BYRDS

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Formed in 1964, the Byrds were one of the most influential American rock bands ever. Distinguished by Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker guitar playing, the Byrds mixed Beatles-like harmonies with Dylan-like folk sensibilities. By 1969, McGuinn was the only one of the five original members to remain in the band, and the Byrds had effectively morphed into one of the first country rock bands. Almost all of the Byrds catalogue is currently available either on CD or as digital downloads, with a few exceptions.


Byrdmaniax and Farther Along, both released in 1971, are currently out of print in physical formats, but are available as downloads. These two albums were recorded by the lineup of McGuinn, Clarence White (guitar), Skip Battin (bass), and Gene Parsons (drums). This quartet was more talented than they are usually given credit for, but Byrdmaniax doesn't do them justice. Producers Terry Melcher and Chris Hinshaw reportedly overdubbed the album without the band's consent, adding strings and angelic background choruses that don't suit the country rock songs well. Some tracks turned out okay: McGuinn's affecting "I Trust"; Battin's quirky novelty song "Citizen Kane", about decadence in Hollywood's golden age; and the instrumental bluegrass stomp "Green Apple Quick Step", devised by Parsons and White. Otherwise, the songs sound wrong; even a simple folk ditty like the cynical "I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician" sounds too syrupy in this setting. To use an obvious pun, Byrdmaniax is for Byrds maniacs only.

By contrast, Farther Along is a more simple and likable set. Although it is considered one of the worst Byrds albums, Farther Along might have been considered a classic if it were recorded by a different band with less to live up to. Not to say that it is a classic, because the material isn't consistent; Parsons' two obnoxious tracks on Side 1 almost sink the album. But there is much to enjoy here. The hard-rocking opening track "Tiffany Queen" is a great McGuinn moment. White (who was killed when struck by a car in 1973) shines on the title track -- an old southern gospel song -- and the memorable "Bugler". Battin does another novelty song, "America's Great National Pastime", with a carnival-like sound. And "Bristol Steam Convention Blues" is another sprightly bluegrass stomp from Parsons and White. Farther Along is not one of the best Byrds albums, but it is underrated.

Track Listings:

BYRDMANIAX

1. Glory, Glory -- (Reynolds)
2. Pale Blue -- (McGuinn)
3. I Trust -- (McGuinn)
4. Tunnel Of Love -- (Battin/Fowley)
5. Citizen Kane -- (Battin/Fowley)
6. I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician -- (McGuinn/Levy)
7. Absolute Happiness -- (Battin/Fowley)
8. Green Apple Quick Step -- (Parsons/White)
9. My Destiny -- (Carter)
10. Kathleen's Song -- (McGuinn/Levy)
11. Jamaica Say You Will -- (Jackson Browne)

FARTHER ALONG

1. Tiffany Queen -- (McGuinn)
2. Get Down Your Line -- (Parsons)
3. Farther Along -- (Trad. Arr. by White)
4. B.B. Class Road -- (Parsons/Dawson)
5. Bugler -- (Murray)
6. America's Great National Pastime -- (Battin/Fowley)
7. Antique Sandy -- (McGuinn/Battin/Parsons/White/Seiter)
8. Precious Kate -- (Battin/Fowley)
9. So Fine -- (Otis)
10. Lazy Waters -- (Rafkin)
11. Bristol Steam Convention Blues -- (Parsons/White)



Skip Battin, who played bass on those aforementioned Byrds albums, died in July 2003 at age 69 from complications caused by Alzheimer's disease. Battin had a more colorful history than most people realize. In the late '50's, he was part of a duo called Skip & Flip, who scored a pair of pop hits. Between that time and his time in the Byrds, Battin often worked with notorious L.A. eccentric Kim Fowley. After his Byrds gig, Battin was later a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Just after his time in the Byrds was up, Battin recorded a solo album called Skip. All of the songs were oddball novelties written by Battin and Fowley, following the same carnival-like approach as the songs the duo wrote for the Byrds. Battin does a surprisingly good job of maintaining an entire album of such likably silly vaudeville piano tunes, singing about old movies ("Valentino"), old-time rock and roll ("The Ballad of Dick Clark"), baseball ("The St. Louis Browns"), and other mundane topics. Battin co-produced the album, and played piano, bass, and acoustic guitar. He got some help from his Byrds cohorts: Clarence White played guitar and mandolin, and Roger McGuinn is credited with playing 12-string guitar (most recognizably on "Captain Video"). Another guest was Elaine "Spanky" McFarlane of the folk-pop band Spanky & Our Gang. Skip is an entertaining sideshow, although it's clearly not for all tastes.

Track Listing:

1. Undercover Man
2. The Ballad Of Dick Clark
3. Captain Video
4. Central Park
5. Four legs are better than two
6. Valentino
7. Human Being Blues
8. The St. Louis Browns
9. Cobras
10. My Secret Life



In 1973, after that last Byrds lineup had folded, the five original Byrds -- McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke -- came together for a much-heralded reunion album on the Asylum label. But as Crosby might say, everybody's been burned before by overhyped reunion albums, and the self-titled Byrds is one of those famous letdowns. This album proves the old adage that you can't go home again; these five Artists Formerly Known As The Byrds had clearly grown apart since their glory days, and had no apparent intentions to revert back to their old selves for this outing. The many people who were hoping for a return to the original Byrds sound must have been shocked to find that this album falls in the same basic country-rock vein as the last five or six Byrds albums before it. In fact, McGuinn's two songs could easily be outtakes from those albums; his trademark guitar jangle can rarely be heard on this album, and it's frustrating. But give credit where credit is due: Clark's contributions to the album are quite good, including his vocal turns on the two Neil Young songs; the mellow interpretation of "Cowgirl In The Sand" is a nice touch. For the record, Hillman's lively pair of tunes (which he co-wrote with two of his Manassas bandmates) come the closest to recapturing the old sound and spirit. Crosby, who produced the album, comes off the worst; his spotlight dances (including Joni Mitchell's "For Free") sound like boring CS&N rejects. To the best of my knowledge, this was the last time all five original Byrds ever performed together. Alas, it is now impossible: Gene Clark died in 1991, as did Michael Clarke in 1993.

Track Listing:

1. Full Circle -- (Clark)
2. Sweet Mary -- (McGuinn/Levy)
3. Changing Heart -- (Clark)
4. For Free -- (Mitchell)
5. Born To Rock 'N Roll -- (McGuinn)
6. Things Will Be Better -- (Hillman/Taylor)
7. Cowgirl In The Sand -- (Young)
8. Long Live The King -- (Crosby)
9. Borrowing Time -- (Hillman/Lala)
10. Laughing -- (Crosby)
11. See The Sky About To Rain -- (Young)



In 1973, Columbia issued Preflyte, a collection of raw demo recordings from the Byrds' earliest days in 1964. Some of these recordings were later reissued on In The Beginning (Rhino R4 70244, 1988), but different takes were utilized for six of the songs, marked with an asterisk (*) below. The Preflyte versions of "You Showed Me" (the McGuinn/Clark composition that was later a 1969 top ten hit for the Turtles) and "She Has A Way" are arguably better than the versions used on In The Beginning.

For an album of rough-cut demos, Preflyte is a surprisingly enjoyable listen. Although the songs here sound similar to the early Beatles, they still sound somewhat individual. McGuinn's Rickenbacker doesn't ring as loudly here as on the Byrds' proper polished records; instead, Preflyte serves as an effective showcase for the vocal talents of Gene Clark ("You Showed Me", "You Won't Have To Cry"), who wrote most of these songs, and David Crosby ("She Has A Way", "The Airport Song"). Preflyte is a remarkable glimpse of a great band in its infancy. Notes: Preflyte had previously been released in 1969 on the Together label; this review applies to the 1973 Columbia reissue. Some (but not all) copies of the Columbia version have the song "Boston" at both the end of Side One and the beginning of Side Two; this was apparently done by mistake, since they do not sound like two different takes. In 2001, Preflyte was released on CD in England, and (not to be outdone) the U.S. label Sundazed released a 2-CD, 40-track set called The Preflyte Sessions.

Track Listing:

1. You Showed Me *
2. Here Without You *
3. She Has A Way *
4. The Reason Why
5. For Me Again
6. Boston
7. You Movin'
8. The Airport Song
9. You Won't Have To Cry *
10. I Knew I'd Want You *
11. Mr. Tambourine Man *


In the late 1970's, three-fifths of the original Byrds -- Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and Gene Clark -- reunited. The self-titled 1979 album McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman achieved moderate commercial success. McGuinn's two songs were the high points of that album, but most of the other songs were overproduced country rock confections, resembling bland imitations of CS&N and Firefall. (Incidentally, those were the bands where the other two founding Byrds could then be found). Clark's contributions were particularly weak. McGuinn and Hillman recorded two follow-up albums: City (1980) and McGuinn-Hillman (1981), both of which are out of print.

On City, Clark is reduced to "featuring" billing, and sings only two songs: "Painted Fire" and "Won't Let You Down". This album is far less slick than the previous one, even though the same production team was present. The sound is a sort of urban country rock, a middle ground between late-career Eagles and McGuinn's solo album Thunderbyrd. The album is unimpressive but fairly enjoyable. This time around, Clark's songs are two of the high points. McGuinn is reliable as always; he sings five songs instead of two, and even gets to play his Rickenbacker some of the time. Hillman's songs come off the worst, but they could have been worse.

The following year, McGuinn and Hillman squeezed out one more album, the totally Clark-less McGuinn-Hillman. Despite enthusiastic production by old-timer Jerry Wexler, the album is a lackluster country rock offering that goes nowhere fast. Hillman sings six of the ten tracks, and seems to be imitating Glenn Frey each time. You would think that the inclusion of two Graham Parker covers would add some spark, but Hillman sounds very uncomfortable and unconvincing singing a song called "Soul Shoes". The duo fares slightly better with their own material, and with McGuinn taking the lead vocal (as is the case with "Entertainment", "King For A Night", and "Turn Your Radio On"). But it usually sounds like the duo's hearts just weren't in this record.

The 1992 U.K. CD Return Flight was a compilation drawn from these three albums.

Track Listings:

CITY

1. Who Taught The Night
2. One More Chance
3. Won't Let You Down
4. Street Talk
5. City
6. Skate Date
7. Givin' Herself Away
8. Deeper In
9. Painted Fire
10. Let Me Down Easy

McGUINN-HILLMAN

1. Mean Streets
2. Entertainment
3. Soul Shoes
4. Between You And Me
5. Angel
6. Love Me Tonight
7. King For A Night
8. A Secret Side Of You
9. Ain't No Money
10. Turn Your Radio On


The most worthwhile by-product of the late-‘70’s reconnection of those three ex-Byrds is the 2-CD set titled 3 Byrds Land in London 1977, released in the U.K. on the Strange Fruit label in 1997. It documents a weekend of live performances from the spring of 1977 by McGuinn, Hillman, and Clark at the Hammersmith Odeon, and is a surprisingly good showcase for the three of them, considering the less-than-shining reputation of their work from that time period. Each of the three ex-Byrds played solo sets with their respective backing bands from the period, and the three of them also performed three Byrds classics together.

The four songs from Gene Clark’s set are relatively laid-back country-rock tunes which allow him to stretch out comfortably. The quality of the songs is good, although Clark himself sometimes sounds tired. Two of the songs, “Denver or Wherever” and “Hula Bula Man”, were never included on any of Clark’s studio works, giving them extra value.

Hillman and his band show remarkable chemistry during their no-nonsense set. More than half of the tracks from this set come from Hillman’s mid-‘70’s solo efforts, but they are heard to better effect in this setting without the dated studio production. Three selections drawn from Hillman’s other post-Byrds bands (“Hot Burrito #2”, “Rise and Fall”, “It Doesn’t Matter”) also receive pleasing treatment.

McGuinn and his band Thunderbyrd play a mixture of Byrds songs and selections from McGuinn's 1977 Thunderbyrd album, including Bob Dylan and Tom Petty covers. The band is in fine form, but it takes a few songs for McGuinn to hit his vocal stride; after singing the first few numbers with too much Dylanesque glibness, McGuinn really comes alive during the unlikely medley of George Jones’ “Why Baby Why” and the Byrds’ “Tiffany Queen”, and he continues to keep good time with his band for the remainder of the satisfying set.

The last three tracks on the album capture the three stars of the show performing three Byrds songs together. This must have been an exciting moment for the people in attendance, but McGuinn admitted that the trio did not rehearse the songs prior to the show. Indeed, it sounds as though McGuinn carried the first two songs virtually by himself. His Rickenbacker and his vocals (he was in better voice for these tracks) make “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” a pleasure to hear, although Hillman’s and Clark’s supporting vocals sound awfully flat. (David Crosby’s voice is surely missed on those two numbers). However, adequate chemistry does seem to kick in for the finale, “Eight Miles High”.

Track Listing:

CD1

GENE CLARK

1. Kansas City Southern
2. Denver or Wherever
3. Release Me Girl
4. Hula Bula Man

THE CHRIS HILLMAN BAND

5. Hot Burrito #2
6. Rise and Fall
7. Nothing Gets Through To You
8. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
9. Playing The Fool
10. Quits
11. The Witching Hour
12. It Doesn’t Matter


CD2

ROGER McGUINN’S THUNDERBYRD

1. Lover of the Bayou
2. American Girl
3. Mr. Spaceman
4. Why Baby Why/Tiffany Queen
5. Golden Loom
6. It’s Gone
7. Chestnut Mare
8. Dixie Highway
9. Shoot ‘Em

McGUINN, HILLMAN, CLARK

10. So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star
11. Mr. Tambourine Man
12. Eight Miles High


An item worth searching out for Byrds completists is the Australian CD Byrd Parts, described on the packaging as "oddities, curios, rarities & essentials by members of the Byrds, alone and together - 1964-1980". True to this description, the cleverly conceived CD contains, in chronological order, various pre- and post-Byrds recordings by members of every lineup, two early Byrds demos recorded under the names of the Jet Set and the Beefeaters, and recordings by other artists which featured Byrds members as guests, including tracks by Jackie DeShannon, Fred Neil, actor David Hemmings, and sometime Byrds producer Terry Melcher (whose version of the group's "Just A Season" borders on camp). Byrd Parts is always interesting, and often fun.

Track Listing:

1. WILLIE GENE - David Crosby
2. COME BACK BABY - David Crosby
3. THE ONLY GIRL I ADORE - The Jet Set
4. WHEN THE SHIP COMES IN - The Hillmen
5. IT WON'T BE WRONG (DON'T BE LONG) - The Beefeaters
6. SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS - Jackie DeShannon (with the Byrds)
7. BACK STREET MIRROR - David Hemmings
8. ANATHEA - David Hemmings
9. YOU DON'T MISS YOUR WATER - Fred Neil with Gram Parsons
10. SUM UP BROKE - International Submarine Band (with Gram Parsons)
11. ONE DAY WEEK - International Submarine Band
12. WHY NOT YOUR BABY - Dillard & Clark Expedition
13. LYIN' DOWN THE MIDDLE - Dillard & Clark Expedition
14. DON'T BE CRUEL - Dillard & Clark Expedition
15. RUNAWAY COUNTRY - Doug Dillard Expedition
16. JUST A SEASON - Terry Melcher
17. CAPTAIN VIDEO - Skip Battin
18. WHY YOU BEEN GONE SO LONG? - Clarence White with Ry Cooder
19. ODE TO BILLIE JOE (INST.) - Clarence White & Nashville West
20. MELODIES FROM A BYRD IN FLYGHT (FOR CLARENCE) - Gene Parsons
21. HOT BURRITO #1 - Gene Parsons
22. DON'T YOU WRITE HER OFF - McGuinn, Clark & Hillman
23. WON'T LET YOU DOWN - McGuinn, Clark & Hillman
24. TURN YOUR RADIO ON - McGuinn & Hillman


Byrd Parts 2 follows the same basic blueprint as its predecessor, this time collecting songs (some previously unreleased) spanning from 1962 to 1986. It's a notch less interesting than the previous collection of "parts", and some of the songs' Byrds connections seem a bit tenuous (for example, a single recorded by actor Peter Fonda is included here because it was written by Gram Parsons). Still, it's must-listening for Byrdmaniax. A few high points: previously unreleased solo tracks by Crosby ("Brotherhood Of The Blues") and Clark ("Why Can't I Have Her Back Again?"), and a 1977 live performance of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" by McGuinn and Clark. Bring on Part 3!

Track Listing:

1. YOU MOVIN' -- The Jet Set (aka The Byrds)
2. BRISBANE LADIES -- Hoyt Axton & Jim McGuinn
3. BAIION -- Les Baxter's Balladeers
4. JACK OF DIAMONDS -- David Crosby
5. GET TOGETHER -- David Crosby
6. BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLUES -- David Crosby
7. BEACH BALL -- The City Surfers
8. SUN TAN BABY -- The City Surfers
9. TURN, TURN, TURN -- Judy Collins
10. WHY CAN'T I HAVE HER BACK AGAIN? -- Gene Clark
11. IF I HANG AROUND -- Gene Clark & Chip Douglas
12. TILL TODAY -- The Rose Garden
13. LONG TIME -- The Rose Garden
14. NOVEMBER NIGHTS -- Peter Fonda
15. APPLE TREE -- Johnny Rivers
16. TUFF & STRINGY -- Clarence White
17. I'M ON MY WAY HOME AGAIN -- The Everly Brothers
18. MAE JEAN GOES TO HOLLYWOOD -- Johnny Darrell
19. WILLIN' -- Johnny Darrell
20. YOU AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE -- Earl Scruggs Family & Friends with the Byrds
21. NOTHIN' TO IT -- Earl Scruggs Family & Friends with the Byrds
22. ROCK OF AGES -- Delaney & Bonnie and Friends
23. TRIED SO HARD -- Flying Burrito Brothers
24. KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR -- Roger McGuinn & Gene Clark
25. SHOOT 'EM -- Roger McGuinn
26. MAKING MOVIES -- McGuinn & Hillman
27. JOKERS ARE WILD -- The Textones
28. LOVER'S TURNAROUND -- Gene Clark & Carla Olson


See also Roger McGuinn , Flying Burrito Brothers

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