Monday, September 14, 2020

The Byrds Original Album Classics - 5 CD set


The Byrds literally rang in the folk-rock scene with Roger/Jim (for some reason he would switch his first name) McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker guitar with their classic cover of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and their own amazing put-down song, "Feel a Whole Lot Better". Merging the songs of the folk scene with the electricity and harmonies of the Beatles, they created a new, instantly recognizable sound that resonates and inspires to this day. This 5-CD set compiles their first five albums in reproductions of the original covers which, while pretty cool, makes it a bit difficult to read the text when it has been shrunk down this much. No booklet is included, but this is budget priced and you get all of the great music, so that is really just a nit-pick.

They debuted with the album Mr. Tambourine Man and the smash hit single that started a genre opens the album, starting their legacy of covering Dylan and making him even more popular than he already was! Gene Clark's "Feel a Whole Lot Better" is one of the prettiest put-down songs ever and continued the 12-string folk-rock sound, another Dylan cover already, "Spanish Harlem Incident" isn't nearly as successful, but Clark and McGuinn's "You Don't Have To Cry" is a nice pop-folk number, Clark's "Here Without You" is catchy'n'moody in a captivating minor key, Pete Seeger's "The Bells of Rhymney" is given a terrific treatment, Dylan's "All I Really Want To Do" is probably better than the original, "I Knew I'd Want You" is another excellent Clark tune, and his collaboration with McGuinn in "It's No Use" is a cool garage rocker, then there's a slightly odd Jackie DeShannon cut, "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe", that still works, for their fourth (!) Dylan number we get "Chimes of Freedom" and the album finale was a super strange take on the 1939 song "We'll Meet Again". For the bonus tracks there's another lovely Clark song, "She Has a Way", alternative takes of "Feel a Whole Lot Better", "It's No Use" and "You Won't Have to Cry", the single version of "All I Really Want To Do" and an instrumental take of "You and Me".

Turn! Turn! Turn! is the title of the group's sophomore album as well as their hit single version of Pete Seeger's adaptation of the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes, done in their signature, jangly folk-rock manner. McGuinn collaborates with Harvey Gerst for the truly lovely "It Won't Be Long" (amazing melody!), Clark's "Set You Free This Time" is a sweet, slow-tempo'd, Dylan-esque number, and they cover another Dylan tune, this time one that was unreleased, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune", McGuinn adapted the traditional "He Was a Friend of Mine" as a tribute to JFK, "The World Turns Around Her" is another terrific Clark tune, while Hillman suggested Porter Wagner's "Satisfied Mind", hearkening to their later country period, then they get a bit in a folk/psych mood for Clark's "If You're Gone", back to Dylan for a terrific take on "The Times They Are a-Changin'", McGuinn and Crosby get together for "Wait and See" and the vinyl finished with an odd adaptation of "Oh! Susannah!", of all things. There's a plethora of extras on this CD, starting with a couple more Clark songs, "The Day Walk" and "She Don't Care About Time", alt takes on "The Times They Are a-Changin'" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" as well as "She Don't Care About Time", "The World Turns All Around Her" and an instrumental of Crosby's "A Stranger in a Strange Land".

Their third album, Fifth Dimension, saw the departure of guitarist/songwriter Gene Clark and therefore the prominence of McGuinn and David Crosby as songwriters, along with a great deal of experimentation. The opening "5D (Fifth Dimension)" is a Dylan-esque folk number, sounding like it could easily fit in either of their previous albums, as does the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme" but these are followed by the fun, country-styled, pop excursion into the existence of extra terrestrials, "Mr. Spaceman", then the McGuinn/Crosby harmony-drenched collaboration "I See You" which brings in some neat, psychedelic 12 string noodling reminiscent of "Eight Miles High", which had already been recorded by this time. Crosby's first recorded original "What's Happening?!?!" brings in more psych 12 string to his existential questioning, then a cover of Nazim Hikmet's "I Come and Stand at Every Door" is a melancholy ballad, and the terrific "Eight Miles High", an incredibly catchy and wonderful mix of Coltrane, Ravi Shankar, psychedelia and folk-pop - truly original, creative and it still causes goosebumps every time I hear it! Not as inspiring is their Leaves-like take on "Hey Joe" or the instrumental band composition, "Captain Soul" (essentially, simply a jam), the traditional "John Riley" fares a bit better and "2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)" is simply a novelty. The bonus tracks on this record include the fabulously lovely "Why", the flip to the single of "Eight Miles High" and a similarly incredible raga-rock number, along with a beautiful folk-pop arrangement of another traditional, "I Know My Rider", Crosby's freak-out "Psychodrama City", the original versions of "Eight Miles High" and "Why" (I prefer the "official versions", but that could just be due to familiarity), an instrumental of "John Riley" and a radio interview. Nice extras!

For their fourth excursion, Younger Than Yesterday, the band, with the help of producer Gary Usher, further expanded their sounds with more psych and jazz influences, as well as the addition of extra instruments. Bassist Chris Hillman emerged as a vocalist and songwriter here, as well, including co-writing, with McGuinn, their hit from this album, the opening classic, "So You Wanna Be a Rock'n'Roll Star", which included a brass section, adding a different texture to the proceedings. Hillman's "Have You Seen Her Face" is a super-strong, somewhat Beatles-esuqe folk-pop tune, "C.T.A. - 102" is nice, but not overly strong, "Renaissance Fair" is a gorgeous Crosby/McGuinn number with an impossibly great melody line in "I think that maybe I'm dreaming", Hillman returns for "Time Between", a sweet country-pop number hearkening to the band's future country stylings, Crosby's "Everybody's Been Burned" has a captivating melody and could easily fit in on the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album. Another strong Hillman composition, "Thoughts and Words", opened side two of the vinyl, with Crosby's Jefferson Airplane-like (he even sounds a bit like Grace in a couple of places!), highly (hah!) psychedelic "Mind Gardens" coming next, they return to their roots for their cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages" and another Hillman tune, "The Girl With No Name" fits in well with that and the vinyl ended with "Why", from the "Eight Miles High" single. There's a bunch of bonus tracks here: Crosby's "It Happens Every Day", the upbeat "Don't Make Waves" (wonder why this didn't make the album? It's a goodie!), an alt version of "My Back Pages" with keyboards and a weirdly (but not badly) effected lead guitar, an alt of "Mind Gardens", another Crosby tune, "Lady Friend" and the single version of "Old John Robertson" that segues into an uncredited instro of "Mind Gardens".

More experimentation took place for The Notorious Byrd Brothers, with even more different instruments - including pedal steel and one of the first uses of a Moog on record - while the band went through much upheaval - Crosby left, Michael Clarke left, returned, and left again, and Gene Clark returned for a few weeks before quitting again! Horns open "Artificial Energy", giving a slightly soulful pop sound - already pretty different for this group! Carole King/Gerry Goffin's  "Goin' Back" is given a nice Byrds-y treatment, "Natural Harmony" is slightly jazzy, "Draft Morning" starts as a wistful ballad that evolves into a war-themed theater piece, their pedal-steel/psych take on the King/Goffin "Wasn't Born to Follow" was a highlight of the Easy Rider soundtrack, while "Get to You" is a light-weight, string-filled ballad. "Change is Now" kinda throws the kitchen sink into the production, turning a ballad into a psychedelic backwards-lead guitar jam and then a country number and still somehow working, more byrdsian countryisms in "Old John Robertson", which breaks briefly for a strange string section, Crosby/Hillman's "Tribal Gathering" again sounds a bit like later CSN with a cool guitar lead, "Dolphin's Smile" is somewhat experimental, but still Byrdsian, while "Space Odyssey" is definitely spacey! Another big batch of extras here  including the wacky instrumental "Moog Raga", which lives up to its title, a more down-to-earth instro of "Bound to Fall", one of my fave Crosby songs, the ever "controversial" "Triad", alternative takes of "Goin' Back" and "Draft Morning" and the instrumental "Universal Mind Decoder" which segues into an uncredited radio ad and in-studio argument!

These bonus priced collections are well worth it in my eyes, especially with all of the extras included. A fantastic collection of some of the best folk rock ever done!