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The Byrds

Although they only attained the huge success of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys for a short time in the mid-'60s, time has judged the Byrds to be nearly as influential as those groups in the long run. They were not solely responsible for devising folk-rock, but they were certainly more responsible than any other single act (Dylan included) for melding the innovations and energy of the British Invasion with the best lyrical and musical elements of contemporary folk music. The jangling, 12-string guitar sound of leader Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker was permanently absorbed into the vocabulary of rock. They also played a vital role in pioneering psychedelic rock and country-rock, the unifying element being their angelic harmonies and restless eclecticism.

Often described in their early days as a hybrid of Dylan and the Beatles, the Byrds in turn influenced Dylan and the Beatles almost as much as Bob and the Fab Four had influenced the Byrds. The Byrds' innovations have echoed nearly as strongly through subsequent generations, in the work of Tom Petty, R.E.M., and innumerable alternative bands of the post-punk era that feature those jangling guitars and dense harmonies.

Although the Byrds had perfected their blend of folk and rock when their debut single, "Mr. Tambourine Man," topped the charts in mid-1965, it was something of a miracle that the group had managed to coalesce in the first place. Not a single member of the original quintet had extensive experience on electric instruments. Jim McGuinn (he'd change his first name to Roger a few years later), David Crosby, and Gene Clark were all young veterans of both commercial folk-pop troupes and the acoustic coffeehouse scene. They were inspired by the success of the Beatles to mix folk and rock; McGuinn had already been playing Beatles songs acoustically in Los Angeles folk clubs when Clark approached him to form an act, according to subsequent recollections, in the Peter & Gordon style. David Crosby soon joined to make them a trio, and they made a primitive demo as the Jet Set that was nonetheless bursting with promise. With the help of session musicians, they released a single on Elektra as the Beefeaters that, while a flop, showed them getting quite close to the folk-rock sound that would electrify the pop scene in a few months.

The Beefeaters, soon renamed the Byrds, were fleshed out to a quintet with the addition of drummer Michael Clarke and bluegrass mandolinist Chris Hillman, who was enlisted to play electric bass, although he had never played the instrument before. The band was so lacking in equipment in their early stages that Clarke played on cardboard boxes during their first rehearsals, but they determined to master their instruments and become a full-fledged rock band (many demos from this period would later surface for official release). They managed to procure a demo of a new Dylan song, "Mr. Tambourine Man"; by eliminating some verses and adding instantly memorable 12-string guitar leads and Beatlesque harmonies, they came up with the first big folk-rock smash (though the Beau Brummels and others had begun exploring similar territory as well). For the "Mr. Tambourine Man" single, the band's vocals and McGuinn's inimitable Rickenbacker were backed by session musicians, although the band themselves (contrary to some widely circulated rumors) performed on their subsequent recordings.

The first long-haired American group to compete with the British Invasion bands visually as well as musically, the Byrds were soon anointed as the American counterpart to the Beatles by the press, legions of fans, and George Harrison himself. Their 1965 debut LP, Mr. Tambourine Man, was a fabulous album that mixed stellar interpretations of Dylan and Pete Seeger tunes with strong, more romantic and pop-based originals, usually written by Gene Clark in the band's early days. A few months later, their version of Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!" became another number-one hit and instant classic, featuring more great chiming guitar lines and ethereal, interweaving harmonies. While their second LP (Turn! Turn! Turn!) wasn't as strong as their debut full-length, the band continued to move forward at a dizzying pace. In early 1966, the "Eight Miles High" single heralded the birth of psychedelia, with its drug-like (intentionally or otherwise) lyrical imagery, rumbling bassline, and a frenzied McGuinn guitar solo that took its inspiration from John Coltrane and Indian music.

The Byrds suffered a major loss right after "Eight Miles High" with the departure of Gene Clark, their primary songwriter and, along with McGuinn, chief lead vocalist. The reason for his resignation, ironically, was fear of flying, although other pressures were at work as well. "Eight Miles High," amazingly, would be their last Top 20 single; many radio stations banned the record for its alleged drug references, halting its progress at number 14. This ended the Byrds' brief period as commercial challengers to the Beatles, but they regrouped impressively in the face of the setbacks. With the band continuing as a quartet, McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman would assume a much larger (actually, the entire) chunk of the songwriting responsibilities. The third album, Fifth Dimension, contained more groundbreaking folk-rock and psychedelia on tracks like "Fifth Dimension," "I See You," and "John Riley," although it (like several of their classic early albums) mixed sheer brilliance with tracks that were oddly half-baked or carelessly executed.

Younger Than Yesterday, (1967) which included the small hits "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "My Back Pages" (another Dylan cover), was another high point, Hillman and Crosby in particular taking their writing to a new level. In 1967, Crosby would assert a much more prominent role in the band, singing and writing some of his best material. He wasn't getting along so well with McGuinn and Hillman, though, and was jettisoned from the Byrds partway into the recording of The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Gene Clark, drafted back into the band as a replacement, left after only a few weeks, and by the end of 1967, Michael Clarke was also gone. Remarkably, in the midst of this chaos (not to mention diminishing record sales), they continued to sound as good as ever on Notorious. This was another effort that mixed electronic experimentation and folk-rock mastery with aplomb, with hints of a growing interest in country music.

As McGuinn and Hillman rebuilt the group one more time in early 1968, McGuinn mused upon the exciting possibility of a double album that would play as nothing less than a history of contemporary music, evolving from traditional folk and country to jazz and electronic music. Toward this end, he hired Gram Parsons, he has since said, to play keyboards. Under Parsons' influence, however, the Byrds were soon going full blast into country music, with Parsons taking a large share of the guitar and vocal chores. In 1968, McGuinn, Hillman, Parsons, and drummer Kevin Kelly recorded Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which was probably the first album to be widely labeled as country-rock.

Opinions as to the merits of Rodeo remain sharply divided among Byrds fans. Some see it as a natural continuation of the group's innovations; other bewail the loss of the band's trademark crystalline guitar jangle, and the short-circuited potential of McGuinn's most ambitious experiments. However one feels, there's no doubt that it marked the end, or at least a drastic revamping, of the "classic" Byrds sound of the 1965-1968 period (bookended by the Tambourine Man and Notorious albums). Parsons, the main catalyst for the metamorphosis, left the band after about six months, partially in objection to a 1968 Byrds tour of South Africa. It couldn't have helped, though, that McGuinn replaced several of Parsons' lead vocals on Rodeo with his own at the last minute, ostensibly due to contractual obstacles that prevented Parsons from singing on Columbia releases. (Some tracks with Parsons' lead vocals snuck on anyway, and a few others surfaced in the 1990s on the Byrds box set).

Chris Hillman left the Byrds by the end of 1968 to form the Flying Burrito Brothers with Parsons. Although McGuinn kept the Byrds going for about another five years with other musicians (most notably former country picker Clarence White), essentially the Byrds name was a front for Roger McGuinn and backing band. Opinions, again, remain sharply divided about the merits of latter-day Byrds albums. McGuinn was (and is) such an idiosyncratic and pleasurable talent that fans and critics are inclined to give him some slack; no one else plays the 12-string as well, he's a fine arranger, and his Lennon-meets-Dylan vocals are immediately distinctive. Yet aside from some good echoes of vintage Byrds like "Chestnut Mare," "Jesus Is Just Alright," and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," nothing from the post-1968 Byrds albums resonates with nearly the same effervescent quality and authority of their classic 1965-1968 period. This is partly because McGuinn is an erratic (though occasionally fine) songwriter; it's also because the Byrds at their peak were very much a unit of diverse and considerable talents, not just a front for their leader's ideas.

The Byrds' diminishing importance must have stung McGuinn doubly in light of the rising profiles of several Byrds alumni as the '60s turned into the '70s. David Crosby was a superstar with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Hillman, Parsons, and (for a while) Michael Clarke were taking country-rock further with the Flying Burrito Brothers; even Gene Clark, though he'd dropped out of sight commercially, was recording some respected country-rock albums on his own. The original quintet actually got back together for a one-off reunion album in 1973; though it made the Top 20, it was the first, and one of the most flagrant, examples of the futility of a great band reuniting in an attempt to recapture the lightning one last time.

The original Byrds continued to pursue solo careers and outside projects throughout the 1970s and 1980s. McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman had some success at the end of the 1970s with an adult contemporary variation on the Byrds' sound; in the 1980s, Crosby battled drug problems while Hillman enjoyed mainstream country success with the Desert Rose Band. The Byrds' legend was tarnished by squabbles over which members of the original lineup had the rights to use the Byrds name; for quite a while, drummer Michael Clarke even toured with a "Byrds" that featured no other original members. The Byrds were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991; Gene Clark died several months later, and Michael Clarke died in 1993, permanently scotching prospects of a reunion involving the original quintet. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: There Is A Season

Disc 1
Disc 2
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Disc 4
Disc 5

Comments

THIS WHEEL'S ON FIRE gets Clarence White's Fender's lead licks in motion for Rogar's backup mode Rickenbacker ; great compromise to both abilities.
You know Pandora " Clarence could use a few gear links for old times" you know what I mean ??
I'm rolling on the floor "easyaban" you're actually spot on I don't know what this guy was smoking when he was writing it the bio ROFL - and why write like 30 paragraphs this group although I like all 3 of their hits, the Byrds were no where as influential not!
eastabdan
The Byrds are cool, but saying that they attained the huge success of the Beatles or Rolling Stones is a bit laughable. Let's try to keep it more real in the Bios.
Always liked this tune but then no so much when I found out that the lyrics were based on a Biblical religious rant.
Fan of THE BYRDS but I think this is MERLE HAGGARD'S signature song which I like more.
Sweetheart of thee Rodeo, "come on get It on".
Deportee
Please play "Gene Clark", "High Flying Byrd", "Echoes", Carla Olson/Gene Clark to update this Pandora Radio choose.
One of my many favorites... . . . . .
I love this song........ . . t a k e s me back.
Byrd's turn turn turn 60s classic
follow for follow.
Best song ever
Bob Dylan wrote some beautiful songs.
♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪
Don't know charlie..... . . ? But all of us will always our music and the future generations.
I like this song a lot. oldies never get old to listen to. I think my grandpa likes this song because there are bible parts in it.
jeffreymqs64 1
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Bible verses sang beautifully !!
shawnnavuz71 1
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In my opinion they lean a bit toward general folk whereas Dylan implemented a notable amount of acoustic rock into his music.
flashing for the warriors who refuse to fight and for every strung out person in the whole universe
Love The Byrds. 12 string guitars rule!!
The Trouble with Pandora is that they get the songwriters wrong on most songs. Who is their fact checker???
kvons1
Goin' Back-----sup e r b song and one of their best. Too bad Pandora has most of the lyrics wrong!
This song is actually quoting from one of my favorite biblical scripture... Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: Great song!
One the best best of albums of all time.
...still a treat to listen to them now as well...
To say The Byrds attained the success of the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys for even a minute says all that needs to be said about this band.
A tremendously influential band with a great songbook; they are now way less known than they should be.
What a treat & pleasure it was 2 listen-up 2 the Byrds in the 60's...
v.richardj
Byrds....... . . M a d e there mark!!!..... c a n ' t never overlook them!....Mus t be loved!!!
The byrds one of many 60s bands that could cover Dylan's songs. Love them
Mr. Tambourine man...Great by Bob Dylan...grea t by the Byrds
curitiba4lif e 5 0
Justine I'll define today's music-SHALLO W - Y o u named the exception. Yes, there's Jack Johnson & some others but compared to the 60's & early butt naked 70's-boy u r barking up the wrong meth house !!! DIG IT ? I CAN DIG, SHE CAN DIG IT-CAN U DIG IT BABY? ???? GRAZIN IN THE CRACK HOUSE !!
Thank goodness there were artists that were able to do excellent covers of Dylan songs as the originals leave a lot to be desired.
Nice band.
I like the part when they let Clarence play a solo
A great album was the Byrds reunion from the early 1970's. It seems to have slipped into undeserved obscurity. And I think Grace Slick & The Airplane did a better version of David Crosby's Triad song.
Define today's music. There are groups from other eras and genres making relevant music. Yes released a new cd in 2011 and Rush did 6 months ago.
nattiecat20
Great song better that today's music
Not bad
Gene Clark - criminally under-rated & neglected as a singer/songw r i t e r / m u s i c i a n . Over-shadowe d by his more-famous band-mates but he deserves to be right up there with them. Shame he died so young - his solo albums are hard to find but worth the effort in every way.
how could they stay together despite heir dying

i like the byrds---a few classic songs---infl u e n c i a l - - - b u t lets not make them the next coming

maybe the first country rock?-i would call it folk rock
coolmusiczon e _ 3 3
Awesome band I loved the byrds
it is too bad they did not stay together despite their dying,formin g other groups and such.every song on their albums were different.Th e y made albums that sounded different too.why can't they make music like that today instead of being rude and crude and leeping music in the backgroun\d and 'rapping'?
Sweetheart of the Rodeo is such a great album. I wish Gram's vocals would've been on all those songs and not just a few. I bet Roger still has those tapes and will never give them up.
March 25, 1965. the Byrds are playing Hollywood's famed nightclub, Ciro's. Hundreds of L.A. teenagers are dancing to the music. For one of the sets, Dylan walks out on stage and joins the Byrds, thus going electric. There are two grainy black & white photos showing Dylan to the right of David Crosby. One ended up on the back sleeve of the album, Mr. Tambourine Man. A new musical genre was born.
Byrds made an under 3 minute song out of Dylan's six minute song.
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