1001 Albums: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

#119

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Artist: The Byrds

Album: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Year: 1968

Length: 28: 28

Genre: Psychedelic/ Folk / Country Rock

“No I’d rather go and journey
Where the diamond crescent’s glowing
And run across the valley
Beneath the sacred mountain
And wander through the forest
Where the trees have leaves of prisms
And break the light in colors
That no one know the names of”

It’s a plane! It’s Superman! It’s a Lead Zeppelin! No, It’s The BYRDS!!!! Again. It’s one of the few bands that I always sort of anticipate will show up once again in my playlist but I always sort of forget about at the same time. I’m actually quite surprised at how extensive their catalogue is having only known their early sixties hippie-dippie sounding tunes and never knew they had this sort of impact and growth and evolution within the music world. If you asked me if I ever thought The Byrds would be considered a band that left a mark on history I probably would have said no. But I didn’t know any better at the time having known absolutely nothing about The Byrds. Discovering their evolution has been quite the journey and that journey isn’t done yet with at least one more album to come on this list.

Ok, so what can I say about this album? According to reviews this is considered their greatest piece of work, their debatable masterpiece, the album that would leave the biggest legacy for them. It was The Byrds at their most experimental, utilizing all sorts of studio techniques and psychedelic cliches to their best. This was also their transitional album into their eventual Country Rock days but was used very subtly here with a nice blend of genres from psychedelic, folk, baroque pop and jazz. They were at the height of their songwriting bringing in everything they had t create a massively cohesive album with nary a bad moment. All this despite the many issues they had behind the scenes, from tension with David Crosby, who would be fired halfway through the session, and their drummer leaving as well. Gene Clark would return but it is uncertain what he actually provided for the album in terms of songwriting. All these issues and they still managed to release what’s considered their greatest album of all time (and sometimes even appears on top 100 albums lists).

If this is the case, then why was it so forgettable for me? No joke, I can’t remember anything of this album. it’s as if once it was completed my mind just swiped the memory of this album away form me completely. I remember the style that played throughout and the vibe I got form it for the most part, but it’s just a vague idea of the thing as a whole and I can’t go into specifics at all. Nothing from this album stuck with me in any way, shape or form. There were even times when I’d check the playlist and notice I had missed a song completely, not even knowing I had listened to it. I had to go back several time to relisten to songs to make sure Spotify didn’t just skip it, which is how I felt it was. Maybe the songs just blended in together a little too much (which is a credit to the album’s cohesiveness I guess), but I just can’t tell you about any songs in particular because I honestly don’t remember any of it.

Maybe this will go into the pile of albums I’ll revisit one day because if it really is considered their greatest work then there’s got to be something there I obviously missed (which seems to be the whole thing). Almost as if it sort of passed by me and I didn’t even notice it go. I find it such an interesting phenomenon how some albums can stick with us and others just don’t. Especially when it’s a highly valued album, you’d figure it would stick with you in some way or another, but this one just didn’t at all and I have no idea why.

That being said, there’s not much else I can really say about it. Took me doing extensive research to get to know anything about this album so I could at least talk about something related to it, but I’ve reached my capacity to say anything about it. Sorry to disappoint but sometimes that’s how it is and with 1001 albums on this list I’m bound to hit a ton that just don’t resonate with me in one way or another and I have nothing to say about. Can’t like everything and can’t connect with everything. That’s the sad truth. I really do try to at least have something to say about every album I listen to and try my best to form an opinion of sorts and to go into it a little, but I’ll have to face the facts that sometimes I just can’t do it and will be faced with an album that I just have nothing to say about. I do feel bad because it is The Byrds and I was getting into their evolution as a whole and even though I recognised it as I was listening to it and felt “man this isn’t The Byrds we started with, cool, good for them” that was as far as my feelings went for it. Hopefully I’ll have more to say for their next one which is full-on Country Rock, so there’s a good chance I might.

Also, I love how there’s a horse in that fourth window on the cover. Gives me the impression that a horse was part of the band and played on this album. Don’t know about you, but the image of a horse in a recording studio playing an instrument makes me giggle.

Song of Choice: Old John Robertson

-Bosco

 

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1001 Albums: Younger Than Yesterday

#94

Album_94_Original

Artist: The Byrds

Album: Younger Than Yesterday

Year: 1967

Length: 29:11

Genre: Psychedelic Rock

“Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
Rip down all hate, I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now”

The Byrds are back and at it again. I honestly didn’t expect to see The Byrds appear so often on this list, but that’s mainly because I only knew two Byrds’ songs so I was kind of surprised to see how much influence and impact they made, especially in the 60s. Younger Than Yesterday doesn’t feel like anything spectacular or really new when it comes to the band. It’s exactly what you’d probably expect from The Byrds, I know it was for me. The minute the opening notes of the opening song started I knew I was in for a very straightforward Byrds album. Nothing more and nothing else.

That being said I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought this album was a blast. It was a ton of fun from beginning to end. It threw in some nice surprises once in awhile showing off the groups experimentation with psychedelic rock. A mix of reverse tapes, odd instruments and some mind-melting sections of their songs added some decent touches to the album that at least made it feel like a step forward from their previous efforts so it wasn’t 100% just more of the same. It honestly doesn’t disappoint as a Byrds album and it’s uniform enough to keep you engaged the whole way through, with some tunes slowing down to allow you to take a breath and others just being a ton of fun.

This album reminded me a lot of The Beatles’ Revolver in a lot of ways and for some reason I felt a sort of parrallel. If I was to make an analogy I would call this the Byrds’ Revolver, a maturing band trying new things but still keeping what made them them. But where I felt Revolver was a bit of a mess and felt more like a compilation than an album this one stands out as being incredibly cohesive and despite the different styles they do try out (folk and country being an example) it somehow still flows really well from one song to another and no song ever appears in a jarring way. There’s such a natural progression to the whole album that you don’t even feel the time pass. I remember checking to see which song I was at only to find I had two songs left. That’s always a good sign in my books. I honestly do feel like The Byrds were the American equivalent of The Beatles and although The Beatles had emerged as bigger and more mature by this point, especially musically, it does sound like The Byrds are working their way up to that point. That could just all be speculation since I’ve never heard any of their later albums, but they do have a few more yet to come on the list, so it’s very possible they could meet that expectation (although I read they sort of delve into country rock later on and seeing as I’m just not a fan of country music it’s possible I might either hate it or love the Byrds take on it… who knows).

If you like The Byrds this is definitely one to check out. I feel it stands the test of time better than their previous albums. Their first albums feel sort of stuck in their time but this one comes across a little more timeless, even with the very obvious 60s vibe. Put it on today and it still feels a little fresh. But just a little. I guess I could say this is currently my favourite Byrds album but I’m not about to start ranking the albums of every band that has multiple albums on this list. So, I’ll just leave it at that, a fun and enjoyable Byrds album that I’ll probably take a listen to again at some point in my life… possibly.

Song of Choice: So You Want to be a Rock n’ Roll Star

-Bosco

1001 Albums: Fifth Dimension

# 63

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Artist: The Byrds

Album: Fifth Dimension

Year: 1966

Length: 29:59

Genre: Folk Rock /Psychedelic Rock

“I don’t know who you think you are
I don’t know what you’re doing here

I don’t know what’s going on here
I don’t know how it’s supposed to be

I, I don’t have the vaguest notion
Whose it is or what it’s all for”

I actually listened to this album about a week ago. It’s taken myself a little time to sit and write it. It happens. Things happen. Felt like it was one thing after another just hitting me, one big thing falling on my shoulders at a time, bringing me down and beating me deeper to the ground. It’s hard to pick yourself up sometimes, but it’s doable and here I am, finally getting this post written.

Today is my Birthday. To most that sounds exciting and like a reason to celebrate. Not to me. In recent years I started detesting my Birthday. Dreading for this day to come around. I remember when I was young, when Birthday’s actually felt special. You’d wake up feeling like the king of the castle and parading around going “WOW I’M SEVEN!”. Nowadays it’s become a reminder that I’m getting older and instead of embracing it I find myself thinking “What have I done thus far in my life?” It’s a scary transition from youngling to adult and as the years slowly go by I find my Birthday slowly becoming more and more depressing. I’m not even old, I’m only 25.

25… the milestone birthday. I am now officially a quarter of a century. I still have no idea what I’m going to be doing a year from now and I feel like I don’t really have much to show for myself. But I’m guessing that’s normal. It’s also my champagne birthday. I’m 25 on the 25th. Will i celebrate in a big way for this milestone of milestones? Probably not. I’ll leave school, go home, do some stuff and then go to sleep. That’s how exciting Birthdays have become for me. I’ve quickly become disillusioned about it as I tried to keep that string of feeling special alive. But disappointing birthday after disappointing birthday just cut that string and made me realise, it’s just a day. Just a day like any other. It comes, it passes and then will be done. Nothing different. It’s just how it is I guess.

I barely got any birthday wishes either. Just parents, Sandra and some cousins. Big reason for that is because I removed it from Facebook. I’m not complaining. Part of the reason was I was fed up of receiving all these hollow, shallow birthday wishes from people I never talk to and barely know. It means nothing. It’s just people who got a ding on their facebook telling them some obscure friend they have has a birthday and in almost auto-pilot mode writes a quick message. The intentions are good and its nice… but it’s also completely meaningless. That’s what it’s become. So, I removed it and I actually feel better. The weight of the illusion of feeling special lifted from my shoulders and I can go about my day with no expectations whatsoever.

So, here I am, sitting in one of my classes, no one knows what today is and I’m writing this post. I wish I could say this album really shook my world and changed everything. I really wish I could say this album blew my mind and turned everything upside down. I only wish I could say that so I’d have way more to talk about. But it didn’t. If anything, it was just a really enjoyable album that I was able to listen to while cleaning and organising my room.

The Byrds seem to have grown quite a bit from their first album and are slowly transforming their sound from Folk Rock to Psychedelic Rock. A lot of this is due to the departure of Gene Clark, who was their main songwriter, and their lack of Bob Dylan covers, which is a surprising zero on this album. That being said, you can still hear the Dylan influence, especially on their first song, 5D, where the singer still sounds like he’s trying to do his best Dylan impression. But here they really sound like they’re falling into their own sound and even when the experimenting isn’t the greatest, there are moments of greatness on this album.

Eight Miles High was a huge hit for them, which s funny because it actually got banned from radio stations for it’s apparent references to drug use. What’s funnier is that it was actually just about aviation and flying a plane, absolutely nothing to do with drug use at all. But I guess they heard the word High and jumped to conclusions. 5D would also suffer the same fate, but where 5D was just a solid tune, Eight Miles High would become an important part of music history, being heavily influential in creating not only the sound of Psychedelic Rock and pioneering it but also opening the doors to the themes of drug use and acid trips that the genre was so famous for (even if that’s not what the song was about, future bands of the same genre would also find their songs getting banned from assumed drug references). Hiding the real theme of the song behind metaphors that evoke references of drugs would become a staple of a lot of psychedelic bands and where some were actually making direct references to it, others would just do it to fuck with the radio stations.

For the most part some of it is mostly forgettable and the rest is pretty good. The final song of the album was easily the most interesting, with it’s aviation theme and incorporating sounds of jet engines and wind to recreate the feel of being part of a jet flight (done as an ode to their good friend who made jets). It’s really a nice little lens into what bands were doing musically at the time. Experimenting with various sounds, reinventing genres (Folk Rock was used as a foundation and The Byrds were building up on it, mixing in Raga Rock and Indian influences to create the sound of Psychedelic Rock) and incorporating sound effects, which was still very new for mainstream music at the time.

Solid album, not my favourite. They were trying new things and this album really reflects the construction of a genre and the build-up to the phenomenon. Other bands would do it better, but The Byrds made solid contributions to pioneering the genre.

 

Song of Choice: Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)

-Bosco

1001 Albums: Mr. Tambourine Man

#57

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Artist: The Byrds

Album: Mr. Tambourine Man

Year: 1965

Length: 31:35

Genre: Folk Rock

 

“Words in my head keep repeating
Things that you said when I was with you
And I wonder is it true
Do you feel the same way too
It’s so hard bein’ here without you,
Bein’ here without you”

 

What better way to say “Welcome To Toronto” than getting into a nice collision on the street. Oh boy was that something I really needed. Especially since I was on my way to visit apartments, guess I wasn’t doing that anymore that day. I knew from all the troubles I was having, the difficulty settling in and dealing with being alone, I really needed to get into a collision on top of it all. That’s exactly the thing I was missing in my current life to set things right. The perfect moment for the perfect week.

On a more positive note, Sandra came up to visit me the same day the collision happened and stayed for a few days. So that easily got my mind off it all. You always hear people saying that long-distance relationships won’t work and it’s so difficult. To be honest, I don’t understand where these people are coming from who feel this way. It’s been way easier than I expected it to be. Sure, I miss the actual intimacy and having her physically there in front of me, but we talk regularly everyday, have Skype conversations and are always on the phone. It’s not like we’ve suddenly disappeared from each other’s lives. I guess for those who it didn’t work out it’s because the relationship just wasn’t meant to be to begin with.

“But won’t you be tempted by other girls and her by other boys and it’ll be difficult because they’re not there?”

No. Not at all. That’s stupid, there’s no other girls that would tempt me because there’s no other girls who are Sandra and also I’m not a cheater. I’ll never understand the concept of cheating on someone. If it’s gotten that bad that you need to cheat, dump them first, that simple. The long distance is definitely a new challenge, but totally an easy one. No worries there.

It took me about three times to get through this album with everything going on. I wanted to make sure I really listened to it from start to finish (and even then I couldn’t successfully do that in one sitting). I have to say, this was everything I expected and not what I expected all thrown into one album. The only exposure I have had to this album was Mr. Tambourine Man, which would play continuously in the house on one of my dad’s 60s compilation CDS. I knew this song very well and that’s part of what made me a little hesitant about this album. It’s not a bad song in any way, but it had been ingrained in my head and became part of my musical nightmares. If I had to suffer through an entire album of songs like that, I’d shoot myself.

Surprisingly, I was both right and wrong with this. Let me explain this contradiction. I was right in the sense that, the music overall really has it’s style and sound that fills up the whole album and never really deviates from it. But wrong in the sense that I actually enjoyed what they did with it following the Title song. It seemed my pain was more to the specific song itself rather than what they did with it. Of course, when you’ve heard something on repeat one too many times, it can really get to anyone.

Mr. Tambourine Man itself is interesting. Originally a Bob Dylan song, the vibe changes considerably when put into the hands of The Byrds. Whereas Bob’s version feels like a typical Dylan song, filled with remorse, sadness and the deeper psychological thoughts of a lost bohemian wanderer trying to understand life, The Byrd’s version comes across as some hippie fun love song. I can just imagine a bunch of shirtless hippies dancing in a circle with their tambourines and flower power get-ups, shaking their heads to the love of the music. Same song, but totally different vibes.

Speaking of which, they seem to have quite a few Bob Dylan covers on this album, almost to the point that it seems they might be relying a little too much on Dylan to give them material. In future albums they would prove this to not be true, but I can imagine someone picking this up when it first came out and being like “These guys are a little bit of a Dylan knock-off, eh?”

They would be half true. The true spirit of this album is almost the perfect blend of both Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Remember that famous meeting they had together? Well, imagine if that meeting produced an offspring. That offspring would be The Byrds. They seem to mash the lyrical and philosophical content of the Folk genre with the beats, harmonies and instrumental work of the rock genre The Beatles made famous. At times it’s really hard to tell if The Byrds are trying to do their own thing or just emulating the two other bands. A song like You Won’t Have To Cry sounds more like an homage to The Beatles than their own piece and the singer even goes as far as to try and imitate Bob Dylan’s voice on Spanish Harlem Incident and Chimes of Freedom.

But when they do blend the two styles together perfectly and become their own thing it really shines through. The harmonies at times come together really nicely and add almost a haunting feel to the songs their in. When they’re not trying to emulate the harmonies of The Beatles, they really create their own atmosphere that is kind of chilling in a fun way. At times, the album does feel a little repetitive as they never deviate from the sound  they created, often re-using the same formulas from previous songs and just continuing what worked on the precedents, but its’ never enough to really take you out of it.

This albums can also be marked as the beginning of the Folk Rock movement. Although other artists had dabbled in mixing rock elements into folk and folk elements into rock, it’s really The Byrds that mashed them together perfectly in a way that pleased both rock lovers and folk aficionados. The musical work on this album would go on to define the sound of Folk Rock and even heavily influence other artists into incorporating the sound into their work (notably Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher and even REM). The Byrds may not have known it at the time but in trying to blend two of the biggest musicians into one, they single-handedly created a whole new style.

And to think the producer wanted session musicians to play because he didn’t feel confident in the band’s musical expertise. Would have probably been a whole different album.

 

Song of Choice: I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better

-Bosco