The Byrds 1968 Albums

Buy The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Buy Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds 1968 albums1968 was a transitional year for folk/rock group, The Byrds, in terms of both musical approach and lineup changes. During the year, the group released two albums, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. While each of these albums have their own distinct sound individually, they are extraordinarily disparate collectively, with The Notorious Byrd Brothers having a folk/rock/psychedelic sound and Sweetheart of the Rodeo moving radically towards traditional country and bluegrass.

The Byrds hit their commercial peak during the mid 1960s with the albums Mr. Tambourine Man, Turn! Turn! Turn!, Fifth Dimension and Younger Than Yesterday, as well as the multiple hit singles spawned from these first four albums. These were also encapsulated  on a Greatest Hits compilation released late in 1967. The group subtly evolved during the time span between their 1964 founding and the beginning of 1968, moving from melodic folk/rock/pop driven by multiple guitar textures towards a more underground psychedelic sound with sprawling instrumentation.

Producer Gary Usher, who had first worked with the group on Younger Than Yesterday, produced both of the 1968 albums and (especially on The Notorious Byrd Brothers) employed much innovative studio experimentation. The Notorious Byrd Brothers was recorded in the Autumn of 1967 and it musically reaches the apex of the Byrds’ psychedelic endeavors. With a core folk rock skeleton, the succinct tracks on this album added subtle elements of baroque, jazz, country and the earliest elements of electronic music. While the album is lauded as one of the top albums by the Byrds, the recording sessions were plagued with tension, highlighted by the departure of drummer Michael Clarke and the firing of guitarist, vocalist and composer David Crosby due to his poor attendance at recording sessions and other controversial issues. Original band member Gene Clark, who had departed in early 1966, rejoined for a few weeks during production of The Notorious Byrd Brothers but swiftly left the group again.

For Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the group added Gram Parsons, a pioneer of country rock. As such, the the Byrds’ overall sound evolved rapidly in that direction and they migrated to Nashville for much of the recording of the album and with many session musicians brought in to contribute. Like its predecessor, there were tensions during the production of Sweetheart of the Rodeo as well as some legal complications. Conceived by the initial concept by Roger McGuinn for the album that would become Sweetheart of the Rodeo was to expand upon the genre-spanning approach of the Byrds’ previous LP, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, by recording a double album overview of the history of American popular music. The planned album would begin with bluegrass and Appalachian music, then move through country and western, jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock music, before culminating with futuristic proto-electronica featuring the Moog modular synthesizer.


The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds
Released: January 15, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June–December, 1967
Side One Side Two
Artificial Energy
Goin’ Back
Natural Harmony
Draft Morning
Wasn’t Born to Follow
Get to You
Change Is Now
Old John Robertson
Tribal Gathering
Dolphin’s Smile
Space Odyssey
Sweetheart of the Rodeo by The Byrds
Released: August 30, 1968 (Columbia)
Produced by: Gary Usher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Nashville & Hollywood, March-May 1968
Side One Side Two
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
I Am a Pilgrim
The Christian Life
You Don’t Miss Your Water
You’re Still on My Mind
Pretty Boy Floyd
Hickory Wind
One Hundred Years from Now
Blue Canadian Rockies
Life in Prison
Nothing Was Delivered
Primary Musicians (Both Albums)
Roger McGuinn -Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Mandolin, Vocals
Gary Usher – Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals

 

The Notorious Byrd Brothers begins with the entertaining and inventive “Artificial Energy”, co-written by Clarke, bassist Chris Hillman and guitarist/vocalist Roger McGuinn. The song features a choppy rock and rhythm with sharp, distant horns and lyrics that deal with the dark side of dependency on the drug “speed”. “Goin’ Back” is one of a few tunes co-written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and it employs a more traditional Byrds’ folk rock sound, complete with chiming 12-string guitar and polished harmonies. Hillman’s “Natural Harmony” follows as a short atmospheric song with plenty of sonic effects, including the use of an early Moog synthesizer.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers album coverCrosby’s “Draft Morning” is a bass-led protest tune with a soft psychedelic vibe and a clever use of military march and weapons sounds in contrast, culminating with a slight guitar lead playing “Taps” at the very end. King and Goffin’s “Wasn’t Born to Follow” is pure sixties folk with some Simon and Garfunkel lyrical and melodic style blended with country and psychedelic elements. The waltz-like “Get to You” was co-written by Clark and completes the original first side.

“Change Is Now” features fine guitar work on differing levels and good musical textures throughout, leading to the short country romp, “Old John Robertson”, a tribute by a retired film director. This is followed by the final two Crosby songs, “Tribal Gathering”, which offers a nice change in vibe with rapid vocal delivery, and the effect-laden “Dolphin’s Smile”. Closing out the album is “Space Odyssey”, a droning and chanting tribute to Arthur C. Clarke’s short story and Stanley Kubrick’s contemporary film.

Overall, The Notorious Byrd Brothers is distinct and inventive but suffers from very quick turnarounds as certain moods are introduced and quickly abandoned. In contrast, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is a much more focused album but the group seems to overall be outside of their natural element and musical comfort zone.

The Byrds in 1968

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is bookmarked by covers of a couple of unreleased Bob Dylan tunes. Right from the jump on the opener “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, it is clear that the Byrds are moving in a different direction with the heavy use of steel guitar, and good country melody and harmonies. The closer “Nothing Was Delivered” is a bit more interesting in its rich harmonies and cool, thumping refrain which works counter to otherwise country/blues rhythm.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo album coverMuch of the rest of this album is filled with contemporary covers and the occasional traditional song, such as “I Am a Pilgrim”, which has a vibe of pure back-country, porch country-blues with fiddle and banjo really taking the forefront and smooth lead vocals by Hillman. Other highlights of Sweetheart of the Rodeo include William Bell’s philosophical “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”, and a couple of Parsons’ compositions, “Hickory Wind” and “One Hundred Years from Now”.

After the completion of Sweetheart of the Rodeo in Nashville, The Byrds appeared at the Grand Ole Opry but was greeted harshly by country music purists. Soon Parsons ended his short stint with the band and the Byrds finished out the 1960s as an altered and truncated rock band.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1968 albums.

 

Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

Buy Turn! Turn! Turn!

Turn Turn Turn by The ByrdsThe Byrds finished their breakout year of 1965 with their second highly acclaimed and commercially successful album of that year. Turn! Turn! Turn! built on the group’s distinct, multi-guitar-timbre, folk/rock sound with a fine mixture of original, cover, and reinterpreted traditional tunes. Of the originals on this album, guitarist and vocalist Jim McGuinn‘s contributions were on par with those by Gene Clark, who had been The Byrd’s primary composer of original material up to that point in time.

McGuinn, Clark, and David Crosby formed the group as a folk trio called, The Jet Set, in early 1964. However, McGuinn had become a fan of the Beatles early music and began to fuse his solo folk repertoire with acoustic/rock versions of their songs. While rehearsing new material, the band began to bridge the gap between folk music and rock and soon drummer Michael Clarke was added to the band. The group made some demos and released one single on Elektra Records, “Please Let Me Love You”, under the name, “The Beefeaters”, in October 1964. Bassist / mandolin player Chris Hillman joined the band in late 1964, rounding out the original five-piece lineup. Next, with a recommendation from jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, the group was signed to Columbia Records and decided to rename themselves (one final time) to The Byrds.

In January, 1965, the Byrds recorded Bob Dylan’s, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, (a song which Dylan himself would not release until his album, Bringing It All Back Home , in March 1965) as their debut single. The song became a smash hit and led to the recording and release of the group’s debut album of the same name, which reached the Top 10 on the album charts during the summer of 1965. That same summer, the group toured England and was being promoted as “America’s answer to the Beatles”.

With this international success, The Byrds returned to Columbia Studios in Hollywood with producer Terry Melcher to record a second album. By now, folk rock was becoming a growing trend and the group was primed to fully capitalize on their momentum. However, the recording of Turn! Turn! Turn! was not without its tensions, as Crosby (who had one co-writing credit on the album) accused McGuinn and Melcher of conspiring to keep his songs off of the album. Crosby had written a handful of originals which were rejected for this album, as had Clark, who had three additional tracks rejected. Most of these songs were included in the extended 1996 CD reissue of the album.


Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds
Released: December 6, 1965 (Columbia)
Produced by: Terry Melcher
Recorded: Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June – November, 1965
Side One Side Two
Turn! Turn! Turn!
It Won’t Be Wrong
Set You Free This Time
Lay Down Your Weary Tune
He Was a Friend of Mine
The World Turns All Around Her
Satisfied Mind
If You’re Gone
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Wait and See
Oh! Susannah
Group Musicians
Jim McGuinn – Guitars, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Gene Clark – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Chris Hillman – Bass, Vocals
Michael Clarke – Drums, Percussion

The signature guitar orchestra led by McGuinn’s jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker dominates the music of the opening title track, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)”. These guitars are complimented by perfectly harmonized vocals, and Clarke’s rolling drum pattern under the chorus sections. While it is filled with so much sustained guitar textures, it stops on a dime several times between each verse/chorus sequence, including a false ending before a coda with extra intensity. The song was originally composed by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, with many of the lyrics were lifted from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, possibly written by King Solomon in the 10th century BC. With that, the song holds the distinction as the #1 pop hit with the oldest lyrics.

Like the opener, “It Won’t Be Wrong”, is another upbeat track but with more standard love song style lyrics. Cowritten by McGuinn and Harvey Gerstand, this track features some interesting style changes which make it unconventional and a bit strange. Clark’s, “Set You Free This Time”, is a country/pop flavored track, especially in its vocal approach. In fact, this is the first song to feature solo lead singer, with harmonies used sparingly and with Clark’s fine harmonica solo as the song fades out. “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, is the first of two Bob Dylan covers on the album and is set up like a spiritual with the chorus/hook featuring heavy harmonies. Musically, this song has much the same jangly vibe and strong drums as previous tracks, but with an added heavy bass presence by Hillman. The first side concludes with an original rendition of the traditional folk tune, “He Was a Friend of Mine”, a finger-picked acoustic song with stripped down arrangement and a slight, distant organ by Melcher under the later verses.

The Byrds in 1965

“The World Turns All Around Her”, is a fine, pop-oriented composition by Clark which may only suffer from lack of strong rhythm presence in production mix. “Satisfied Mind”, follows as a country-esque cover of a folk song by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes. Along with the fine sparse instrumentation and harmonica lead, this track is highlighted by profound and philosophical lyrics;

Money won’t buy back your youth when you’re old, a friend when you’re lonely or a love that’s grown cold / The wealthiest person is a pauper at times compared to the man with a satisfied mind…”

Clark’s, “If You’re Gone”, is different than any other track on the album. Vocal-centric with a slow-rock backing, the song has distinct and interesting, almost haunting, chanting low-register vocals. While not quite as potent as their cover of, “Mr Tambourine Man”, the Byrds’ cover of, “The Times They Are a-Changin'” ,still dekuvers somewhat of an interesting arrangement of the Dylan classic. Further, the group members were pleasantly surprised when Beatles George Harrison and Paul McCartney showed up during the recording of this track. “Wait and See”, is the only song to feature Crosby as a co-writer, along with McGuin, while the group chose to do a souped up version of the popular campfire song, “Oh! Susannah”, to close the album.

Turn! Turn! Turn! peaked in the Top 20 of album charts in both the US and UK. However, The Byrds wasted little time moving forward musically, as they released their controversial breakthrough single, “Eight Miles High”, just two and a half weeks after this album’s release. Just two months later, Gene Clark left the group in February 1966, commencing a wave of personnel shifts which would continue through the duration of the group’s career.

~

1965 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1965 albums.