Friday, 23 July 2010
♫ Hello and welcome to another News and Views, full of all the latest theories, queries and everything else we feature in this series. There’s a lot more news items than usual this issue, so hurrah to the AAA groups for finally giving me something to write about – oh and while we’re at it a big boo for the search engine that wasted an hour of my time last week filling in a ‘free’ submission form before telling me the only way to stop it being rejected was to pay for it. I hope you feel well and truly snubbed once this site becomes world famous (we’re meant to be no 19 by the year 2109 according to our April 1st issue). Till the next time, happy reading!
♫ Beatles News: The first of two surprise reunions on our website this week. Paul McCartney was the special guest at a Ringo Starr All Starr concert last week, celebrating Ringo’s 70th birthday with a surprise reading of, suitably, ‘Birthday’ from the Beatles’ White Album. This was the first the two have performed in public since the Concert for George in 2002 (although Macca did guest on Ringo’s album ‘Y Not?’ earlier this year) and the first time the pair have played on that track together since the album sessions 42 years ago!
And in other news, listen out for a BBC6 repeat of the classic 1980s ‘At The Beeb’ series, featuring two full hours of Beatles re-recordings and links (only a small portion of which is available officially on the ‘Beatles at the BBC’ set). The show is on next Saturday and Sunday (July 31st/August 1st) and follows several others in the series including AAA favourites The Rolling Stones...
♫ Pink Floyd News: The second surprise reunion is David Gilmour guesting at a Roger Waters charity, some five years after the last big Floyd reunion at Live 8. The news comes as quite a shock to fans as Gilmour has been denying rumours of a full-scale Floyd get-together for some time – especially after the sad death of Rick Wright in 2008. More news if and when we hear it.
♫ Rolling Stones News: As mentioned above, BBC6 are repeating many of their classic ‘BBC Sessions’ programmes from the 1980s and include The Rolling Stones on Thursday (July 29th). Now, unusually, I’ve never heard this programme but it’s meant to be good. Let’s hope BBC6 keeps repeating classic documentaries like these and then it might get so many listeners its future will never be in doubt. Well, either that or they can go back to repeating 1970s heavy metal rubbish and watch their audience fall to zero again.
♫ Small Faces News: A DVD we meant to tell you about last month before DellBoy went wrong, ‘All Or Nothing 1965-68’ is a fantastic new documentary-come-rare footage set from production team ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ (famous for their jazz and motown stuff). The show features the absolutely fantastic footage from ‘Beat Beat Beat’ in 1966 (we’ve mentioned it a few times on this site already – never has rock and roll been rawer or more exciting!), the complete ‘Odgen’s ‘ episode of ‘Colour Me Pop’ featuring Stanley Unwin’s unfathomamothabilitusis narration and various promo videos. The footage is linked by narration from the archives of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane (from his last interview in the 1980s) and new interviews with Ian Mclagan and Kenney Jones although – in one of the best moves by a DVD company ever – you can choose to watch just the footage without the modern bits in the middle (even if one or two tracks seem to be missing when you do this). This first batch of the series, labelled ‘The British Invasion’, also features sets by Gerry and The Pacemakers, Herman’s Hermits and Dusty Springfield. Let’s hope for some releases by The Who, The Hollies, The Kinks, The Stones et al in batch two!!
♫ Cat Stevens News: A new biography simply titled ‘Cat Stevens’ is due out in August. The set, which is being advertised on Amazon for around £10 at the time of asking, is part of the ‘Biography Channel’ season (they did one on the Grateful Dead we mentioned a while back, although we still haven’t got round to buying it yet) and is only the third Cat Stevens DVD we know about (along with ‘Cafe Sessions’ and ‘Majikat’).
ANNIVERSARIES (July 19-25th): Happy birthdays to the following AAA musicians: two sadly missed members of the AAA fraternity on July 19th – Clarence White (guitarist with The Byrds 1968-72) who would have been 66 and Keith Godchaux (keyboardist with The Grateful Dead 1973-79) who would have been 62; also John Lodge (bassist with The Moody Blues 1967-present) who turns 67 on July 20th and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam who turns 63 on July 21st. Anniversaries of events include: One of Otis Reddings’ last projects, with Carla Thomas, ‘Tramp’ reaches the charts (July 19th 1967); Simon and Garfunkel begin their first reunion tour, which will break down in recriminations a few months later (July 19th 1983); Jane Asher shocks the music press by announcing her six-month long engagement to Paul McCartney is off, after the couple have spent nearly five years together (July 20th 1968); 4000 fans unable to get tickets to a Beatles show in Blackpool rush the arena and the Beatles have to get flown in by helicopter (July 21st 1963); The Beatles’ first American album ‘Introducing...’ is released on the small label Vee Jay Records. It becomes the only Beatles LP to miss the charts in America (July 22nd 1963); The Dire Straits’ first eponymously titled record hits the LP charts (July 22nd 1978); Four days after his 31st birthday Grateful Dead keyboardist dies in a car crash (July 23rd 1979); Jefferson Airplane receive their only gold disc for ridiculously high sales of their second album ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (July 24th 1967); Brian Jones’ last ever Stones concert – and the last any of the band did for three years – takes place in San Francisco (July 25th 1966); A year later The Beatles publish their infamous advert in The Times calling for the legalisation of marijuana (how the band ever got Brian Epstein to sign too I’ll never know...) (July 25th 1967); Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin release their second, last and best loved album ‘Cheap Thrills’ (July 25th 1968); Neil Young’s first performance with CSN, barely a week after the trio’s debut album came out (July 25th 1969) and finally, The Beach Boys return to their old hit making ways – briefly – with well received LP ‘Surf’s Up’ (July 25th 1971).
♫ We’ve all done it haven’t we? Studied a Monopoly board thinking ‘I could do better than that’ and working out what songs would be ‘Mayfair’ and which would be ‘Old Kent Road’ (what do you mean you haven’t?!? We’ve done it several times!) So for this edition of ‘News, Views and Music’ we’ve decided to modify our usual top five to offer you the lowdown on the most desirable AAA properties there to buy (on CD, at least, if not a real Monopoly board). As a little extra, your two members of AAA staff have decided to play this game under the same rules as Radio 4’s ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’s ‘Mornington Crescent’ (Fortheringay rules 1894 with a triple twist wordscore, naturally). In order to play we’ve started our guinea pig players off with £200 each (and luckily we’re playing this game before the ridiculous decision to raise the VAT prices goes up, David Cameron hang your head in shame...yet again...)
Hmm, how to start... Perhaps a safe bet. How about ‘Abbey Road’? (Mayfair, title of Beatles album 1969, rent £50, recently at a cheaper price from EMI)
....Interesting decision. In that case let’s move left down the street to ‘The Long and Winding Road’ (Park Lane, Beatles track ‘Let It Be’, 1970, rent £35 pending Apple law suit, but will it lead to your door? Only if you live on Park Lane.)
Just to stop you looking smug, next comes ‘The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Regent Street, 1st Grateful Dead single 1967, rent £26 and presumably a bag of LSD, ‘hey hey come fly away and join the party every day!’)
...If you’re going down the Dead line then I’ll have to travel down the back lanes into ‘Shakedown Street’ (Pentonville Road, Grateful Dead song and album title 1979, rent £8 - not much shaking on shakedown street)
Hmm, just as long as you don’t try to build a ‘Mars Hotel’ on it. While we’re down the back end of town I’m going to try ‘Old Dirt Road’ (Euston Road, John Lennon track from ‘Walls and Bridges’ LP 1974, rent £6 - everybody’s hustling for a buck and a dime)
...While I clean the mud of my wellington boots here comes ‘Broad Street’ (Bond Street, Paul McCartney film and soundtrack album 1984, rent £28 – no more lonely nights this end of town!)
That was a nice visit, give it my regards. Next up I’m feeling groovy so it’s down to the 49th Bridge Street (Bow Street, Simon and Garfunkel track from 1967 album ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’, rent £14 - life I love you, all is groovy).
...Right time to get you out the groove with what is Positively 4th Street (Vine Street, Byrds track from live section of ‘Untitled’ LP 1970, rent £16 - pick up your tent because you ain’t going nowhere! Ha! Top Hat That!)
Looks like I’m forced to use evasive measures so here’s a long journey round the 14 minute opus Telegraph Road (which really turns on the Water Works, Dire Straits track from LP ‘Love Over Gold’ 1982, rent £4-times-the-amount-on-the-dice - come with me and I’ll take you away out of the darkness and into the day)
...That road still didn’t last as long as my next offering, ‘Eternity Road’ (Piccadilly, Moody Blues track from 1969 LP ‘To Our Children’s Children’s Children, rent £24 - searching to find some peace of mind)
Horrors! No wonder I’m having a Kansas City Nightmare on the 18th Avenue (Northumberland Avenue, Cat Stevens song from 1972 album ‘Catch-Bull At Four’, rent £22 - and cold potatoes too!, just down the street from ‘Portobello Road’, do I get extra for that one?!)
...Hmm this game’s taken a bit of a turn for the worse. Is that ‘Bleecker Street’ I see up ahead?! (Whitechapel Road, Simon and Garfunkel track from 1964 album ‘Wednesday Morning, 5AM’, rent £4 - that’s funny, its $30 pays your rent in the song, it must be a sale this week)
Time for a real road now with that infamous Ray Davies diatribe about a well known road of songwriters Denmark Street (Definitely not a community chest, perhaps the ‘Go To jail’ square, Kinks track from 1970 LP ‘Lola Versus Powerman and the Merry-Go-Round’, rent, huh, you’ll be lucky, more like lawyer’s fees pay £200)
...Well if you’re in a Kinks mood then I’m in ‘Dead End Street’ (Old Kent Road – what else? - Kinks single 1966, rent £2 - my feet are nearly frozen, boil the tea and put some toast on quick!)
Thank goodness they’re out the way, this neighbourhood is looking up now. Let’s try ‘Long Promised Road’ for size (Oxford Street, Beach Boys song from 1971 album ‘Surf’s Up, rent £26 - let my soul automatically soar)
...I’m having a belated sense of ‘Salvation Road’ (Leicester Square, Kinks track from 1973 album ‘Preservation Act II’, rent £22 - we’ll all hold hands and all sing a song and all mark time as we go’)
Well, I’m having a spiritual turn now I’m near the end of the board with ‘Spirit Road’ (The Strand, Neil Young song from 2007 album ‘Chrome Dreams II’, rent £18 - it’s a long highway in your mind, you know)
...Well I’ve got my feet firmly on the ground, here on ‘Natural Avenue’ (Trafalgar Square, song and album by Moody Blues bassist John Lodge, rent £20)
Goodness knows where I am now. Must be the ‘Road To Kingdom Come’ (Marlborough Street, track on 1st Lindisfarne album ‘Nicely Out Of Tune’ 1970, rent £14 - as I turn my face back to the sun, condemned to walk the road to kingdom come)
...Well I know where I am, I’m in America – doing the Wall Street Shuffle to be precise - moaning at all the banks for losing all our money gambling (Fleet Street because the newspapers are always writing about it, a single by 10cc and track from their 1972 album ‘Sheet Music’, rent £18 - they plead with you ‘brother can you spare a dime?’, but you ain’t got the time’)
I’m running out of roads but I’ve still got some stations up my sleeve. First up an obvious one seeing as it really is on the Monopoly board, ‘King’s Cross Blues’ (King’s Cross Station, a track from the 1978 Lindisfarne album ‘Back and Fourth’ , rent £25 per station owned – I wish this King’s Cross Station didn’t have to be so far!)
...Alright then, two can play at this game. I’m In ‘Terrapin Station’ (or rather ‘Marleybone Station’ – same thing really – a track and album by The Grateful Dead 1977, rent £25 per station owned – some have lied, some have cried, some have died just to get to Terrapin, just left going out of Carlisle)
Is that a ‘Train’ I see ‘In The Distance’? (I’m getting desperate now...) (Liverpool Street Station, a track from Paul Simon’s 1983 album ‘Hearts and Bones’, rent £25 per station owned – everyone loves the sound of a train in the distance, they just don’t like it passing through’, especially in the tunnels at Liverpool’s Central Station where they make one heck of a din)
...Well I passed through there Yesterday, so that’s ‘Yesterday’s Train’ to me now (Fenchurch Street Station, yet another track from the 1970 Byrds ‘Untitled’ LP, rent £25 per station owned)
Right, I’m getting desperate now. How about ‘4 Way Street’? (Whitehall, the title of a CSNY concert recording from 1971, rent £10 – and if you can find the cost of freedom, that would be helpful as well)
Continuing the CSN theme I’ve got a ‘Street To Lean On’ (Pall Mall to be precise; a track from the 1994 CSN album ‘After The Storm’, rent £12 – she got no galleria, she got no Pall Mall, all she got is the street to lean on and the gutter where I fall after paying the rent on the next property no doubt)
My finances are getting low too – but I don’t know when I’m beat, that’s why I’m your ‘Shadow In The Street’ (The Angel, Islington; Allan Clarke track from 1979 LP ‘I Wasn’t Born Yesterday’, rent £6 – I must have been born yesterday to charge that low price!)
Blimey we’re getting close now. But not closer to home because I’m in ‘Blue Jay Way’ (Coventry Street, a track from the 1967 Double EP ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ by The Beatles, rent £22, but please don’t be long on paying it or I may be asleep....z...z.z.z.z.z.z.z.z.z.z.z.z)
Err, Umm, Ooh, Hec, I can’t think of anymore and we’re only one property away from completing the board.
...Does that mean I win?
I think it does...
...Yippee! ‘Mornington Crescent’ (The Electric Company because, well, this track is electrifying, a track by Belle and Sebastian from their 2005 CD ‘The Life Pursuit’, rent £4-times-the-amount-shown-on-the-dice - ‘Mornington Crescent, I think of you, when I’m in the South East and I’m feeling blue’)
What a victory! What can I spend my winnings on? Everything in next week’s news column probably! We hope you’ve enjoyed this little sojourn round our heads. More strangeness next week!
You can buy 'All The Things - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Byrds' by clicking here!
This Wheel’s On Fire/Old Blue/Your Gentle Way Of Loving Me/Child Of The Universe/Nashville West/Drug Store Truck Driving Man/King Apathy III/Candy/Bad Night At The Whiskey/Medley: My Back Pages/BJ Blues/Baby What Do You Want Me To Do?
The Byrds “Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde” (1969)
If your memory serves you well, then you'll recall that being a Byrds fan in 1969 was one of the most confusing things on Earth. In 1967 they went from being a folk quintet to a rock quartet, in 1968 they shrunk to a psychedelic duo and by the time the hard-core country album ‘Sweethearts Of The Rodeo’ came out later that year the once high-flying band were reduced to rubble. Losing one band member in a matter of just four years sounds like carelessness, losing six in that time sounds like all-out war! Many people - including Roger McGuinn himself years later - thought that the 'real' Byrds were dead and that this replacement was just an 'ersatz' band, with a fifth of the appeal of the old one and woeful filler. While it's true that the Byrds mark two (well, mark five technically, what with Gene Clark rejoining the band for all of six weeks, but you get the picture - this is the first time the founding members are down to just one) step away slightly from the first wave of the frontier and - unstable to the last - never quite race back up to where they used to be, there's so much more to them than fans and critics ever gave the group credit for. This poor unloved album, for instance, used to be a joke amongst fans with switches of genre so wild it made 'Notorious Byrd Brothers' feel samey and yet unlike that album there's no cohesion between anything: traditional songs about dead dogs sit next to urgent heavy metal Dylan covers that give way to country instrumentals, plus two superb McGuinn rockers - this album is a real mess that doesn't know whether it's coming or going. However music and the Byrds catalogue would have been much poorer without albums like this one in it - full of songs that are witty and warm and wonderful and wise, just not all of them. The biggest change between Byrds mark one and mark two is consistency - while the original line-up never really had it either ('5D' veers so often between genius and heinous it gives me a headache!) these records are set to become even bigger rollercoaster rides from now on.
Fans buying this album really wouldn't have known what they were buying: a folk-rock LP? A spyechedelic LP? A country LP? (just look at how the band finished their stage set the stage set in this period: the traditional ‘Buckeroo’ nestling next to a psychedelic freak-out version of ‘8 Miles High’ with the folky ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ as an encore). Unsure himself what he wanted The Byrds to be anymore ior what they ought to be next, McGuinn simply plumped for all of the above, thrown together in a big melting pot, linked by nothing more than Roger's vocals and the bit of vinyl these ten songs happen to share (I'm too fond of my copy to break it, but I bet if you did it would splinter into ten equal pieces!) Against all odds the new-look Brds do find their own sound, of a sort – traditional bluegrass, folk and country played with heavy edges and a large helping of ballads, something that really works wonders on their ninth album ‘Untitled’ (see review no 38) but hasn't been stewed at the right temperature yet. But it's a more timid, uncertain sound - as befits a band who were cobbled together from country and orkc leanings and who McGuinn admits didn't really hang together. However while this album and the ones that follow can't necessarly mix with the 'big boys' they often have a charm and intimacy even the Byrds' big albums don't have (McGuinn also said he kept the band together 'as I might a family business' because he didn't want to see the name go unused - that's excactly what this album is, a tiny shop that tries to stock everything and whole it can't compete with the big multi-national corporations and is forever struggling to make a profit, for customers it's so much more interesting and personal than a faceless branch despite or even because of human error and the odd mistake).
Yes, even though 'Dr Byrds' is every bit as schizophrenic as the title implies and even though the country leanings are more or less guaranteed to put off the band’s rock fans and their rock leanings put off their country fans there’s something greatly compelling about ‘Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde’. This is probably all retrospective but ‘Dr Byrds’ does more than perhaps any other album to pave the way for a ‘new’ sound in 1969, that troubled year when psychedelia had ended and the back-to-roots rock/country feel of 1968 had passed. For what other album would be as daring as to put the out-thereness of King Apathy III and Child Of The Universe on the same album as the traditional country jig ‘Nashville West’ or the so-backwards-it-hurts country song ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man’? Many AAA albums will be doing this in the 70s as more and more groups realise that they can widen their scope and appeal to take in practically everything, as long as it’s all locked together with something vaguely similar to their traditional sound (just listen to The Beach Boys’ ‘Surf’s Up’ from 1971 where all the band members go in very different directions or Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ which drops all-out psychedelia for heavy rock and folk). The only other album from 1969 close to what this record’s doing is, ironically enough, the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album featuring McGuinn’s old sparring partner David Crosby, another album featuring three completely different songwriters with three very different ideas of how to write (even if the production values help link the songs together). 'Dr Byrds' is clearly is the weaker of the two, lacking that record's originality and drive (something that wasn't lost on McGuinn, shocked at his colleagues' sudeen rise to fame) but then it was always going to be: CSN did everything in their powers not to get together because they so hated their previous experiences as band members and did so safely in the knowledge that it couldn't last forever but because it sounded so 'right' they couldn't do anything else; 'Dr Byrds' is more a hobby for McGuinn than anything else, a chance to tour the world as part of a larger firm he justly felt proud of while he thought about what to do next.
While 'CSN' gets the period of unrest, love and unfulfilled longing spot-on, in 1969 'Dr Byrds' In 1969 this record must have sounded weird and completely unlike anything heard before. In truth, here in 2010, it still sounds weird because the most obvious links to the band’s old sound(s) – Rickenbacker guitar, classy harmonies, lots of original material and an energy second to none – are missing. Roger McGuinn, aware of how odd this new band will sound to old fans, gamely tackles all of the lead vocals himself, the only time he ever will on a Byrds LP . But that just makes this album sound all the stranger: Roger McGuinn never dominated a single Byrds LP before this one which in turn features Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons in the spotlight (after this The Byrds are very much a ‘democracy’ with roughly equal writing and singing duties, if not in monetary terms!; the fact that Roger sings all ten songs so differently to one another doesn't help matters much either) And although McGuinn sounds terrific on his own compositions, Roger was only really successful at interpreting songs by his beloved Bob Dylan - as we've seen on 'Sweethearts Of The Rode' he was hopeless pretending to be a country singer and doesn't sound all that convincing on Byrd folk, soul and rock covers either (thankfully on future albums the other Byrds make a much better job on their written/discovered material). In retrospect it’s odd that McGuinn chose to record any country material at all, given how much grief it had cost him over the past year (the ‘Sweethearts’ album wasn’t his idea after all – it was a plan launched by new member Hillman and Gram Parsons which was only meant to mark time while McGuinn worked on his ‘electronic’ project, sadly cancelled when the Byrds fell apart). However if 'Dr Byrds' has a dominant sound (it really doesn't, by the way) this would be it: Clarence's country guitar riffs get more space on this album than Roger's gleaming Rickenbacker!
The only reason this confusing album has any unity at all is the strength of the players. Clarence White is a gem on this record where with so much space that needs filling (this is an album notably light on overdubbing) his playing can be heard better than anywhere else. A country musician, he’d worked as a session musician on various Byrds records (notably the country playing on the Byrds’ best-ever song ‘Change Is Now’) and was an obvious choice for the band, McGuinn pleased to hear that while he was always a country boy at heart White was such an excellent guitarist he sounded convincing in any style, including the rock and psychedelic twinges he was called on to play (even if he always felt more at home on the country songs). Drummer Gene Parsons had a similar country-fied background but strangely sounds more at home on the rockers or- where he normally excels – on the ballads. Alas he won’t get to sing until the next album ‘The Ballad Of Easy Rider’, even on backing vocals, which is ridiculous when you consider how much stronger his voice is than McGuinn’s (and I say that as a fan). A natural guitarist and harmonica player, he always sounded slightly uncomfortable on the drums, although on this album where he’s surrounded by two such grounded guitarists his sometimes eccentric drumming does shine through quite nicely, more so than on the Skip Battin trio of albums anyway (great buddies that they were, their playing does tend to show up the weaknesses of the other). Bassist John York, meanwhile, is in many ways the long-lost missing Byrd. Fired by the band after barely a year in the job fans have often overlooked how much York had to offer for this band: much of the piano playing on this album and ‘Easy Rider’ are his and he contributes many of the band’s best songs of the period, both his own and his discoveries (‘Candy’ and ‘Fido’, plus unreleased takes on ‘Tulsa Country Blue’ and the Pentangle song ‘Way Behind The Sun’). York never quite fit in, being that much younger and that most subtle of leaders McGuinn probably feared having his authority undermined in the way of another Crosby of Gram Parsons. Still, York deserved better and makes a promising debut as a bassist, co-writer and singer in circumstances that must have been overwhelming for him (a huge Byrds fan with a capital everything, he couldn't believe he was a part of the band; being country purists Clarence and Gene were to some extent snooty about the band's past and more concerned with it's future; it says a lot for just how unsettled Roger was after the Gram Parsons debacle that he tended to side with them, not his adoring junior partner; you can imagine how flattered David Crosby would have been in his place!)
We've already kind of covered whether this album has a theme. In fact not only does it not have a theme, most ofthese songs seem to be pulling in different directions. One thing that's worth stressing across this whole LP, however, is how good the albu's lyrics are. On our site we printed this review (and all the others) with a bunch of lyrics from the album to get the 'mood' (we haven't re-printed them because of copyright issues but I'm still glad I took the time to every week because that more than anything helps get the 'feel' of a record before writing about it). What struck me most about writing this lot out was how similar most of them seemed to stream-of-consciousness psychedelia, a genre the band barely tackled (and then only when Crosby was allowed to have a go). The country settings rather hide it but all of these songs sound like poetry: Bob Dylan, naturally, always headed down this route ('This Wheel's On Fire' features one of his better lyrics appropriate for this album: 'After every ladder faled there was nothing more to tell'), but his pupil Roger has finally got the knack of copying that style after years as a more straightforward folk or rock kind of a guy. Just listen to ‘Child Of the Universe’ where the Byrds’ most esoteric lyric of all (ostensibly about an alien female figure floating to the Earth, with lots of confusion as to whether we are imagination in her reality or she in ours) is delivered like a nursery rhyme, complete with drums accenting the 4/4 rhythms with what sound like canon shots and one of the simplest melodies the Byrds ever came up with ('Love for anyone who needs her, in her senses all that feeds her rolling through the mist, floating in a sea of madness, reaching for the heights of gladness, or does she exist?') Or the urgent politicism of 'King Apathy III' that says so much about fashion in a Dylanesque manner, complete with the 'warning' that hangs in the air (Middle class suburban children wearing costumes that reveal, blindly follow recent pipers with their mystical appeal – for now...') Or how about Roger and John's collaboration 'Candy'? ('Wind in his face, love it in lace hurling cobwebs into time and space, meet someone who needs you now, can you throw your love away like Candy?)' While the rest of the band aren't approaching this album from the same angle (Gene and Clarence only get one song on the album - their instrumental collaboration named after their old band, 'Nashville West') even Gene Parsons' ex-bandmates are in osn the act with 'Your Gentle Ways Of Loving Me's delightful opening couplet: 'It's the humming of the engines of the greyhound bus and train that keeps your memory on my mind and here with me' (as Van Dyke Parks would say: that's a sentence!) I have a theory (as usual!): While writing this album was McGuinn planning it as a 'return' to the 'last proper' Byrds' album, the deeply psychedelic 'Notorious Byrd Brothers'? Did the plan change only when he successfully wooed a reluctant Clarence to come on board? Is that why Roger sounds so uncomfortable at times across this album?
And is that why this record is such an odd listening experience - because it's a freak out album dressed up not in paisley shirts and tie-dye but woolly country cardigans and old sweaters?!?
So what we have here is a new band, wary of one another and – with the exception of White and Parsons who were old friends – completely unknown to each other. No wonder this album sounds at times so sloppy; this is a band made up of members that would never normally have crossed paths (Clarence only did because of a bit of session work subsidising the Nashville West band). This line-up of the band are different ages, come from different backgrounds and have experienced very different levels of success - it's amazing that they talked to each other (some reports claim that they didn't often!) never mind made sweet music together. In some bands that wouldn't matter - the 'founding member' woul;d have such a big stamp of his own authority that he would over-ride anything. But for better or worse (generally better) McGuinn isn't that kind of a 'leader' - trying to fill that role across this entire album so isn't him and while the continuity makes sense (breaking the new vand in gently to hardened fans) it's something of a relief when he goes back to being one strong wheel out of four rather than the whole car.
Given the circusmtances it's a wonder 'Dr Byrds' is as good as it often is, with the record catching fire like few other Byrds LPs. McGuinn’s double-pronged attack of ‘King Apathy III’ and ‘Bad Night At The Whiskey’ is a revelation, Roger dropping his 'act' and speaking from the heart about politics (he isn't quite as left-leaning as Crosby and this track almost sounds like a pastiche of CSN!) and his own insecurities (the cleverly titled 'Bad Night At The Whiskey', which isn't about the bottle - although the narrator sounds as if he's heading there - but an early gig with this new line-up at the Byrds' old haunt The Whiskey A Go-Go, where an unrehearsed band were booed off stage and McGuinn nearly threw in the towel then and there).. Even supposed throwaways like ‘Your Gentle Ways Of Loving Me’ 'Candy' and ‘Child Of The Universe’ sound genuinely exciting, with a verve and attack from performances that the songs were arguably missing as compositions. 'This Wheel's On Fire' is one of the band's better Dylan covers though, with the bared teeth that the more commercially inclined Byrds often tried to hide on full display. In truth, though, the rest of the record is a case of 'close, but no guitar' - the other cover versions pall and the country song about a dead dog ('Old Blue'), the tired Dylan revival medlied with a blues cover (the closing medley of 'My Back Pages' and 'Baby What You Want Me To Do?') plus the awful countery original 'Drug Store Truck Driving Man' (a song that should have left the repertoire when Gram did) and the out-of-place instrumental 'Nashville West' don't sound like The Byrds or anywhere near the sorts of places the Byrds should be going. Played back to back with 'Notorious' (the earlier album where it all came together)and 'Untitled' (the later album where it came close to coming back together) and the mistakes seem obvious: this is a band who doesn't know who it is yet or where it's going, not so much a 'Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde' as a 'Dr Who and Mr In Hiding'. To dismiss this album from the band's catalogue would be to lose out on some very special moments however - even whilst committing a colossal error (as on the closing pointless rushed medley - astonishingly it's a remake with an outtake doing the rounds that's even worse!) this album does so with a smile on it's face and it's hybrid heart very much in the right place.
That same Dylan song  ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ opens the album and heard today seems like such an obvious Dylan choice you wonder how McGuinn got away with selecting it, seeing as The Byrds always tried to select the more unusual Bob songs of the 1960s. But in actual fact ‘Fire’ was still an unreleased song in early 1969, simply one track among a number of songs from Dylan’s ‘Basement Tapes’ given to McGuinn to select from and Brian Auger and Julie Driscoll had yet to record the song, never mind enjoy a #1 hit with it. That might explain why The Byrds take more liberties with this song than perhaps any of the other zillions of covers of it: the opening chilling fuzz box drawl and the deliberate slowing-down of the melody make it sound almost unrecognisable as the tune we know and love (so that the chorus, far from being the punchy hook in the middle of the song, is more like a gradual unfolding of the verses). Full marks to Clarence White for the fiery guitar solo, which at once manages to sound like McGuinn’s traditional sound and gives the Byrds a much harder edge than we’re used to hearing from them (even if, ironically, the country guitarist hated his ‘out-of-tune’ work on this work and wanted to get it substituted with the rather less-together outtake heard as a bonus track on the ‘Dr Byrds’ CD). The slowing down of the song also drags the time out to a (for the Byrds) ridiculously long 4:44), helped partly by some experimental fun from McGuinn with his new synthesiser, mimicking feedback before the sound is gradually shut off. The result is quite a powerful reading which, together with McGuinn’s nervy and sometimes off-key lead, is one of the band’s more believable and involved Dylan covers. You have to worry for fans coming to this album on the back of ‘Sweethearts of the Rodeo’ though – different style, different genre, different feel, different everything!
 ‘Old Blue’ switches the band straight back into their country setting, but even though this is obviously a song inspired by the traditional country stalwart the dead dog the effect sounds more like a rock-country hybrid than the tracks on the last album. Even though McGuinn’s narrator is waving a fond farewell to his old faithful hound ‘Old Blue’ after many years of faithful service, this is no elongated lament but the snappiest and most upbeat song on the album, played with a fun and zest quite unlike the last track. McGuinn turns in one of his better vocals too, suggesting that this song was his choice (he gets the credit for arranging this traditional tune, but that doesn’t mean anything in The Byrds’ canon where songwriting credits were forever in dispute!) and unlike many songs on this most skewered of albums it really suits his country-rock hybrid band. Listen out too for the hand-claps which really make the song, emphasising the off-beats of this song’s tricky compound time structure. The result is one of the band’s better performances of the album, all the more impressive given that – along with ‘King Apathy III’ – it was taped during the first session for the album. The Byrds seemed to have some fondness for canines with this line-up too: see ‘Fido’ on the next album (were they Byrd-dogs perhaps?!)
 ‘Your Gentle Ways Of Loving Me’ is one of the unexpected highlights of the album, even if McGuinn sounds deeply uncomfortable singing such a subtle country song which was a regular staple of Nashville West, the pre-Byrds band featuring White and Parsons. A sweet, swaying rhythmic song, well suited to the band’s new rock-country hybrid sound, this song sweeps along nicely and shows off the band’s interplaying skills like few others in this period (if only the backing track of this song had been included on the CD as a bonus, as the Sony re-masters of the late1990s so often did). The song is also quite subtle – you may not pick up from the lyrics at first that this song is sung in the past tense, with the narrator looking at the greyhound bus he knows still travels to where his sweetheart used to live and sighing over lost opportunities. Gene Parsons’ harmonica playing is the highlight of the song, as it will be on many Byrds tracks and really adds to the wistful feeling of this under-rated song.
 ‘Child Of The Universe’ is another under-rated track that sounds quite unlike anything else I’ve heard. As discussed, on the one hand it’s a simple, almost nursery rhyme song with its bad a-daa bad a-daa bad a-daaaaah verse and it’s rattled canon-fire drums which act to emphasise one of the simplest backing tracks The Byrds ever made. On the other, it’s an absolute ‘sea of madness’ to quote the lyrics: the Goddess of the song might or might not exist; the ‘work that she begun’ may be the Earth in the past, present or future or not our planet at all; the ‘child of the universe’ may be the playful creator behind our existence or may be the aged God we’re used to hearing about getting younger the further she goes forward in time (I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now); the whole song might be about the ultimate question of life – or it might be pure gobbledegook. Fans are used to hearing this sort of thing from bands like The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd where questioning the nature of the universe is their complete reason d’être. Hearing this sort of philosophy from the Byrds sounds downright peculiar – with the possible exception of the Bible extract ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ and the odd David Crosby epic (CSNY will re-use the phrase ‘Sea Of Madness’ from this song in 1970), nothing else from the band’s back pages ever sounded remotely like this. We’ve often said in our other Byrds reviews that it’s a shame McGuinn didn’t explore his philosophical side more, given how the life-questioning elements of his lyrics often urge him to come up with his best songs. This is McGuinn’s most extreme example of writing a song around an idea and adding the music later, perhaps going a bit too far in compacting the song to something simple enough for people to sing along too. The band do a sterling job with such complex material with some nice harmonies from York and Parsons, even if the playing is a little too heavy handed for what is already quite a thematically ‘heavy’ song. The song was written first for the equally odd film ‘Candy’, starring Ringo Starr as a randy Mexican gardener (believe it or not one of the more ‘normal’ features of the film!) but despite what many Byrds commentators have written down the years doesn’t seem to have much of a link that I can see – even if Candy herself is as confusing as the Goddess in this song, she’s hardly the creator of the universe, just an instigator for the madness that goes on around her. Whatever the inspiration, though, ‘Child Of The Universe’ is one of The Byrds’ greatest ever songs I think, really stretching the songwriting format to its limit and the impenetrable way it discusses such ‘big’ concepts as the creation and purpose of man really suits this half-simple, half woefully complicated song. It’s absence from both Byrds box-sets is nothing short of criminal.
 ‘Nashville West’ is about as extreme in opposites as you can get. A rollicking country-rock instrumental which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an album by a more traditional outfit, this song was the ‘calling card’ for White and Parson’s previous band. Hearing the title song of another group played by The Byrds sounds slightly weird, not least because it’s the last time we get to hear White and Parsons playing so fully in the country idiom during their run with the band, but McGuinn’s Rickenbacker acoustic playing does at least fit in well with the style, adding a more modern 1960s sound to proceedings. Recycling this track though suggests either that half the band still wanted to be in Nashville West but The Byrds paid better or that the whole group were so short of material in this period that they reached backwards to everything they could get. Just as the Byrds seem to be getting too country-fied, however, in comes that crashing ending with a scream from one of the band and Gene Parsons’ garbled nonsense commentary, adding a rock kick at the end typical of this band. Overall, it’s great to hear classy musicians like McGuinn and Clarence White playing unimpeded (and York’s bass playing is every bit as melodic and inventive as his replacement Skip Battin’s), but unless you’re one of the few fans coming to the Byrds out of a love of traditional country you probably won’t want to hear this song too many times.
[105b] ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man’ is well loved by many a Byrds fan and is probably the most famous recording on the album. But for me this so-called comedy song is awful, a recycling of the not-very-good-anyway ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ in the way it nastily damns the whole of the country scene (just like it’s predecessor slammed rock music) and an unwelcome leftover from the Byrds’ worst album ‘Sweethearts Of the Rodeo’. The song, written by McGuinn with Gram Parsons – the only song these two natural enemies ever wrote together – lampoons country disc jockey Ralph Emery who, understandably, had his doubts about why a successful rock group should ever want to ingratiate themselves with traditional country stars. The Byrds, in turn, question in this song why such a supposedly country-loving music-promoting man needs to spruce up his show with commercials for truck parts (for which Emery reportedly got a commission). The band were quite genuinely aggrieved by Emery’s comments, especially Gram who was about as traditional a country performer as you can get, but their reply to Emery’s challenge to their credentials arguably proves his point. This song is one of the most boring of the band’s career, simply repeating the one-line melody with minor variations throughout the song (it doesn’t even have a chorus, just repeated words to the same melody) and the playing is woefully inadequate without the band’s ‘true’ country member Gram Parsons there to show them how to do it. Roger McGuinn has an awful lot of skill and his voice is one of the most under-rated in rock, but he’s a straightforward kind of singer, unable to offer the right shades of contempt and sarcasm this song requires, making you wonder if McGuinn genuinely knows that this song is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. One of the most uncomfortable Byrds songs to sit through, ‘Drug Store Truck Driving Man’ misses the point so many times over you wonder why more country stars didn’t come out and slam the band. Very sloppy work.
 ‘King Apathy III’ is much better, one of the brightest spots on the album with McGuinn this time channelling his anger in a more sensible and sensitive cause. Despite the fact that they end up creating two of the most politically charged bands ever made (Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Flying Burrito Brothers) The Byrds themselves were characteristically cool about getting involved with political matters. The closest they ever got was this song where McGuinn slams the multitudes for not caring about the communinities around them and the inability of politicians to inspire their citizens to get behind them. Just as the song is getting a bit too vague in it’s target and what it means to the narrator, McGuinn adds a classic middle eight, dropping the fiery rock backing in favour of some country picking, setting out the philosophy of this schizophrenic album with the lines ‘so I’m leaving for the country to try and rest my head’ (even if it does sound like a steal from Mike Nesmith’s ‘Naked Permisson’ from the Monkees’ 1968 TVF Special ’33 and 1/3rd Revolutions Per Monkee, which is every bit as schizophrenic, even dividing the guitarist in two as he sings it!) Neither country nor rock on their own are offering the pioneering traditionalists The Byrds the space they need any more so McGuinn’s chosen both. The only downside of this classic song is that the band, playing in their first studio session together, clearly don’t understand the song yet and turn in a very tentative performance here. ‘King Apathy III’ will sound a million miles better in live concerts later on in the year, where the lurch from rock to country really is ear-catching rather than a nice idea that doesn’t quite come off and McGuinn stops showing off his skill on the guitar and starts playing from the heart. Still, even with the rougher edges intact, this is an impressive song with some great images in the lyrics: ‘freaks collecting stain-glassed rubies, pulling gently on the strings’ ‘middle class suburban children wearing clothes that reveal’ and ‘all the changes superficial, apathy still the king, liberal reactionaries never doing anything’ are all spot-on observations of life in the late 1960s when so many of the youth movement wanted to change the world – and got waylaid by the realities of politicians pulling the strings.
You’d expect  ‘Candy’ to be another track from the ‘Candy’ film wouldn’t you, especially as the song fits the plot line so much better? But no, this McGuinn-York collaboration got dropped at the last minute (reportedly because York was an unknown writer with no previous songwriting credits to his name) and it’s the film’s loss as far as I can see. Another song that segues breathlessly from country picking verses to rock and roll-come-psychedelia choruses, ‘Candy’ finds The Byrds at their stretched-out best, especially the elongated middle section that finds both McGuinn and White on fine form (and which was – shockingly – cut from the record; if you ever get the chance do buy the CD version of this album which apart from some great sleevenotes restores the middle section of this song, uncredited, to it’s proper place). The factor that made ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ such an enjoyable album wasn’t so much the compact two-minute songwriting as the way the band would break their own formula when the song called for it. ‘Candy’, in its originally intended longer edit, sounds like the long lost twin of ‘Change Is Now’, with two typically condensed verses spelling out the film’s plot segued by a truly surreal and breathtaking ride into the unknown. Another forgotten aspect of this sweet little song is the lyrics – the half-rhymes, forced on the writers by the shortened verse structure, are very clever (‘very profound, merry go round spinning innocence and dreams, can you believe all you perceive? Love is never what it seems to be’ is one of the Byrds’ best ever couplets, packing so much into it’s two lines) while the chorus pun of ‘throwing your love away like Candy’ (both the sweets and the girl in the film) is an uncharacteristically funny joke from what is generally the most serious of bands. Another often overlooked gem.
The best track on the album as a whole, however, is probably McGuinn’s blues-rock hybrid  ‘Bad Night At The Whiskey’. At the heart of this track is yet another pun – far from propping up the bar as the morose narrator suggests, this track is a reply to a critic who damned a show the new-look and under-rehearsed Byrds played at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in California. In his heart of hearts McGuinn agreed with the critic and questioned himself over his decision to continue The Byrds after so many band members had left, although ironically it’s this very track questioning their existence which shows off the many skills of this line-up of the band. The blues elements are quite unlike anything the band ever tackle again, which is a shame as Parsons’ elaborate but suitably chugging drum parts are matched by a classic walking bass from John York and a chilling lead from Clarence White. The whole effect is so enticing that you really sit up and take notice when this track comes on the CD, with the song’s anger really penetrating through the murk of this often meandering record. If I didn’t know better I’d say that this song was a pretty nifty piece of psychology from McGuinn on why the Byrds broke up in the first place too: Roger was famous for his love of a quiet life and hatred of any outward show of emotion (something made much harder by having such vitriolic musicians as Crosby, Hillman and Gene Parsons passing through the ranks) and the line about ‘although you’re smiling your hate will not cease’ sums up just how unprepared McGuinn was for the paranoid back-stabbing that often goes on in the best of bands. ‘Just put yourself at ease and leave my soul in peace’ also sounds like a genuine cry from the heart, especially the way McGuinn sings it here in perhaps his most committed vocal of all. This song plainly meant a lot to its author and was revived for many concerts down the years. However, it turned out many years later that only the tune is McGuinn’s – the words were penned by Joey Richards, a friend of McGuinn’s (both were inducted into the subud culture where Jim McGuinn was given his new name of ‘Roger’) who also happened to be the room-mate of Peter Tork at the time (and is credited on that band’s ‘For Pete’s Sake’ track, used as the opening titles to the band’s second TV season). Whether co-incidental or not, however, the song is clearly born out of frustration at being told you’re not good enough by somebody and remains one of the hardest, heaviest, angriest and greatest of all the Byrds recordings.
If you don’t believe how much that song meant to McGuinn and the rest of the band, you only have to play it back to back with the album’s closing [67b/117] Medley, a truly bizarre curio that sandwiches together a Dylan song the band had already recorded on the ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ album, a new blues instrumental written by the band and a closing romp through the famous 1950s Jimmy Reed song ‘Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do’, made most famous by Elvis in his 1968 leather comeback TV special (where if you watch the complete session tapes he songs the song at least a dozen times!) The Byrds don’t sound at home on any of these songs – play the polished 1967 version of ‘My Back Pages’ next to this 1969 version and its amazing how much sloppier and raw this unpolished band are, especially in the harmony stakes. What’s weirder is that this part of the medley only hangs around for 30 seconds, barely worth getting the publishing credits right, before lurching into an instrumental that sounds like at least 900 others out there, complete with gulping harmonica and fuzz guitar. The closing ‘Baby What Do You Want Me To Do’ sounds even rawer and even less dignified, with some especially sloppy double-tracking from McGuinn, although the rest of the band aren’t much better – even Clarence White’s guitar solo sounds uncharacteristically tired and subdued. The song then ends finally with a little riff the band nicknamed ‘Hold It!’, a jokey little instrumental the band started playing in concerts before the encores after McGuinn commented that, having scored a #1 hit with their first single, the band had never had to play so far down the bill they never had to play two sets and unlike practically every other 1960s band barring the Beatles had not come up with their own ‘we’ll see you for the next set’ riff. Sezing on this album as an opportunity to say that the Byrds were still very much alive and with a second ‘act’ still to come, the band put their jokey riff on the end of this album – where it’s been confusing fans ever since. Even with this hidden meaning, however, this is a woeful excuse for a medley and one that I assumed for years must have been a one-take wonder dashed off when the band ran short of time (you even hear McGuinn shouting ‘quiet Clarence’ at one point) – before the CD version of ‘Dr Byrds’ came out containing an outtake that was even worse! Not one of the band’s better ideas...
Other Byrds reviews from this site you might be interested in reading:
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/the-byrds-five-landmark-concerts-and.html