin and should stick to what it traditionally did better. Even more surprising is the fact that he'd completely abandoned the tricky 'psychedelic rocker', either. The only thing on the record to remind the listener of their 'astral' past is the stupid closing snippet 'Armstrong, Aldrin And Collins', but I guess he couldn't really resist paying a little tribute to space heros. And even there, only the spaceship sounds introduction is 'astral' - the main body of the paeon is folkish, based on just a simplistic acoustic guitar line.The other ten tracks fall into two interrelated categories - country-rock and folk balladeering. And some pleasant surprises again: for the first time since they plunged into country a year ago, the 'folk' direction is starting to predominate again, returning us to the atmosphere of the good old days of 1965. The title track that opens the album (it was the main theme for the infamous Easy Rider movie) is pure paradise, the thing I love the most on Byrds' albums: pure shimmering acoustic strumming (12-string acoustic?), unobtrusive, atmospheric orchestration, and a McGuinn lead vocal with its heartfelt plaintive, gentle intonations. Shame on me, but I really prefer when he's singing solo to the band's harmonies that often manage to strip a song of any possible traces of personality. Beautiful folk ballad; and the cover of Gosdin's epic 'There Must Be Someone' is only a few steps below, with some very appropriate lyrics, considering Roger's gradual falling out with all of his ex-colleagues. Sincere-sounding? Mayhaps. An album of surprises indeed - the biggest possibly comes from Gene Parsons who contributes the magnificent ballad 'Gunga Din', all replete with the same tasty acoustic jangle and a groovy crackling bass line. It isn't extremely memorable in the way of hooks, but the atmosphere works just fine, and the professionalism is astonishing: the guitar/banjo/organ interplay in the fade out is fluent and effective. Apart from the title track, the most well-known song here is their cover of 'Jesus Is Just Alright', and they do the job perfectly: it's not too often that you meet a rock reworking of a gospel number that's able to literally send shivers down your spine. It's a bit in the vein of 'In My Time Of Dying' - remember that number on Physical Graffiti? Well, 'Jesus' is just as catchy and grappling, but the Byrds wisely stick to a short version, making it just about two minutes long but getting the biggest kicks possible out of it. Again, the moody guitars, the severe, gloomy bass-line, the thundering drum fills, and the aethereal harmonies are all placed quite perfectly, and the effect is very puzzling: whereas the song is intended to be a celebratory hymn, it has a dirgey atmosphere about it, and I could easily picture it performed at a funeral, definitely not at a church service. What is this: irony or a philosophical reinterpretation? The obligatory Dylan cover this time is a very moving and subtle, ultra-slow version of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' (one can also find a more up-tempo earlier version as a bonus track to the re-issue of Turn Turn Turn). And thank God this time they decided to stick to the basics and drop the hard rock arrangements: are Dylan and hard rock compatible at all? Well, yes, they are, as Hendrix managed to show us; but McGuinn ain't no Hendrix, Mookie! That's it for the highlights - but then again, none of the songs on here are really bad. I'm not a particular fan of 'Jack Tarr The Sailor', because McGuinn is trying a bit too hard to outdo Fairport Convention on this traditional Anglo-Saxon ballad, a thing the Byrds were never too hard on, preferring to stick to American folk; and both 'Deportee' and 'Tulsa County Blue' hearken back to the blandness of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, but are still better than the majority of the tunes on that one because Roger takes 'plaintive lead vocals' on both. Meanwhile, 'Fido' rocks pretty hard - that's in the sense of 'rock', not in the sense of 'hard rock', as it's not really a hard rock tune - and I just love the organ swirls on the catchy number, hell, even Parsons' drum solo is pretty good and rhythmic. And, so as to mention every single song on here, 'Oil In My Lamp' has a fairly funny vocal arrangement. So, for a bit of time, it seemed that the Byrds had really returned - even if they didn't have any more innovation power left in them, they (or is it 'him'? Well, 'they', if you count the author of 'Gunga Din', too) were still able to come up with some first-rate material. I can't give it any more than a seven, because it's by no means a great or epochal record, and there's just a little handful of true classics on here; but generally speaking, my thumbs are up, and if only the band had stuck to this formula and not given a damn about anything else, they might have earned their latest incarnation a little bit more critical and artistic respect.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 12
Not perfect by a long shot, but way too much solid country-rock quality over its current sprawling 120 minutes to be disregarded.Best song: LOVER OF THE BAYOU (studio version)
Track listing: CD I [UNTITLED]: 1) Lover Of The Bayou; 2) Positively 4th Street; 3) Nashville West; 4) So You Want To Be A Rock'n'Roll Star; 5) Mr Tambourine Man; 6) Mr Spaceman; 7) Eight Miles High; 8) Chestnut Mare; 9) Truck Stop Girl; 10) All The Things; 11) Yesterday's Train; 12) Hungry Planet; 13) Just A Season; 14) Take A Whiff On Me; 15) You All Look Alike; 16) Welcome Back Home;CD II [UNISSUED]: 1) All The Things; 2) Yesterday's Train; 3) Lover Of The Bayou; 4) Kathleen's Song; 5) White's Lightning, Pt. 2; 6) Willin'; 7) You Ain't Goin' Nowhere; 8) Old Blue; 9) It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding); 10) Ballad Of Easy Rider; 11) My Back Pages; 12) Take A Whiff On Me; 13) Jesus Is Just Alright; 14) This Wheel's On Fire.
This is really the "Jim McGuinn Byrds Explosion" at their finest, but for Heaven's sake don't buy the original version, or if you already have it, find Jim McGuinn, make him autograph it, sell it on Ebay for a million bucks and then buy a copy of the double-CD Columbia re-issue (actually "retitled" as Untitled/Unissued, hah hah how funny). The original double LP gets a weak seven from me; the double-CD issue is a strong 8 if there ever was one.But everything in due order. In late 1969 the Byrds had another lineup change, throwing out John York and replacing him with Skip Battin, a very professional and astute bass player and a pretty shitty songwriter who also happened to be obsessed with Buddhism of all things (not exactly an uncommon practice at the time, but allow me to snicker a little all the same). At the same time, McGuinn teamed up with future Dylan collaborator Jacques Levy to write a musical to be called Gene Tryp, sort of a modern day reinterpretation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt. The musical never happened because it was considered too 'unconventional' (or maybe Levy's plot just plain sucked, which is not at all improbable), but the songs were written anyway and had to be taken care of. And finally, now that the Byrds arguably had their most professional and tight lineup in history, it was finally time to release a live album. So this is Untitled: one LP of live performances from early 1970 New York shows, and one LP a colourful melange of McGuinn and Levy's Gene Tryp, Skip Battin's amateur Buddhism, and Clarence White's no-nonsense country-rock influences. It has its low points, yet amazingly enough, it also has plenty of high ones, and for once, the new mark Byrds actually sound like they know what they're doing... at least, knew while making all these songs - the finished product may seem way too confused, but the material itself is pretty self-assured and self-confident. And, at times, well-written... that's important too. The live album isn't particularly wonderful, but the playing is hardly worse than on Live At The Fillmore; in fact, with the addition of Battin, it actually becomes better. The first side kicks off with two surprises: an unusually somber and menacing rocker called 'Lover Of The Bayou', specially written by McGuinn for that goddamn musical - and perhaps the most convincingly rocking song McGuinn ever did. He also makes himself sound harsher, hoarser, and almost evil on the song (I wonder if he was pulling creepy Voodoo faces for the audience?), and the guitarwork is hot. The second surprise is another Dylan cover - 'Positively 4th Street' this time, a decent enough performance, but hardly among the Byrds' best Dylan renditions. Then, after running through a predictable gamut of hits like 'Mr Tambourine Man' (there's also an energetic take on 'Nashville West' which actually kicks more ass than on Live At The Fillmore - but why is Battin playing boogie lines on his bass all the time?), the band dedicates the entire second side to a sixteen-minute jam mode performance of 'Eight Miles High', which just asks to be hated, but it's no fun predictably hating every sixteen-minute jam in sight, so to recompense, I'll say that it's quite amazing the Byrds were actually daring to enter jam mode - it speaks tons about their self-confidence at the time (remember, just about a year ago at the Fillmore the lengthiest track was the nine-minute three-song medley). Parts of the jam are actually entertaining; White and McGuinn really got it going on good, and during the drum-bass section you really get a chance to witness Battin's versatility. This is hardly Cream-quality jamming, but it's almost getting there - it's also weird that they only sing one verse of the song itself, and not until the sixteen minutes in question are almost over. (I do understand the audience breaking into heavy applause as McGuinn begins singing, though - yeah, not too soon, buddy!). Out of the studio stuff, McGuinn's songs are the best of the bunch: here is where you'll find the Byrds' last serious hit of any social importance, the epic 'Chestnut Mare' which could certainly do without McGuinn narrating the story of the chestnut mare instead of singing it, but the chorus is as beautiful as anything the Byrds have ever done - except that, of course, the line 'and we'll be friends for life, she'll be just like a wife' would definitely cause a few eyebrows to be raised. That's Jacques Levy territory, isn't it? Maybe these Broadway dudes were right after all... But then there's 'All The Things', which is almost just as good (great depressed vocals from Roger, nice romantic piano melody), and 'Just A Season' would not be out of place on all those early classic Byrds albums - in fact, the melody almost screams "Mr Tambourine Man-quality" at you! Finally, the remaining rocker 'Hungry Planet' (cowritten with Battin and Battin's crooney Kim Fowley - so it's more Battin than McGuinn, but it's the only really good Battin song on here anyway), with its thunderous synth-produced overtones, phased Roger vocals and chuggin' swamp-rock rhythms from the two interlocking guitars, is quite a treat in its own rights. Clarence White also gets a couple tunes on the record, reflecting his major country-rock fetish at the time - Lowell George's 'Truck Stop Girl' doesn't even sound like Little Feat, it sounds like pre-Skynyrd Skynyrd (even White's slurred nasal vocals sound a lot like Ronnie Van Zandt's), but it sounds decent anyway, and the old Leadbelly cocaine-related ode 'Take A Whiff On Me' (yeah, take that, Lou Reed!) sounds great in the hands of these guys. Which leaves us with Battin's tracks as the major stinkers: the reincarnation ode 'Yesterday's Train' is like a slopped-down, puffed-up 'Truck Stop Girl' which can't even be saved by Sneaky Pete Kleinow's steel guitar (go find George Harrison, Pete), 'You All Look Alike' is more generic humorless country a la Sweetheart, and the closing anti-Vietnam number 'Welcome Back Home' is mercilessly dragged down by its long and - naturally - completely out-of-place Buddhist coda. Wanna know what constitutes a dumb redneck? When you think that adding a Buddhist coda to your already poor composition will make it more 'artistic'. Ah well. Three spoons of dirt don't really spoil a pool of goodness... well, unless you happen to wade in directly where the spoons have been deposited. But wait! There's still the bonus Unissued disc! TONS of TERRIFIC goodies out there! First, you get some studio outtakes which - no kidding - are just as good as the original inclusions, and some much better. In particular, the long version of 'All The Things' is much more guitar-heavy and tasty as a result; the orchestra-less version of 'Kathleen's Song' (later to make it onto Byrdmaniax) is pretty as a baby's ass; another Lowell George song, 'Willin', which you'll definitely like if you liked 'Truck Stop Girl'; AND - a MONSTRUOUS studio rendition of 'Lover Of The Bayou' which beats the live version to pulp - screw the original idea. The echoey McGuinn vocals... the rising harmonica lines... the cold, cruel, swamp-breathing guitar interplay... yeah, this is the kind of stuff that the original Byrds certainly could never have pulled off. And then there's a whole bunch of live tracks from the same Felt Forum shows that yielded the original recordings - if you ask me, they could have easily dumped the 'Eight Miles High' experiment and replaced it with these solid versions of 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere', 'Old Blue', 'Ballad Of Easy Rider', 'My Back Pages', and 'Jesus Is Just Alright'... and others. All in all - forty-nine minutes of mostly flawless material, easily one of the best "bonus discs" ever released; no Byrds fan should be without it, and believe me, you won't be ripped off. Together with the liner notes, Untitled/Unissued is just a cool musical journey - not perfection incarnate, not the best Byrds album, but just a very, very cool treat for lovers of McGuinn's voice and country-rock in general. There.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 10
An almost complete sonic revolution here, but with thoroughly unmemorable results.Best song: JAMAICA SAY YOU WILL, or GLORY GLORY
Track listing: 1) Glory Glory; 2) Pale Blue; 3) I Trust; 4) Tunnel Of Love; 5) Citizen Kane; 6) I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician; 7) Absolute Happiness; 8) Green Apple Quick Step; 9) My Destiny; 10) Kathleen's Song; 11) Jamaica Say You Will; [BONUS TRACKS]: 12) Just Like A Woman; 13) Pale Blue (alternate version); 14) Think I'm Gonna Feel Better.
With Untitled as a last unexpected gasp of "epicness", the late-period Byrds settle into a smoothly flowing, level-headed groove that's not too much of anything - but it does warm your heart a little bit anyway. Apparently tired of sustaining the same country-rock formula through three albums in a row, McGuinn tries to make the sound bigger on here, bringing in lots of session players and adding brass sections and even orchestration at leisure. No song on Byrdmaniax gets one single instrument leading over everything else, and while the resulting sound is never cacophonous (after all, these guys were way too experienced in musicmaking by the time), it also doesn't do much in memorability terms.I don't want to bite too hard, because almost every song here is pretty, and some even approach "grand", but it still sounds like a band on autopilot. There are practically no new melodic ideas - McGuinn is busy recycling old country and gospel standards, while the Battin/Fowley songwriting team is busy recycling, uh, novelty songs or something. It says a lot about the potential of the Byrds that even while working totally without inspiration, they are able to make an album that can sometimes inspire the listener (me, for instance): hey, they don't get their four stars for naught. The record opens and closes with a bang and a blast - 'Glory Glory', which is almost never selected as a highlight, looks highly underrated to me in particular. Isn't it fun how the simpler a gospel classic is, the stronger it makes an impression? Besides, it may be just me, but it seems that McGuinn's tearful voice is much more suited for passionate gospel than for substandard religious country - just look how much better this stuff is than, say, 'Christian Life'. The only real comparison I can draw here is George Harrison, the only other guy (white guy, at least) who could make gospel-tinged material sound so very natural and emotional. The closing highlight, unsurprisingly, is also a cover: 'Jamaica Say You Will' by the then-relatively-unknown Jackson Browne. And again, it's only pulled off by Jim's masterful vocal delivery - nothing else. Well, that and an ounce of "hookishness" in the chorus, because that is exactly what separates it from those other watery McGuinn ballads like 'Pale Blue', 'I Trust', and 'Kathleen's Song': all immaculately played and produced, all beautifully sung, none memorable at all. 'My Destiny' is memorable, but only because it's got the same melody as about a hundred thousand country ditties written before. It's all fine and dandy for McGuinn fanatics, I guess, but same McGuinn fanatics would probably be happy to hear their idol sing the Coca-Cola song, so what does it matter? The fact that out of all the Roger material on here, I find the two covers to be the best tunes, certainly says a lot about his songwriting skills in 1971. Apart from that, there's lotsa Battin/Fowley on here: surprisingly, none of these songs suck, but apart from the loungey mock-Hollywood-ode "Citizen Kane" and its unforgettable chorus, they're all pointless - 'Tunnel Of Love' is a rewrite of 'Blueberry Hill' that never knows when to stop (hey, I can write this stuff too, just give me enough room to add on five or six more amateurish verses), and the obligatory Buddhist hymn 'Absolute Happiness' is certainly nirvana-like in that it can't be described in any available human language terms. Somehow it just fails to exist in my mind, you know. Add two quick lightweight interludes - the Gene Tryp comic outtake 'I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician' and the obligatory country-western instrumental 'Green Apple Quick Step', none of which registers all that much on the Great-o-meter - and there you have it, a record that never offends yet almost never uplifts either. Granted, it's really far from horrible; its getting trashed by so many reviewers has more to do with the fact that they expect much more of the Byrds than of any other band than with the actual "suckiness" of the songs. And of course, plenty a Byrds-fan will want to proclaim this as his favourite album because it's cooler to like something forgotten and underrated than something that isn't. But that's not up to me to decide. It's up to me to recommend something - and I wholeheartedly recommend this if you can find this cheap. And you won't be needing the remastered version either unless you deem your Byrds-do-Dylan collection incomplete without Roger's so-so take on 'Just Like A Woman', an alternate version of 'Pale Blue' (which means I've listened to the song about eight times or so and still can't remember how it goes), and an unexpected re-recording of Gene Clark's 'Think I'm Gonna Feel Better' that adds nothing to the original, as well as some cheap studio banter during the recording of 'Green Apple Quick Step'. Well, whaddaya know: cheap bonus tracks for an overall cheap album.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
An unexpectedly generous, noble and all-out well-rounded end to the "McGuinn Experience".Best song: BUGLER
Track listing: 1) Tiffany Queen; 2) Get Down Your Line; 3) Farther Along; 4) B. B. Class Road; 5) Bugler; 6) America's Great National Pastime; 7) Antique Sandy; 8) Precious Kate; 9) So Fine; 10) Lazy Waters; 11) Bristol Steam Convention Blues; [BONUS TRACKS:] 12) Lost My Drivin' Wheel; 13) Born To Rock And Roll; 14) Bag Full Of Money.
Irrelevant as heck, but hey, so were the Eagles, and they still sold millions of albums. This record, then, ranks about as high as the highest Eagles peak (eerie?), which is a bit funny considering how it's so often pegged as, if not exactly the Byrds at their worst, then at least the Byrds at their "trifling-est". Right they are, the critics, that is. This is a very lightweight offering, and it certainly marks the lowest point in Roger McGuinn's career as an experimentalist. In a way, it might just be the band's equivalent of Dylan's Selfportrait: a record that's just as self-deprecatory, almost offensively unpretentious and utterly forgettable. That is, forgettable until the point when you suddenly get an urge to dig it out from under your bed, brush off the dust and give it one more try.Give it that try and whoops, suddenly it's not like it's bad at all! In fact, it's downright delightful. Switch it around with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and nobody would notice the difference, except for people like me who get bored by the monotonous flow of Sweetheart and much prefer the more jagged, but far more captivating flow of Farther Along, where lethargic country rockers are well compensated for by some mildly entertaining rock'n'roll and vice versa. There are no great classics on here - not even a single 'Chestnut Mare' in the mix - and no attempts at sounding epic and bombastic, like 'Glory Glory' or 'Jamaica Say You Will', but at this time of year, that's alright with me. There are no really weak spots either. Yes, that even goes for the much-reviled 'America's Great National Pastime', usually pegged as the last piece of bullshit stuffed into the Byrds' effigy by the Battin & Fowley duo, but I rather fancy it. It bounces, it brags, it's got silly (but hardly dumb) sarcastic lyrics, but it got me "funny in the tummy", so to speak, and perhaps you've really truly got to be American to appreciate the offensive dinkiness of the hicky melody, whereas to me, it is dinky and hicky and catchy, but hardly offensive. Why the heck it was released as a single boggles the mind, though - with'Farther Along' as the B-side? Would the Beatles ever dare to release 'You Know My Name' as an A-side?.. The only other Fowley/Battin contribution on here is 'Precious Kate', a generic folksy ballad that might as well have been written by McGuinn in about three seconds (actually, for Battin it took five minutes, according to the liner notes) - again, forgettable, dispensable, fillerish, whatever, but prettily arranged, atmospheric and not entirely devoid of hooks altogether. McGuinn is being a bit too Dylanish in his intonations here, but that's hardly a first. Yet it still perfectly ties in with the other ballads on the album, such as the banjo-and-echo-dominated 'Antique Sandy' - short, sweet, and with a thoroughly enchanting electric piano solo in the middle. Sometimes, usually while being in a fairly show-off state of spirit, I keep thinking it's nice little moments like these that are worth being a completist for: digging out minor gems out of a sea of mediocrity. (Not that this album is really mediocre, mind you - I'm not givin' you nitpickers a chance to catch me contradicting myself here). Sure, you can argue all you want about wanting to spend your time in a more fruitful way and all, but hey, sometimes it's easier to see God in one rose among a field of weeds than in a whole field of roses, you know. Back on the ballads' track, the Clarence White-sung ode to a dead dog ('Bugler') is indeed one of the major highlights, and for good reason: it just about totally borrows the laid-back innocent-romance atmosphere of 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere', slightly altering the melody and replacing the pseudo-beatnik nonsensical lyrics with something more 'accessible'. God knows which of the two songs I'm holding closer to my heart, but that hardly means I'll just write 'Bugler' off as an inferior pastiche and be through with it. It's really touching, warming the heart in classic Byrds tradition. Yup. In a way, so does the title track which sounds almost exactly like all those coma-inducing waltzes on Sweetheart, but has the undoubtful benefit of being just one song of its kind on the album. Plus, there's just something so goddamn authentic about that song - I'm not sure what, but it probably has to do with the fact of its being a traditional bluegrass oldie. Once you get rid of the temptation to associate that ol' smell with the idea of a smelly old racist redneck, it works perfectly fine, and why should you come up with these associations anyway? Nobody presses you to. Certainly not the Byrds. And, like I said, there's some good ol' timey rock'n'roll on here to heat up your engine once you get tired of all the country mush. Parsons' 'B. B. Class Road' is basic barroom boogie - novel, yeah, but still somewhat interesting to hear on a Byrds album (I wouldn't mind hearing the Byrds' take on thrash metal, either, it's just that they had the nerve to break up before the genre really took off). And if the opening chords of 'Tiffany Queen' don't sound like something you'd rather expect from the Stones than the Byrds, I guess your knowledge of the Stones must be limited to 'Anybody Seen My Baby (Pressing Me To Rap On My Records So They'd Sell More)?'. Now, the Byrds wouldn't ever be able to do great gritty rock'n'roll, but it's fun to hear McGuinn jingling and jangling in the solo parts, as if saying, 'yeah, I know this is supposed to sound like Chuck Berry, but let's make it melodic, too!'. Finally, just to spice things up a bit, you get the band's expert and enjoyable take on J. Otis' 'So Fine' (a 1959 hit for The Fiestas) - a song that looks not unlike Goffin/King's 'Chains', same kind of catchy optimistic bouncy pop that made the Beatles' debut album such a gas - and a delicious closing bluegrass instrumental ('Bristol Steam Convention Blues'); much like 'Green Apple Quick Step', it produces no great shakes, but subtly influences the state of your well-being anyway. Add to this the good ol' bonuses - an early version of 'Born To Rock'n'Roll' (see next review) and two solid early performances of two of McGuinn's best songs on his debut solo album (see somewhere even lower) - and the entire package comes off fine and smooth. I don't usually award this stuff elevenses, but I'll make an exception simply due to consistency reasons. Maybe there wasn't that much inspiration, perspiration, or experimentation, but there was no bullshitting either, and most of the time that we spend on this planet that is the most important point. This one's a living dog rather than a dead lion, but according to a certain Biblical character, that's no great fuck-up, and I tempt to agree. At any rate, it was a nice note upon which to happily end up the McGuinn/Parsons/White collaboration. Now they could pass the reins on to the Eagles and get on with better things. All except Clarence White, that is, who perished soon afterwards.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 11
Decent and cozy swansong - instead of going out with a bang, they go out with a flourish.Best song: FULL CIRCLE or CHANGING HEART
Track listing: 1) Full Circle; 2) Sweet Mary; 3) Changing Heart; 4) For Free; 5) Born To Rock'n'Roll; 6) Things Will Be Better; 7) Cowgirl In The Sand; 8) Long Live The King; 9) Borrowing Time; 10) Laughing; 11) (See The Sky) About To Rain.
I have absolutely NO idea why this record always gets such a bad rap from critics and fans alike. I have to guess it has to do with the usual bane of all music lovers: inadequate expectations. Indeed, after four years of 'second-hand Byrds' that were more like Roger McGuinn's new backing band and hardly ever qualified among all serious music lovers in the early Seventies, this record was like a revelation for the fans. A new Byrds record! And with all the Byrds in their original line-up: McGuinn, Crosby, Clark, Clarke, and Hillman! It was somehow downplayed that the boys were in it for the money more than for anything else, having been offered a really lush wad o' dough if only they reformed in that lineup. Worse, the impatient fans and pernicious critics apparently forgot that the year was 1973 and not 1965 - were they really expecting the Byrds to release another Mr Tambourine Man and revolutionize rock music one more time? After all the burnouts? After all the crises and perturbations? After not having worked together in that same lineup for six years? Hah! If anything, the Byrds here set that first, and rather sad, precedent: the Reunion Gag of an old washed-up band, primarily for financial and secondarily for nostalgic reasons. Something that so many bands would have performed only later - like, in the Eighties or Nineties. Jefferson Airplane? Traffic? Zombies? The Who, of course? Don't remind me...With all that in mind, it's only natural that the Byrds' eponymous album should have been met with lowered expectations. And - surprise, surprise - when met with lowered expectations, it's actually not a bad record at all! In fact, it's surprisingly good. Essentially, they're working in the same country-rock formula as usual, but another Sweetheart Of The Rodeo it is not. Because, dammit, the Byrds aren't trying to do some 'authentic' country-rock. The songwriting isn't particularly inspired (not surprisingly - the main source of inspiration has been represented by five bank accounts, it seems), but it ain't at a particularly low level, either, and given that Clark, McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman have all been among America's most distinguished songwriters at one time or other, this is still a record that lots of inferior bands would kill for. The songwriting is more or less split between all of these four, plus, they throw in a couple Neil Young covers for good measure and even one (mediocre) Joni Mitchell tune. Now if anything really spoils the album, it's Mr Crosby's contributions. In fact, stuff like 'Long Live The King' sounds totally out of place here: Crosby hasn't bothered to shift his hippiesque CSN style a single bit, and the song is just a stupid puffed-up rocker in the vein of 'Almost Cut My Hair'. Too much unclear aggression and pathos, too little melody. And Crosby also gets to contribute the lengthiest contribution to the album - the never-ending 'epic' 'Laughing' that drags even more and packs in twice as much lethargy as that soporific, but at least emotional cover of 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' off Easy Rider. To make matters worse, it's actually a re-recording of one of the songs from his debut solo album (greedy about original material, eh, Mr Cros?) If you ask me, David could have been the main reason this half-assed reunion never lasted that long: he'd strayed too far away from the Byrds' original image to be able to fit in once again. Who did he think he was, really? Throwing out the Crosby stuff, though, we're left with an almost entirely pleasant listen. The main star of the record is Clark, of course; both 'Full Circle' and 'Changing Heart' could have easily fit on any of those 1965 records, fast-paced, upbeat, slightly melancholic, folk-rockers (folk-poppers?) with tremendously catchy vocal hooks and graced by all kinds of mandolins and banjos. Too bad there's only two of them. McGuinn also distinguishes himself with a complaintive, atmospheric ballad ('Sweet Mary') and even a tolerable devil's music anthem ('Born To Rock'n'Roll'). That latter's title is rather inconvenient - the song hardly rocks, in fact, its main verse melody is a shameless rip-off of Dylan's 'I Shall Be Released', but if you drop the unpleasant 'rip-off' epithet, drop the pretentious song title and just judge it as another in a row of Dylan covers/tributes, it really works. Plus, both of Hillman's songs are slight, but nice - 'Things Will Be Better' has this really cool, a bit goofy synth riff to underpin the melody, and 'Borrowing Time' is just one of those country stompers that you don't really give a damn about when it's over but fully enjoy and feel happy and silly about while it's on. Cheerful and bouncy. Like that. Add to that that the Neil Young covers rule ('Cowgirl In The Sand'! '(See The Sky) About To Rain'! What else to be desired?), and you got yourself something that I really can't sneer or jeer about. Why so many people give it, like, one star out of five, is way beyond me. Unmatched expectations, it's all unmatched expectations. It's the worst bane of any artist - unmatched expectations. If you ever did a Mona Lisa, take care - they'll be ready to crush you and smash you if only you DARE make something nice and ordinary. It's the fate that executed Dylan on Selfportrait or, say, Gentle Giant on Giant For A Day. Don't waste a TON of money on this album, anyway, but if you see it for cheap, pick it up and give it a spin. As far as good, unexceptional records go, this one's definitely among the greatest. And a nice and adequate swansong, too - Abbey Road it isn't, but not too many bands are able to go out with such a calm, pleasant, smooth and eventually memorable piece o' plastic. Count me happy. Just count me!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
APPENDIX: SOLO PROJECTS
The Byrds had a lot of solo members, and many of them had a lot of solo projects and sideways stuff. Crosby's later career is, of course, documented on the CSN page; Hillman and Parsons' adventures as the Flying Burrito Brothers are described in their respective place. This appendix will be, then, mostly dedicated to Roger McGuinn's output as the "closest" in heritage to the original Byrds. I am also quite interested in Gene Clark's sonic explorations, many of which are said to be first-rate, but since I haven't heard any of them, I'll refrain from commenting for now.
Year Of Release: 1973
Overall rating = 10
No surprises. Roger McGuinn = Roger McGuinn.Best song: THE WATER IS WIDE
Track listing: 1) I'm So Restless; 2) My New Woman; 3) Lost My Drivin' Wheel; 4) Draggin'; 5) Time Cube; 6) Bag Full Of Money; 7) Hanoi Hannah; 8) Stone; 9) Heave Away; 10) M'linda; 11) The Water Is Wide.
Roger's first solo album - and this is his first solo album, in that it is fortunately devoid of Skip Battin and Kim Fowley - is nice, clean, and thoroughly unspectacular, but you could hardly expect it to be any other way. In fact, it feels a little rushed; it was released almost right after the Byrds' one and only reunion album came out, and even features all of the Byrds together on one track. And, of course, McGuinn isn't going out of his way to think of something new; what you mostly get is the same pleasant lazy folk-rock vibe you've had from the man, well, forever. But he's still got his voice, and his ability to hook you with the simplest of pleasures, and a sense of taste and measure, and that big ol' ten inch... record he occasionally pulls out from under the ground to freshen up an old folksy gem or two.He even preserves his taste for all things spacey: 'Time Cube', essentially a standard banjo-driven dirge or something, gets lotsa synth feedback and synth bleeps to open our mind to the perspectives of Time Altering and Travels in Parachronology. Granted, when it gets to the end his synths start producing a sound not unsimilar to the ones my kettle produces when telling me it's boiling, but you know, life is just full of these odd little similarities you pick on now and then. Does this mean Roger McGuinn can't convincingly sing a space dirge? He can. He's Roger McFuckinGuinn with his kettle boiling. Other minor surprises include a chorus of scantily clad innocent little children (okay, forget "scantily clad", I just thought a little ambivalence out there couldn't hurt) singing the introduction to the unmemorable, but touching ballad 'Stone' (most definitely a current favourite of some emotionally unstable nerd like me sulking in his dark room and seeking consolation in taking personal advice on spirituality from a total stranger - one day I'll get a reader comment from him, you'll see); Latin percussion on the stupid, but moderately charming 'M'linda' - am I mistaken, or is this Roger's first venture into the world of Shakira and Ricky Martin?; and maybe the fact that 'My New Woman', the one track recorded with the Byrds, sounds much more like a drunken Crosby mess than a song that has anything to do with the ultra-sober mind of Mr McGuinn. Everything else is predictable to the last note, which is not a complaint; the day I start seeking unexpected musical revelation in the collected works of McGuinn, Esq., is the day aliens take over and reprogram the mind of both me and Roger. One song is certainly worth getting to know by everyone and not just those who spend their afternoons lurking in McGuinn's Folk Den: 'The Water Is Wide', a very very beautiful slide-guitar-filled uptempo ballad that I'd personally love to see kick the shit out of all that Sweetheart Of The Rodeo crap. In fact, it was such an obvious highlight Dylan even included it into his Rolling Thunder Revue program, as you can hear for yourself on the Live 1975 album. Dylan himself also seems to contribute harmonica on 'I'm So Restless', which does sound like a very inferior (or very late, or very early) Dylan outtake. Elsewhere, Roger is penning fun little ditties like 'Lost My Drivin' Wheel', rather poorly produced (for such an abundance of guitars, you'd think he'd provide some better vocals), and the stupidly catchy 'Draggin' (stupidly because you'll get to remember the endlessly repeated refrain going 'Draggin', draggin' 'cross the USA/Draggin', draggin' from New York to LA'!). Oh yeah, there's also 'Hanoi Hannah', a drunken song sung by a very not drunken singer (that's the problem with Roger - the guy can sing anything, but if you ask him to get mean and dirty he just won't be able, no matter how happy he'd be to oblige; he'll sing Iggy Pop material as if it were Beethoven) that can pass as a moment of indirect social critique, and a couple more songs that I don't really seem to remember at all. One thing that does get noticed is the intentional toning down of the recordings; during the Byrds' sunset McGuinn had often displayed this strange tendency to pile on orchestration and stuff, but this record is quiet and only heavy on the guitars. It's also absolutely not hit-oriented, as if you could say Roger just gave up on trying to recapture the stardom of old and just concentrated on appealing to the old trusty fans. Speaking of this, one thing I don't quite understand is why this stuff isn't called "The Byrds", but probably after that re-union McGuinn just had a moment of repentance, and besides, it's one thing to fire your members one by one and go on as if nothing happened, and another thing to reassemble the band from total scratch once the members have all flown away to mind their businesses after a reunion. So it's "Roger McGuinn" from now on, baby, starting a rather productive Seventies' career that only totally crazy people like me can pay attention to. Say, what am I doing here even reviewing this? I should be doing Radiohead now! This old crap has no, whatchamacallit, goddamn, uh... vitality? resonance? importance? actuality? whatever, I seem to have forgotten the blasted word. I'll tell you later, when I've remembered.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Overall rating = 9
Generic arena-rock tendencies - I've got a baaaad feeling about this.Best song: GATE OF HORN
Track listing: 1) Peace On You; 2) Without You; 3) Going To The Country; 4) (Please Not) One More Time; 5) Same Old Sound; 6) Do What You Want To; 7) Together; 8) Better Change; 9) Gate Of Horn; 10) The Lady.
The second McGuinn solo album is also his first one obviously written according to the formula "better to get shit out of the system than to keep it roaming inside", so often used to near suffocation by so many people, reason # 1 why pop music generally sucks (don't quote me on that, though, because there are bound to be people interpreting that in a way that fits their own mischievous schemes). Not that I'm really so harsh on this record, not at all. It isn't offensive (how many times have I started my review in the same goddamn way? apparently, creativity isn't my forte - yet then again, it is directly dependent on the reviewed material), but there's no reason for anybody to respect it or really like it that I can see.There are no Byrds here, and there's also a rather clumsy attempt to beef up the sound again, but this time by making the bass fatter and the guitar louder rather than thinking of a semi novel way to employ orchestration (Byrdmaniax). So the title track, anthemic in scope and ambition, becomes big and messy and not unlike something you'd hear on a second generation prog record; thank God at least he keeps the synths at bay (I'm not sure if there are any but I think I do hear some atmospheric whirly background... oh yeah, it's definitely there, but overshadowed by guitars, pianos, and backing vocals). Sounds nothing like classic or non-classic Byrds either, and the 'peace in the valley, peace in the sea' chorus is just a bit too campy for my taste. Perhaps born again Christians will appreciate it more. 'Peace On You' is by far the loudest track on the album, but most of the others are also "sterilized" and usually reduced to a very simple and boring formula. 'Same Old Sound' may indeed be the same old sound, but not the same old Byrds sound. The guitars are flat and overshadow each other, not to mention playing simple repetitive chords without a voice of their own; and Roger's voice is buried somewhere in between sounding just as flat and tired - so the song's potential, represented by a nice vocal hookline, gets completely lost on the listener (me, that is). '(Please Not) One More Time' has Roger trying to whip up the boys in a frenzy: the bassist tears at the frets like mad, the piano guy plays like Nicky Hopkins in the coda of 'Salt Of The Earth', and somehow it never even begins to work. 'Going Down To The Country' has McGuinn himself in a frenzy, and it doesn't work either. The minute I start thinking there might be some genuine excitement in hearing a guy whine 'going down, going down to the country' to a generic roots-rock beat is the minute I forget all the cliches of the world for being cliches and start taking them for the real stuff. And 'Without You'? I would have been MUCH more happy had it been the cover of the Badfinger song. Unfortunately it just isn't. It's much worse, even if it's also a slowly creepin' "power ballad". Okay, so repeated listens may, and probably will, help, because it's still McGuinn and that at least means professionalism and knowledge, if not necessarily ability to get you interested. But trust me, I just don't have time, nor the will, for repeated listening to Roger McGuinn's out-of-print 1974 album, what with so many treasures still lying around undiscovered. I hope Mr McGuinn himself will understand. However, before I go, there is one really sweet track on here I dig with all my heart: the relaxing lounge number 'Gate Of Horn', with its great intermissions where Roger picks up the twelve-string again and gets out some rabble-rousin' jangling out of it. It's light, entertaining, funny, and oh so much more heartfelt than most of the other, more "solemn", stuff on here, probably because of the little nostalgic puff ('Gate of Horn, Gate of Horn, glad I was Chicago born...' and so on). It really gives me the McGuinn I've grown to know and like - the gentle, moving personality, so drastically absent from most of the album. And then there's also 'The Lady', that closing half-ballad-half-not-ballad which is really drowned in twelve-string and is more or less the only song on here fit for a classic period Byrds record; but it's also overproduced, with unnecessary fuzz effects on the guitar, and all the guitars flatter than a pancake, AND essentially unmemorable. What's up with the Dylan imitation on 'Better Change', too? Or rather, a cross between Dylan and Stills: had I heard 'Better Change' without knowing, I would have said without hesitation it's a Stills track, essentially. And that's hardly a coincidence, because by "rockifying" his trademark sound, McGuinn indeed threatens to descend into bland Stills-occupied territory, churning out aurally pleasant, but generic and expendable soft-rock. At least Stills was there first, and Stills knew how to have a great hook in his song better than McGuinn, whose main talent had always been in knowing how to get right under your skin with a tearful vocal delivery. But Peace On You shows Roger steering away from that direction (a couple exceptions like the boring ballad 'Together' really don't count); maybe he was going to try and have some success in arena-rock business or something. Anyway, just a classic case of a record that's only there because someone happened to make it.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Overall rating = 8
"His band" is obviously not as inspired as "The Byrds", but it could have been better anyway.Best song: KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR
Track listing: 1) Somebody Loves You; 2) Knockin' On Heaven's Door; 3) Bulldog; 4) Painted Lady; 5) Lover Of The Bayou; 6) Lisa; 7) Circle Song; 8) So Long; 9) Easy Does It; 10) Born To Rock And Roll.
Strange phenomenon - this record theoretically seems better than the one before, with slightly more memorable tunes and not as much generic hard rockers, but in the end it leaves me desiring even more than its predecessor. Again, it seems as if McGuinn were totally flying on autopilot, eight feet high at most. Out of gas and out of material, he even resorts to covering his own material from late period Byrds, perhaps hoping that nobody'd notice since nobody ever noticed late period Byrds either. But 'Lover Of The Bayou' never really improves over the Untitled (or the studio Unissued) version, maybe because of "his band" - the atmosphere in the studio is like 'get over with it and go have a cuppa tea'. And while 'Born To Rock And Roll' does rock a little bit more than the Byrds version, that still doesn't change the fact that the song is an 'I Shall Be Released' rip-off in the verse and thoroughly anticlimactic in the chorus (from the likes of it, you'd think he were born to doo-wop rather than rock'n'roll).There's also a cover of 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' on here, somewhat appropriate because McGuinn spent some time recording it and the rest of the Pat Garrett soundtrack together with Dylan himself, and it goes without saying that it's the best number on the record - McGuinn can do a great Dylan cover in his sleep, on his deathbed, or even worse, when sandwiched in between Kim Fowley and Skip Battin. Nowadays it is somewhat obsolete, though, now that we have McGuinn dueting on the number with Dylan himself on Live 1975, and chasing down this out-of-print record for one cover alone is hardly worth the effort. Still, just to be honest, it is a very good version, much better than the omnipresent reggaified Eric Clapton one. And Roger actually does turn it into an emotional plea - as we all know, Dylan is way too witty and sarcastic to resort to "emotional pleas" of any kind. I mean, check out the original version; it's not as if Bob is begging to take these guns away from him, it's more like he's commanding to do it, in almost Biblical style at that. Roger's a real humble guy, though, and he does beg for it. Out of the rest, only the short folk-rocker 'Bulldog' somehow manages to raise my eye, because the anguish and actual singing effort heard in that song slightly elevate it over the inferior stuff. Even so, I can't help but think what a real gem would someone like Fairport Convention - or Funkadelic, were the song's funk potential properly explored - make it into, with better instrumentation, a more kick-ass rhythm section, more kick-ass everything. There are some fairly decent ballads, too, but nothing ranking with the best McGuinn stuff out there. I may be hallucinating out there, but it even seems to me his voice is deteriorating; nothing even remotely approaching, say, the heights of 'Ballad Of Easy Rider' on here. Besides, there are no hooks. 'Easy Does It' has Roger chanting the title over and over, very slowly and lazily, and essentially doing nothing else - I don't think many people will be excited, especially considering that the instrumental backdrop for the song is as boring as possible. No nice loud jangling, no memorable acoustic riffs, and maybe just a couple equally lazy obligatory slide guitar licks. I can't say he'd never before tried constructing songs by weaving them around one single idea, but in that case, they weren't nearly as long, and at least they were better played and recorded. Must I elaborate any further, really? Well, for those weirdos who love their Roger McGuinn all Latin-based and shit, there's the dance number 'Lisa'. For those who love their Roger McGuinn all barroom-based doing Skynyrd stuff and the likes of it, there's the riff-based rocker 'So Long'. For those who love their Roger McGuinn as a gentle tender country rocker, there's 'Circle Song'. For those who love their Roger McGuinn totally unclassified, there's the album opener 'Somebody Loves You' (three guesses who - and no, the answer is not "David Crosby"). But have I got bad news for all ya suckers: all these types of McGuinn, whether they be relatively new and previously unexplored or as well-known as peanut butter, suck just about the same on these songs. There's about as much inspiration here as in Britney Spears' left pinkie. (Oops, did it again - went and rendered my review unreadable for anyone five or ten years on. Sorry.) For the record, if you're really interested, "His Band" is David Lovelace on keyboards, Steve Love on bass, and whoever else on drums - all people I've never heard of and you probably haven't either. No wonder the instrumentation throughout is so uniformly shitty. What, McGuinn couldn't find himself better players? You're kidding me, right?
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Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating = 10
At least a little bit of energy is back. Believe it or not, Dylan still was able to revitalize someone ELSE in 1976.Best song: UP TO ME
Track listing: 1) Take Me Away; 2) Jolly Roger; 3) Rock And Roll Time; 4) Friend; 5) Partners In Crime; 6) Up To Me; 7) Round Table; 8) Pretty Polly; 9) Dreamland.
This is certainly an improvement over the last couple of records, but still hardly the big return to form that it is sometimes hailed as (the AMG almost hints at the album reverting us back to prime Byrds quality or something - were they listening to a different album or am I going insane?). Recorded and released after McGuinn took part in Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour, it boasts an active contributor in ex-Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson, who plays much of the electric guitar on here (an unlikely collaboration for sure, but somehow it works in spite of all the odds), and a passive one in Dylan himself, of course, who contributes the best song, 'Up To Me' - an outtake that you can have in Dylan's own version on Biograph (and which actually metamorphosed into 'Shelter From The Storm'). This is, of course, the ultimate trick that never fails: Roger McGuinn can write shitty song after shitty song, but Dylan composition + McGuinn delivery = a formula that hardly ever fails. Even so, 'Up To Me' is a good song, but not one of Dylan's best, and not entirely suited for Roger's style, cuz it's done in the "Macho Dylan" style of 'Idiot Wind' etc., and Roger is much better at 'Croaky Dylan' or 'Whinin' Dylan'. Besides, it's rather monotonous, and the trivial arrangement doesn't do it much justice; nobody will have it far up on their favourite Dylan cover list.It's still the most memorable number, though. Elsewhere, Roger joins forces with Jacques Levy, his former Late Tryp colleague and Dylan's lyricist (sic!) for Desire, and tries getting some fresh hot-blooded material out of his own system. Result # 1: a pirate song, uninventively called 'Jolly Roger' and uninventively set to the generic sea shanty motive, but once you get past that, it turns out to be decent. The question is not whether it's original or adds something to the buccaneer legacy, the question is whether a wuss like Roger McGuinn is suited to singing this kind of material? Well... sort of. His ever-hoarsening voice, probably aided by a couple shots of whiskey before the actual recording, sounds strangely close to authentic, even if I'm not entirely sure Captain Flint and his buddies would be fooled; most probably Mr McGuinn would be hanging upon the mast in no time. "Scurvy buccaneer" my ass. At least the song provides a title and an album cover for the whole thing. There's yet another "blast from the past" - 'Pretty Polly' can be heard as a bonus track to Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, although this version is a little rougher and thus a little more attractive for me personally, me who was so irritated by the slickness and boringness of that record. And finally, the last "empty spot" untouched by Roger's own creative muse is the album closer: Joni Mitchell's 'Dreamland', weirdly arranged as a half-acoustic, half-fuzzy-electric rocker, with blasts of phased distortion ripping the stuffing out of your ears in between each verse. It's quite a nifty touch, but, unfortunately, the only one - the song gets boring in about two minutes time, and it goes over five. Now I can sometimes forgive Dylan for doing that, or Joni herself, but for McGuinn, this should be strictly prohibited. Surprisingly, though, a couple of Roger's own rockers are quite fair: either his vocal cords are so well worked on, or maybe it's Ronson's ever-tasteful electric playing, but 'Take Me Away' rocks harder and produces an overall better impression than any rockin' song he'd done in quite a long time, and 'Rock And Roll Time' has a good glammy riff that David Bowie sure could have used on Aladdin Sane or something. These rockers won't stay with you forever, in fact, chances are they'll quickly go away once you've changed the record, but they're good clean (or dirty) fun while they're on, and they're not fake like 'Born To Rock'n'Roll', which further confirms the original idea: if you are NOT born to rock'n'roll, find someone who IS, and he may save your butt in the long run. However, not even Mick Ronson is able to save the album's weakest spot, the "mini-musical" 'Partners In Crime', a sort of "realistic story" with several alternating parts, which really feels as if it were originally intended for a Broadway show or something like that. Very pathetic and a little overblown, it lacks memorability, energy, innovation, and whatever other positive quality I can think of; a deadly, never-ending bore. Goshdarnit. And to a lesser extent, this problem can be applied to everything on here: unlike its predecessor, Cardiff Rose has at least one good idea for almost every song, but rarely has more than one idea. Which is sad, really: I'd say that by Byrds standards, McGuinn only had, like, twenty minutes worth of decent material for this record, and he stretched them into thirty six.
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Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating = 9
The pun's all right, but there's not much thunder in here, you can believe me.Best song: WE CAN DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN
Track listing: 1) All Night Long; 2) It's Gone; 3) Dixie Highway; 4) American Girl; 5) We Can Do It All Over Again; 6) Why Baby Why; 7) I'm Not Lonely Anymore; 8) Golden Loom; 9) Russian Hill.
Seems like mediocrity is the lot Roger McGuinn has firmly settled on: once again, he produced an album that can only be deeply taken to heart by a long-time admirer after he's gotten sick of spinning all those other discs. If there was a mild, mild, mild spark of interest in Cardiff Rose, on here it's cut in two because the excitement has gone. McGuinn is still working with Levy, and he's still doing the Dylan cover routine, but it just doesn't seem to work.Of course, the most notable sign o' the times is that McGuinn is covering 'American Girl'. Yes, McGuinn - the master - is covering Tom Petty - the apprentice. Like Rod Stewart covering Oasis, or David Bowie covering the Pixies, or J. J. Cale covering Clapton... wait, hasn't happened yet. It's not bad per se, of course; there's nothing shameful about covering a song by somebody who's been a good learner of your own style. In fact, it is probably symbolic: with things like these, "dinosaurs" are willing to admit that life still goes on after they themselves run out of gas, and sometimes maybe are even moved by the noble wish to promote their worthy successors. But on the other hand, it is also, at least on the subconscious level, sort of a sad thing, like a proclamation of artistic retirement, passing the adventurer's cap on to fresh blood. Indeed, the more I listen to this version, the more I realize how diluted, blurry, uninvolving it sounds compared to Petty's original - yes, McGuinn's vocals are uncannily similar to Petty's, as I've just come to realize (or should that be the other way round?) slower, with undistinguished muddy vocals, a lazy energy-stripped beat, and a lengthy quasi-E Street Band sax solo that impresses me about as much as anything the E Street Band ever did (which is not that much - although, granted, Bruce's second album had its moments). And where's that quirky 'make it last all night' line from the backing vocals? Gone it is. Anyway, somebody please write a Ph.D. comparing the two songs; I'd bet you anything you'll find the key to unraveling the mystery of rock music lying there, somewhere around. That said, in Roger's version 'American Girl' doesn't sound out of place on the album, because every song on here is draggy, hardly memorable, yet with pretentions at being soulful and introspective/philosophical. And once again, Roger is at his least generic when doing a Dylan cover - only this time the Dylan song is the Desire outtake 'Golden Loom', not a bad song, but not the kind of material the Byrds used to excel at. There's some sharp guitar riffage here and some decent pedal steel breaks, but it's not a song that grabs you like 'My Back Pages' used to do. Maybe Roger should lay off the outtakes for once and do a 'Tangled Up In Blue' instead. As for the original material, well, the album begins as a truly exquisite bore, with one generic rocker/shuffle/ballad after another, all a mess of pretty-sounding guitar sounds and pretty sounding vocals that go nowhere and do nothing, just like on a particularly unsuccessful Eagles record. 'Dixie Highway' is a piece of folk-rock-turned-barroom-rock that makes me think I've crucially underrated Lynyrd Skynyrd all the way - I wonder just how many pieces of same-sounding crap like this have been pushed onto passive listeners over the years by heaps and heaps of talentless derivative hacks, and now Roger McGuinn appears to be joining their rows. However, if you manage to sit your way through to 'American Girl', things do pick up a little steam from then on. 'We Can Do It All Over Again' is a rare case of a really good McGuinn original from the late Seventies - and without a doubt, it's all because the song is drenched in nostalgia, the only feeling that Roger can still communicate perfectly without sounding like a self-parody or like a big fat zero. Lyrically, the song is a lament about the wasted rock'n'roll years and the long lost love passion that these years have gnawed away, and you can't question that tiny streak of sincerity and real pain running in Roger's voice when he sings 'darling if I don't let you down, would you do it all over again', although I'd personally prefer if his vocals hadn't been hidden behind these generic, feeling-less, and somewhat chaotic backup singers. What a good, honest song - maybe Roger should have gone brave and put out a whole record of stuff like that. When you're turning forty, nostalgia never hurts, because it's anything but forced. There are other good bits on the second side: 'Why Baby Why' has an unexpectedly jolly slide guitar uplifting the already playful rocker, bringing the album out of its generally slumpy mood, and 'I'm Not Lonely Anymore', in dire contrast to 'We Can Do It...', is a ballad of hope and optimism, as if Roger's partner actually agreed to do it all over again. And as for the "epic" album closer, 'Russian Hill', full of reminiscences and introspective ruminations on the past and the present, it's also nostalgic, but a bit too sludgy and pompous for me to take it close to my own heart - maybe you can do it. In any case, Thunderbyrd is built on contrasts - a couple really good songs side by side with lots of predictable, forgettable throwaways and straightahead crap, betraying Roger's ever-worsening songwriting abilities. Maybe he himself understood that, or maybe he didn't, but fact is that he never released another solo album in almost fifteen years, sticking instead to collaborations with Hillman and then to born-again Christiandom.
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Year Of Release: 1991
Overall rating = 11
Back again and kicking, eh? Well, at least the beats are, uhm, lively.Best song: they're all one.
Track listing: 1) Someone To Love; 2) Car Phone; 3) You Bowed Down; 4) Suddenly Blue; 5) The Trees Are All Gone; 6) King Of The Hill; 7) Without Your Love; 8) The Time Has Come; 9) Your Love Is A Gold Mine; 10) If We Never Meet Again.
Back From Rio? Featuring Ricky Martin as backup vocalist? Santana on lead guitar? Including a cover of 'Sympathy For The Devil', specially renamed 'Antipathy For The Devil'? Well, no, not quite. I don't know whether Roger had really been to Rio (well, at least we're supposed to believe this due to that bit of corny dialogue at the end of 'Car Phone'), but the album certainly shouldn't have been called that. Back From Suck would be a much better title.This is Roger McGuinn's best solo album - one released after about a whole decade of doing little more than short solo acoustic concerts and various piddling stuff like that. This is not a masterpiece or anything, but after a very hit-and-miss solo career, you don't exactly go around expecting miracles. It's simply the best set of songs Roger could squeeze out of himself at the moment, exploring all of his strengths, forgetting most of his weaknesses, and bringing on a couple of talented friends for support, including even the "faithful disciple" Tom Petty, who co-writes the album's single 'King Of The Hill' (correct me if I'm wrong here). Now it's so unexpectedly good that it's been hyped up by many as a really really great comeback, but it shouldn't be treated that way. I doubt even Mr Jim himself wanted to have a "really really great comeback" here. He just wanted to write some real songs and record them the way he'd like to do it, not the way that the times could have dictated. It's one of the most "trend-free" albums of the decade, and in that respect it reminds me most of Caravan's Battle Of Hastings - same kind of simple, moderately catchy, upbeat songs driven by lively acoustic and (less often) electric riffs, totally independent of any electronics, hi-tech synths, or various cunning production devices of the technological era. (Which is quite understandable for Caravan, but is actually a surprise for McGuinn, considering his Sixties' obsession with hi-tech devices - 'C.T.A.-102' anyone?). On the other hand, McGuinn's own voice is suddenly richer, more full, and more touching than on any of his records since at least the self-titled 1973 album. This is probably related to the fact that there are no obligations - no need to conform to his own 'image', no desperate attempt to make it 'sell' because it won't anyway. No self-parodic sea shanties, no generic gospel numbers, and no attempts to 'rock out' or be 'tough' in any way either. No bull, just music. So pardon the guy if it all tends to sound exactly the same way - at least he's having fun with it. The first ten seconds of the record that you're gonna hear are fully representative of everything else - the drums set a moderately fast pattern, there's an acoustic rhythm guitar chugging out simple folksy chords, and then another acoustic guitar comes in to play a nice simple memorable riff. That's 'Someone To Love', the first song and possibly the best song because it's the first song. That 'all you need all you need is someone to love you' chorus is quite catchy and moody, and I dare you to disagree with the message. Yet another injection of the Sixties' spirit into the hip sarcastic Nineties - you can always count on a guy like McGuinn, or Brian Wilson, or Neil Young, to do that while all the youngsters are busy making weird noises with their guitars and thinking of highly original lyrics that make no sense whatsoever. One for the old uninventive nosers refusing to take in all that post-modernistic garbage! Slanted & Enchanted my ass! (Sorry right there - nothing against Pavement, but you do need to get yourself in the appropriate mood when reviewing an album like this one, or else I'd be just sitting here grumbling about dinosaurs heading for the graveyard all along, and that's no way to honour a distinguished veteran). Most of the songs follow that exact same model - 'You Bowed Down', 'If We Never Meet Again', etc., so there's not much use talking about them unless you want me to go into particular chord description which I'm not able to do. The Petty-cowritten 'King Of The Hill' also follows the same formula, if you're interested, and if I'm not mistaken, they actually duet on that song, but since their voices are so much alike, it's hard to tell where McGuinn ends and Petty begins and whether it's not just an overdubbing. A couple of the songs are slower (so I guess they're "ballads"), but that doesn't hurt: 'Without Your Love' is hardly worse than anything else, just slower and so a bit less exciting. 'Your Love Is A Gold Mine' is a bit more interesting in that McGuinn probably consulted the Geology Encyclopaedia to dig up as many different diamond names as possible - thus adding a new, previously unexplored, motive into love lyricism! At least, I've never encountered the word 'sterling' in English love poetry before. The only two "faster" songs that step away from the formula are 'Car Phone', more monotonous and 'robotic' than the rest and so really betraying more New Wave influences than necessary (regardless of the fact that New Wave happened more than a decade ago), and the electric-heavy 'The Trees Are All Gone' which is about you-know-what. Maybe ol' Jim thought the people would understand the concept of global warming better were it supported by wild freaky noises from the Electric Friend. Maybe something else - either way, the exceptions from the formula aren't bad. And this whole record too, it's damn good - not mind-blowing, but just one more proof you shouldn't discount the dinosaurs completely even if they haven't done anything worthwhile in almost two decades.
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