Thursday, 4 August 2011
So, we’ve lost yet another singer to the ‘27’ club, full of tormented singer songwriters like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Brian Jones who died at that age (OK, so the last one wasn’t a songwriter but you know what I mean...), when the first flush of fame had worn off. While Amy Winehouse was hardly in the same league as the above list, her passing is still a huge waste of talent. Where were the people protecting her from herself? Can a manager ever truly be ‘one of the band’, understanding everything they go through? Is the problem better or worse when your manager is a member of your own family? In our top ten this week we’ll be looking at a sample of AAA managers and asking whether they were a curse or a blessing for the band involved (as ever with these lists, the answer is both, often at the same time).
Oh and while I’m in a bad mood, does anyone else think finding 93% of incapacity benefit claimants fit for work is a little steep? I know we’ve got a brain-dead prime minister in Downing Street but there’s no excuse for that. Plus I want to see everyone responsible for the incapacity charade (with thousands missing out on benefits because of a mix up in the system, caused by sending too many people to back-to-work interviews they shouldn’t have) sacked and on unemployment benefit – and then perhaps they’d know how hard it is to live on such a paltry amount. Well, at least the time is ripe for a Cameron Kicking after Andy Coulsen and the News of the World scandal – let’s try and get the moron out by Christmas! Not that America’s doing much better at the moment. It’s been low down the news in the UK but no wonder Obama’s having a hard time trying to find a compromise to reduce the American deficit. Have you heard the Republican plans? Tax breaks for the rich and all benefits removed from the poor? For a financial crisis that still isn’t yet as bad as the 1990s, 1980s,1970s or 1950s recessions? So much for civilisations being judged over how they treat society’s most vulnerable – at this rate the 21st century is one step away from Medieval witch burnings...
In other news, our site has now passed the 7500 mark and continues to climb by around 15 hits a day (not bad considering I’ve fallen a bit behind in the publicity stakes the past few weeks). I am still struggling with my computer though – she may have to be sent away again soon in which case here comes more delays and a lot of trips to the library, full of squeaking people during the Summer Holidays (and I mean the parents and grandparents as much as I mean the children, by the way). Oh and I had to laugh at the charts this week – you know Adele is naming her albums after her age when she recorded them (so that this year’s album is ‘21’ and 2009’s epic was called ‘19’)? Well, Beyonce is doing the old Stephen Stills trick of naming her albums ‘1’ ‘2’ ‘3’ etc. So last week the charts read ‘Adele: 21, Beyonce: 4’. Sums Beyonce’s audience up quite well I think...Anyway, enough of this rambling, on with the news...
♫ Beatles News: Beatles drummer Pete Best might have been forced out of the band before their first single but he’s always been a big hit with fans in Merseyside (indeed, jealousy his popularity with the girls is often cited as reason why he got the push). So good on Liverpool and 10,000 fans on facebook who’ve supported a petition which finally awards Pete his own slice of Wirral immortality by naming a new street ‘Pete Best Drive’ in his honour. The new estate by Bellway Homes chose a site in West Derby for the new name, a highly suitable one for us Beatle fans seeing as Pete lived there for a time in the mid-60s and his mother Mona’s coffee house The Casbah (where the early Beatles used to perform) is right round the corner.
♫ Jefferson Airplane News: Grace Slick’s first solo album ‘Manhole’ has finally been re-released on CD after over a decade of being out of print. While far from a classic, ‘Manhole’ has gathered something of a reputation amongst collectors after following the all-out geniusness of her and Paul Kantner’s three albums together (including AAA review no 44 ‘Blows Against The Empire’) and features the same line-up of San Francisco luminaries (including Jerry Garcia and David Crosby, as well as Airplane and Starship bandmates Paul Kantner and David Freiberg).Weirdly, the latter even gets a song to himself with ‘It’s Only Music’, a song on which Grace doesn’t even appear (on her own solo album?!). Most critics have been praising the 17 minute epic title track and the wordless ‘Jay’ but, believe you me, these are terrible – the real weight of the record comes in Grace’s sarcastic ‘Come Again Toucan’ and the rousing finale ‘Rock Epic #38’, which has more false endings then the News of the World scandal. Now all we need is Grace’s superior follow-up LP ‘Dreams’ from 1980 out on CD and I’ll be happy, honest...
♫ Oasis News: There are indeed going to be not one but two Noel Gallagher albums in the shops before too long! ‘High Flying Birds’ is the more straightforward of the two sets, made up of newer material and unreleased Oasis goodies like ‘If I Had A Gun’ and ‘Stop The Clocks’ (but, alas, no ‘Living A Dream I My Record Machine’, the best unreleased Oasis song of all), due for release on October 17th this year. A second untitled LP, made with psychedelic remixers ‘Amorphous Androgynous’ (who remixed several of the songs from the last Oasis LP ‘Dig Out Your Soul’ as B-sides), is due early next year. To promote the two albums, Noel even edited Mojo magazine this month (as ‘September’s issue’, though why is anybody’s guess seeing it came out on July 20th!), with the best freebie CD the mag’s had for ages. Remember three issues back when we were comparing the early days of Noel and Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull and the similarities of the pair’s early material? Well, either Noel knew that already or he’s read our newsletter because there’s a rare 1975 live recording of Hull singing ‘We Can Swing Together’! Plus my favourite Buddy Holly song ‘Well...All Right’, which hardly anyone else rates and you can read about in our ‘top five pre-1960s songs’ in News and Views no 27 (I agree with Noel too – this is the sound of psychedelia eight years early!) As for articles, umm the only one worth reading was about Noel himself, with a pretty good article about what he’s been up to since Oasis’ split and his favourite books and DVDs (including Neil Young biography ‘Shakey’ and the Rutles ‘All You Need Is Cash’) plus favourite records including The Beatles ‘Ticket To Ride’, Neil Young’s ‘Hey Hey My My’ (as played by Oasis on their 2000 tour) and Wings’ ‘1985’.
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy birthday to all AAA men and women born between August 1st and 7th: so that’s Jerry Garcia (guitarist with the Grateful Dead 1965-95) who would have been 69 on August 1st, then. Anniversaries of events include: The Beach Boys spend their first week of many on the British charts with ‘Surfin’ USA’ (August 1st 1963) and finally, George Harrison’s first concert for Bangladesh (also starring Ringo and Badfinger) takes place at Madison Square Garden (August 1st 1971); The Beatles headline their first gig at Liverpool’s Cavern Club (August 2nd 1961); The Who rescue the film premises Shepperton Studios from demolition, buying the venue for use in their ‘Kids Are Alright’ documentary and ‘Quadrophenia’ film (they still own it too; August 2nd 1977); Just two years, one day and 293 appearances after their first headlining gig, the Beatles play their last show at The Cavern Club (August 3rd 1963); Beatles record are banned in South Africa following John Lennon’s statements about the band being ‘bigger than Jesus’ (August 3rd 1966) – a day later six South American states follow suit; Wings are officially formed on August 3rd 1971, with Dennys Laine and Seiwell as well as Paul and Linda McCartney; The Small Faces release perhaps their most famous single ‘Itchycoo Park’ (August 4th 1967); Pink Floyd stage The Wall for the first time at London’s Earl’s Court (due to costs they only ever stage the show four times – August 4th 1980); Two 1960s milestones are released on August 5th: The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ in 1966 and Pink Floyd’s debut ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ in 1967; The Small Faces release their debut single, the wonderfully ungrammatical ‘What’cha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’ (August 6th 1965); Pink Floyd’s film version of ‘The Wall’ premieres in America (August 6th 1982) and finally, Time Magazine becomes the first magazine to review the Beatles’ ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ released the previous month and – you’ve guessed it, they absolutely hate it, with a headline ‘avoid at all costs’! (August 7th 1964).
They come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. They can make your life a misery, they can make your life easy, but live with them or live without them, all AAA musicians need a little someone to help them along in life. So here’s our tribute to the best, worst and (most commonly) mixed fortunes of the managers who brought talent into the world:
1) Murray Wilson (manager of The Beach Boys 1961-64): Ah, Murray ‘Dad’ Wilson (as he signed his autographs) – pushy parent, musical soulmate or obnoxious windbag, he’s been painted as all things by all Beach Boys chroniclers down the years. On the plus side, Murray recognised his eldest son Brian’s musical gifts early and encouraging the early musical get-togethers of his three sons, nephew and neighbour, perhaps because he too had been a struggling songwriter before their birth. On the other, there’ve been hundreds of horror stories about how Murray pushed his three sons way past the point of breaking, even to the point of beating Brian up according to his son’s autobiography. He also struggled to show much comfort, support or love, perhaps because as a struggling songwriter he was jealous of the band’s talent and success. On the one hand the Beach Boys might never have got started without Murray there to push them, making all the phone-calls and interviews on their behalf (much to the chagrin of record label Capitol, who were embarrassed by his outbursts according to some). The last straw came when Murray tried to tell the ‘Boys’ what to record in the studio, interrupting take after take with ‘advice’ the band just ignored and forcing Capitol to build in a ‘dummy’ engineering console especially for Murray to work on (so he could ‘think’ he was working on the mixes when actually all his work was null and void). Best moment: Writing ‘Break Away’ with son Brian, the only time the two collaborated on a song at the time in the late 1960s when Brian needed support the most; recognising that the band’s then-contemporary surfing sound was one worth pursuing. Worst moment: fiddling the band’s publishing accounts so that he ‘bought’ Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s ‘Sea Of Tune’ catalogue of songs up to 1968 and selling it at a low price behind their backs.
2) Brian Epstein (manager of The Beatles 1961-1967) Ask any Beatles fan who knows their stuff and they will tell you that Brian Epstein wasn’t just ‘helpful’ to The Beatles, he was essential. Back when r and b and rock was only played by African-americans, when bands were ‘out’ and music was only a hobby rather than a career, few people older than 30 would have heard anything of note in the Beatles’ music. The fact that ‘Eppy’ thought that the band would be ‘bigger than Elvis’ from the moment he first heard them is nothing short of extraordinary. When The Beatles had seemingly auditioned for every record label going in Britain it was Epstein who refused to give up, persevering with his requests and essential to getting the fab four their audition at EMI Parlophone (after the mainstream EMI label had already turned them down). Much has been made of Epstein’s high social standing – his parents were the head of NEMS enterprises and owned chains of just about anything across the North (Brian himself first heard about the band that was to change his life while manager at the families’ record shop in Liverpool). But Brian was also a misfit who never felt he fitted in with his family and was desperate to break out from them and find something of his own to his credit. Sure Brian made some pretty awful mistakes and signed away far more of The Beatles’ rights and royalty rates than he should have done, to Paul McCartney’s chagrin in particular, but then like The Beatles Brian was a truly gifted amateur who was learning the job as he went along and had no experience managing anybody (he hadn’t even managed himself that well). But even though faults came to light later, Brian was exactly what the Beatles needed in 1962-63, someone outside ‘their’ world who ‘got’ the band and their raw, powerful music but with a clean image and a background just posh enough to entice the record companies to give them a go. The Beatles would never have made it out of Merseyside without his belief and conviction, but equally it was inevitable that the sheer level of their growth meant they would outgrow their need for him, particularly when The Beatles stopped touring in 1966. Brian’s suicide/overdose (no one is quite sure which) seems to be the sad ending this story was always going to have at one time or another, partly because Brian couldn’t see a role for himself in the new-look Beatles empire and partly because he himself didn’t realise quite how special he was in The Beatles’ story. Best moment: Hearing what the world would hear in five years’ time, long before anybody else outside the band did. Worst moment: Naive business sense that saw Brian receive mere pennies for Beatles merchandise that could have earned the band and himself millions; a pretty bum deal with EMI that saw record royalty rates at a penny per single – far less than almost every other band of the day.
3) Allen Klein (manager of The Rolling Stones 1965-68, The Beatles 1969-1970)– Allen Klein worked with many bands in the 60s – including two AAA ones – and they all seem to have the same pattern. The first few months of an artist’s career Klein is the band’s saviour, finding loopholes in contracts that enable bands to get more money, many of which they genuinely were diddled out of by crafty record company executives. Even Klein’s biggest enemies will admit that they never made anything like as much money as they did in the short time Klein was working for them. And yet, Klein would take it too far, to the point where it was scary and on the edge of legal (Klein did in fact serve a prison term for embezzlement in the late 1970s). He was also a manager well known for pitting members of groups against each other – for instance, he charmed John Lennon enough to win him, George and Ringo over but never succeeded in persuading Paul to back him. It took Lennon three years of being, well, ‘groomed’ by Klein (who knew his work and crucially Yoko’s too off by heart and praised them at all times) and various court cases before Lennon humbly admitted in private that Paul was ‘right’ to be wary of him. However, even though Klein has the reputation of being a bully and a criminal, it’s worth remembering that many of his business decisions were perfectly lawful and indeed just, bringing money to the artists themselves rather than the record companies trying to keep it all for themselves. Best moment: Depending who you ask, it’s either saving The Beatles from bankruptcy or closing down many of the lesser parts of the Beatles’ sprawling Apple empire (although, admittedly, many of the best parts went as well!); Worst moment: Putting Lennon under so much pressure to sign as the band’s new ‘manager’ (a position that had been unfulfilled for two years without any major dilemmas) that his appointment effectively broke up The Beatles.
4) Jim Dickson (manager of The Byrds 1963-66) In many ways Jim Dickson was perfect for The Byrds. About a decade older than the rest of the band, he’d had a surprisingly eclectic time in music management for the times, starting out on Lord Buckley’s comedy records and working his way through folk, jazz and bluegrass – along with rock and country the cornerstones of The Byrds’ sound. He also noticed the promise in ‘The JetSet’ (as they were first called as a trio) when no other managers would go near them. Alas, Dickson was happier working with music than musicians – during his short time with The Byrds he managed to annoy Chris Hillman (punching the bassist for failing to turn up to a publicity event), producer Terry Melcher (for recording ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ without his knowledge after disagreements over what the third Byrds single should be) and most famously David Crosby (the two famously ended up fighting on the floor at one photography session in the band’s early days and butted heads continually throughout their time together). Best moment: seeing a ‘gap in the market’ between Peter Paul and Mary and The Beatles (Dylan came later!) and encouraging the band to fill it; also getting The Byrds what was for the time a very reasonable record deal with one album a year (not four like The Beach Boys). Worst moment: The infamous ‘beach fight’ when the band were meant to be filming a video for the song ‘Set You Free This Time’, which soon degenerated into a band brawl involving Crosby, Dickson and Michael Clarke; rejecting second single and second biggest hit ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ on the grounds that it was ‘too preachy’ for The Byrds!
5) Robert Wace and Granville Collins (managers of The Kinks 1964-65)– In 1995 Ray Davies promoted his autobiography ‘X-Ray’ with a ‘storytelling’ tour, combining songs with extracts from the book. The passage that inevitably won the biggest laughs of the night was ray’s impression of his dapper upper class managers Robert Wace and Granville Collins, the inspiration behind both ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and ‘Well Respected Man’. The pair have become synonymous in Kinks fans minds with being a good joke who got lucky– after all, Robert originally hired the band (then called ‘The Bo-Weevils’) to back his own singing, thinking their own attempts were clumsy. Ray also had more than enough reason to get angry after the pair’s botched attempts at business made even Brian Epstein look savvy and contributed to his breakdown in 1967 (when Ray attacked his music publisher with an axe). But, to be fair to the pair, they coped well with what was even by 1960s standards a very wayward chaotic band, soothing ruffled feathers when the band had yet another no-show and getting the band back together again after Mick Avory really did try to kill Dave Davies on-stage with his cymbal. They also saw in The Kinks something big when few other people did – yes Granville and Collins only hired The Kinks for their own ends originally, but they still backed the band after Ray started taking the lead vocals and singing his own songs – and there aren’t many managers around who’d have stood for that. The pair were, though, possibly the least swinging 60s types of managers on this list, in the business for the kicks rather than any great feel for the genre. Best moment: Giving The Kinks their name. Sure the band had mixed feelings but, as they said, the name really stood out on posters (it was shorter than anything else around at the time) and gave them a distinctive image (even if it was the wrong one!) Would the band have got as far as ‘The Ray Davies Quartet’ ‘The Ravens’ or ‘The Boll-Weevils’ one wonders? Worst moment: Hiring all the people that would rub Ray Davies up the wrong way – publisher and early producer Larry Page was completely the wrong era for The Kinks and wound Ray up by putting down his music; producer Shel Talmy wasn’t much better, suing The Kinks (and The Who)after they tried to leave his perfectionist grasp.
6) Bert Schenider and Bob Rafelson (creators and managers of The Monkees 1966-68)–When Bert and Bob posted their advert for a new television series with the words ‘wanted – four insane boys...’, they could not have picked a better time. Younger than pretty much any other television producers around at the time, they wanted to see if they could find a new ‘Beatles’, taking ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ as their starting point and creating a radical multi-media campaign the likes of which had never been seen before. Loose enough to be different to everything else around at the time, but tight enough to keep the ‘stars’ on their toes and coping with a heavy workload that would have shut down lesser men, from 1966 to mid 1967 Bert and Bob succeeded beyond their expectations, with The Monkees briefly outstripping The Beatles in popularity. They even did admirably well in mid-1967, coping with the media snowstorm about the band ‘not playing on their own records’ by sacking the disloyal musical director Don Kirshner (who was working on and releasing records without the band’s knowledge)and backing the four Monkees up to the hilt, a very dangerous situation for such a huge cash cow that might have flopped badly. Alas when The Monkees did finally fall the pair were less honourable, destroying The Monkees image with the film ‘Head’ that on the positive side poked fun at the music and film industries and the TV series itself and, less charitably, at the four Monkees themselves. But after a money dispute that saw three members of the band out on strike and the cancellation of the TV series the two men just walked away, distancing themselves from the whole enterprise and re-launching their television careers without a second glance. Best moment: putting equally unsure newbies Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart in charge of making the band’s records, creating a great TV staff, encouraging all of The Monkees to improvise their way around their ‘scripts’ and finally backing them in the great 1967 ‘revolution’! Worst moment: Their portrayals of The Monkees in the script for ‘Head’ which they co-wrote with Jack Nicholson – Mike is ‘a con man’, Davy is ‘a Manchester midget greenie’, Micky is a ‘blithering space case’ and Peter is ‘a wise man’s mouthpiece who doesn’t know what he is doing’. So much for loyalty after two years of superstardom and support!
7) Andrew Loog Oldham (manager of The Rolling Stones 1962-67) –Blimey Andy Loog Oldham can talk. There are two volumes of his autobiography out at present and each is like a lengthy conversation that just keeps going, in real time more often than not. That’s quite apt for a manager who primed himself on being about image and style, able to convince anybody anything about the bands under his charge. He certainly managed to interest the press in the Rolling Stones – after a so-so first three singles he practically changed the way you do business with the music press with a series of articles about how the band were mad, bad and dangerous to know (after all, would you let your grandmother go out with a Rolling Stone, even now?) Of course, most of it was rubbish – Mick Jagger was so posh he had a business degree, Bill Wyman was a respectable gentleman who’d been in the army and Brian Jones might well be the richest-at-birth of all the AAA members (with Byrd Gram Parsons his only rival)- but people bought into the Loog Oldham ‘image’ and believe it even now. By 1967, though, things have gone weird – Oldham, always a dramatic personality, thinks he’s bigger than the band and knows more than they do. After a turbulent year involving prison sentences, drug busts, various wife and girlfriend troubles and increasing differences of opinion between Oldham and the band, Andrew quits. Or was fired. Like all things with Oldham, it depends who you ask what really happened. Less hands on that Epstein, less money-minded than Klein but just as pushy as Murray Wilson and Jim Dickson combined, Loog Oldham is the character most people think of when they talk about 1960s ‘managers’ – whether that’s a good thing or not is up to you. Best moment: That headline! After all, who could resist angering their parents by buying records with a group their parents weren’t meant to like? After the ‘would you let...’ article was in all the music papers, the Stones suddenly leapt from being a top 20 band to being a top ten one and I’ll lay odds this article was the key to that. Worst moment: That famous 1967 drugs bust. Worried his own drug and pill abuse might be documented, he kept quiet about it to the press – much to the band’s chagrin, especially with that ‘nice Mr Klein’ working so hard to get them out of trouble (little did they know...see above)
8) Tito Burns (manager of The Searchers 1963-65) –Unlike every single other manager on this list, Tito had been a successful musician before he turned his eye to managing others. You’d expect him to be a benevolent father figure, then, one who recognises how hard musicians work and how badly they need a helping hand. From the reports given by the bands he managed nothing could be further from the truth – Tito pushed his acts past the point of breaking and then, when the inevitable collapse happened, he dropped them without a second glance. That’s what happened to The Searchers at least, who remember him with a mixture of loving and loathing even today – and fellow Burns actThe Zomblies who were, the band remembers, ‘like zombies most of the time’. To be fair to him, though, Tito was in his 40s when he took on The Searchers and had also been a jazz musician, tradityionally sneering at pop and rock stars –two very big reasons why Tito should have ignored the band and Merseybeat in general. And yet his love for The Searchers and their kind of music was very genuine indeed, quite remarkable for a man at least 20 years older than his peers. Best moment: Giving The Searchers their big break in 1963, before even The Beatles had reached their sales peak and right on their coat-tails. Worst moment: spreading himself so thinly – as well as The Searchers and Zombies, Tito also worked with the Stones for a time, helped discover Dusty Springfield and became head of variety at London Weekend Television, all in the space of five years. No wonder he lost track of what was happening to whom with all that going on!
9) Kit Lambert (manager of The Who 1965-72) –Kit Lambert was another upper class toff looking to manage a band more as a hobby than anything else and actually approached The Who to be the subject of a film he was making at first, but to his credit he ‘got’ the band straight away and what they could become. Nobody else involved with ‘The High Numbers’ (as they were first known) thought much of them at all, back in the days when they only did covers, but Kit did. It was he who encouraged Pete Townshend first in his composing and then in the art of guitar smashing, allowing The Who to rack up equipment bills that would have crushed lesser men. Above all, he got two important things – firstly that the band didn’t centre around the toughman singer but the sensitive guitarist, turning Pete onto classical music and encouraging him to write longer, more involved pieces of work. He also got the theatricality of The Who’s work straight away, at a time when drawing attention to yourself on stage was out of fashion and long before The Troggs, The Move and Jimi Hendrix got into the equipment smashing mood. It all went wrong after ‘Tommy’, however, when Pete fell apart creating a follow-up and badly needed Kit’s guidance – only to find his friend and father figure was on a pilled and booze-filled collapse of his own. Lambert saw the band reject his own drug-addled script for a ‘Tommy’ film and became destructive rather than supportive, driving Townshend to suicide at one point when the guitarist overheard the words ‘he has blocked me at every turn’ (it was the fact his friend couldn’t even speak his name that hurt Townshend the most). The guiding light behind The Who? Certainly? The person who tried to end it prematurely when things got tough? Possibly that too. Best moment: Unquestionably ‘Tommy’. While I don’t think its The Who’s best album by any means, it did open a whole new avenue to the band after two years of flop singles and was very much Lambert’s baby, with Kit nurturing Townshend to create a ‘rock opera’ from bits and pieces at a time when most managers would have run for the hills. Worst moment: What happened from ‘Lifehouse’ onwards; unlike most fans I do think Pete could have finished his second magnus opus if only he’d had someone to talk to about it as he did through the making of ‘Tommy’ – with only a puzzled band and bored engineer to discuss things with, its no wonder Pete got cold feet over a project more esoteric and allegorical than anything written up to that time.
10) Eliott Roberts (manager of Neil Young 1969-date) –Considering we’ve learnt everything else we could ever possibly wish to know about Neil Young (his family, his Canadian background, his influences, his guitars, his train business, etc) I’m shocked that I can find so little material about the man whose been steering him forwards ever since the dying days of the Buffalo Springfield. Things didn’t get off to a good start – Neil fired Eliot from the Springfield days before leaving the band because he was out on the golf course instead of attending to his needs – but as the in-depth biography ‘Shakey’ implies, Neil only did that because he knew he was going solo and wanted to keep Eliott for himself. Certainly, the two have been close ever since as its usually Eliott (along with sometime producer David Briggs) who does all the ‘donkey work’, tidying up the mess of whichever band Neil has left to get on with his muse and making music. Less of a manager than the other nine here and more of a friend, Eliott is the main reason why Neil’s been allowed to get away with as much stuff as he has, from genre bending to breaking up bands left right and centre. However, as some have noted, has Eliott allowed Neil to get away with too much, allowing him to cancel projects at the last minute too often for his own good? Best moment: Allowing the ‘Doom Trilogy’ to go ahead, despite knowing it would wreck Neil Young’s commercial clout in the wake of ‘Harvest’ and ‘After The Goldrush’. Worst moment: 1991’s CSN box set is pretty darn near perfect. But it could have been even better – Graham Nash phoned up Neil directly to ask for his input and a couple of legendary CSNY tracks for use in the set. Neil said yes, then hesitated and got Eliott to get him out of the deal so that he could keep the songs for himself (he still hasn’t released them himself yet either, 20 years on). This has happened so many times down the years I could cite more, but the CSN box is in my view the big one.
Well, that’s it for another issue. My manager says I have to go and have a lie down now, so its goodbye till next week! Keep rocking! 8>)
'All The Things' - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Byrds is available now by clicking here!
The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday” (1967)
So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star/Have You Seen Her Face?/CTA-102/Renaissance Fair/Time Between/Everybody’s Been Burned//Thoughts and Words/Mind Gardens/My Back Pages/The Girl With No Name/Why?
In 1967, The Byrds were in freefall. Well, thinking about it, there never actually was a time when The Byrds weren’t in freefall, but 1967 was a particularly difficult year. Lead singer and lead composer Gene Clark, who would have been the star in any other 1960s band, has been gone for two albums now and the band are only just realising how badly they need him to get by. Stories about inter-band politics and arguments have followed the band around since their first recording session, but it’s here on album four that the difficulties are really beginning to show. In fact, many fans following The Byrds and hearing tales of all the fist-fights and no-shows at gigs assumed the band had enjoyed it’s last flight and were more than a little surprised to see the arrival of another album. But even then, fans would have had a bit of a shock reading through the writing credits. Surprisingly Roger McGuinn, the de facto leader of The Byrds on the last album who’d had a hand in choosing or writing practically all the material, is having a bit of writer’s block, with only one song and a co-credit and just two vocals to his credit. David Crosby is to some extent the band’s new leader and at his zenith with his first band (he’d be fired during sessions for the next record), enjoying the summer of love with some of his weirdest and least commercial material that to this day has many of his biggest fans scratching their heads. The biggest surprise, though, is the presence of Chris Hillman, the shy retiring bass player who’s never had a single song to his credit released by the band before and takes almost all the lead vocals on the album. With all these factors working against it – the ‘talent’ of the band in fans eyes gone or silenced, to make way for the looser style of Crosby and the unknown factor of Hillman - ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ should be terrible, the sign of a once-great band making its last gaps. Instead, ‘Yesterday’ is regularly rated as both one of the band’s best albums and one of the greatest American psychedelia albums, with a respect few other Byrds albums still have. Things will all change by the time of follow-up ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ (AAA review no 20) where the quartet become a duo (with Gene Clark arriving and leaving once more along the way) and the band will change forever by the time of that album’s country-rock follow-up ‘Sweethearts Of The Rodeo’, but for now, for once, for possibly the one and only time, The Byrds are realising their potential.
There’s a quote on the back of the band’s first album ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ where McGuinn talks about being at the forefront of a ‘jet age sound’, one that reflected the aeroplanes and machines of the day (rather than the more mechanical sounds of the 1940s; ‘krrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhh’ versus ‘rrrrrrrrooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrr’ as the band succinctly put it). Arguably, they were a bit premature there, as in 1965 with folk-rock on the rise the sound was a little bit quieter and more thoughtful than that. But in 1967 their slogan had become true – along with that ‘other’ band dedicated to ‘flying high’ the Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds have a special style true just to themselves in this period, made up of Hillman’s unique swooping bass, McGuinn’s ever-jangly guitar, Michael Clarke’s simple rock attack on the drums and Crosby’s jazz and Eastern influences. No other band of the day sounds like this, with this same mix of eclectic styles, and even The Byrds didn’t sound like this for very long (indeed, The Byrds never stood still from one LP to the next).
There are two major themes on this album, that of disgruntlement and that of things not turning out the way you expected them to. Indeed, by 1967 standards this is a very depressing album indeed, although it fits nicely the swing of mood that will occur in 1968 when revolution hangs in the air. We spoke above briefly about the ’27 club’ when artists get fed up of the fame and glamour and having to repeat themselves. Most of the band were 26 when they made this album but, heck, the Byrds always were earlier than their contemporaries and they certainly do sound fed up of the music business here. A lot of fans and critics missed it, what with the batch of songs about girls and aliens in the middle, but you could see ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ as an early tirade about the gloomy side of being a star. After all, the first track is an open letter against the music business – and the rise of The Monkees in particular – and ends with an only slightly more disguised diatribe against David Crosby’s mother about not being appreciated for his talents. Along the way, lovelorn narrators are ‘burned’, girls are made distant by ‘time’ ‘geography’ or ‘emotions’ and there are ‘walls’ we use to protect ourselves when life gets harsh. No wonder the band nearly broke up during the making of this record, as this really is about as far and away from teenage love songs as it’s possible to get.
The title itself is a weird one. On first glance it’s wonderfully psychedelic nonsense-filled motto, one that links itself back to childhood and the notion that things were better before the adult world corrupted us. But the title actually comes from an old Bob Dylan song that was already a good few years old at the time – and despite coming to fame with a cover of a Dylan song, by 1967 standards this was old news. ‘I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now’ is one of Dylan’s better phrases, saying much without actually saying anything at all, and you can see why it appealed to The Byrds. But for The Byrds Dylan was history at this point, having disappeared after a mysterious motorbike accident where nobody quite knew where he was (the answer – holed up in a barn recording country songs with The Band but people didn’t know that back then) and decidedly out of fashion. By contrast the Byrds are striding forward on this album and it sounds very out of place when they try to keep in touch with their past (Crosby hated the song and campaigned long and hard to have it kicked off the album – in the end, the band came to a compromise, allowing him to keep the song’s polar opposite ‘Mind Gardens’ on in return for his help with the recording). The result is a schizophrenic album with a full melange of styles both forward thinking and back, one that takes in everything from aliens from the future to the Renaisance, as summed up by the typically Byrdsy cover which features ghostly images of the band members looking over their own shoulders (a theme later developed for Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde, with a ‘country’ Byrds shadowed behind their ‘futuristic’ selves).
Variety is the spice of life, so they say, and it certainly helps on this album, which goes in several hundred directions at once. There’s one aspect that stops ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ from being perfect, however. Well, actually there’s two but we’ve already discussed the loss of Gene Clark. This album clocks in at just 29:36, missing out on a ‘top five’ shortest album placing by less than 10 seconds, and would have seemed short by 1964 standards, never mind 1967 ones. It’s also the shortest Byrds album and with just 11 tracks badly needs something extra to make it feel more substantial. That fact is even odder when you consider that, unlike The Beach Boys and Beatles, The Byrds only had to make one record a year not three or four according to their contract and that they had a bunch of other songs under consideration. In one of the strangest moves the band ever made, the band nixed the recording of Crosby’s ‘It Happens Each Day’ from the album at the last minute, even though it’s among the strongest songs The Byrds ever did and far less controversial than ‘Mind Gardens’, the Crosby track that everyone else but him seemed to hate. Perhaps Crosby was tired from fighting, but it’s hard to see why a band this short on material and time vetoed the inclusion of both this and flop single ‘Lady Friend’ for an album that could have been close to perfect. As a result, it’s sad that in-band bickering spoilt what could have been the Byrds’ best shot as posterity on album – as it is, fans are split over whether it’s this one, ‘5D’ or ‘Notorious’ which is their best album – personally I’d pick the latter, but all three are bright, blossoming, quirky albums with more than their fair share of success stories.
I’d love to say that ‘Yesterday’ was a great band record, but then The Byrds hadn’t really been a ‘band’ since their days as the ‘Jet Set’ in 1963 – and then they were a trio without a rhythm section. In truth, this is Chris Hillman’s show, the future Flying Burrito and Manassas member plugging the gap with some excellent material which manages to bridge the gap between the band’s older, more accessible material and Crosby’s weirder songs. The others may have resented Crosby’s growing ego, one that led him to preach about politics and conspiracy theories on-stage in between songs (something that fitted in perfectly for CSN crowds but must have really riled pop fans wanting to hear The Byrds’ biggest hits), but they also badly needed him at this point, with Crosby the ‘hippest’ Byrd at the period in time when being ‘hip’ meant more than ever. His songs for this album, both released and unreleased, are a staggering move forward from his earliest Beatlesy songs (‘Burned’, although written much earlier, is still only the second song ever credited just to Crosby – and despite its early 60s vintage still manages to sound futuristic here). McGuinn is, unusually, just along for the ride, taking one clear lead vocal on a Dylan cover and offering just one new song, although that is one of his best and most-under-rated. Finally, Michael Clarke doesn’t quite as sure of himself as he did on ‘5D’, possibly because he has to cope with such a mix of styles, but he’s still learning pretty quickly given that as late as 1964 he was still playing on cardboard boxes because the band couldn’t afford a full kit (the first two Byrds albums sound like it too, although on the next three his drumming is pretty darn good). This is Chris Hillman’s show, however, the start of a great six year run that will see him write many of the best songs for The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, and the bassist couldn’t have blossomed at a better time for his band.
Like all Byrds albums up until this time, ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ kicks off with what was then the band’s current single. And like the last album’s ‘5D (Fifth Dimension)’ ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star sold too poorly to be a hit but too well to be a flop. Most fans regard it highly, with its somewhat mischievous tone and cheeky damnation of bands who don’t have the same integrity as The Byrds. It certainly has a rattlingly great tune, with McGuinn’s busy riff perfectly placed and the horn riff from guest Hugh Masekela is a delight (ducked in the mix here, his solo really comes alive on The Byrds’ Monterey Pop Festival performance). But, for me, the lyrics aren’t as clever as they think they are and the potshots at a band who had never met before they were famous (long hinted to be The Monkees) are hypocritical, given that only McGuinn played an instrument on the Byrds’ biggest hit ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ (chief writer Hillman wasn’t on the song at all!) As co-writer McGuinn (who fine-tuned the guitar riff and helped with the lyrics) pointed out, the song was written at a time when there were more new bands around than ever, most of them only lasting a few months before fading back into obscurity, and in his words ‘all of a sudden here is everyone and his brother and sister-in-law and his mother and even his pet bullfrog singing rocvk ‘n’ roll!’ To be fair, the words are just about vague enough to sound cheeky rather than offensive and there are some good lines, especially the one about ‘selling your soul’ to a company who see you as money-spinners, even whilst the fans wait for a religious experience from your ‘plastic prayers’. Everyone is wrong, in other words – the bands and fans who take themselves too seriously and the record company that doesn’t take them seriously enough. The song then, annoyingly, sticks to the same groove without changing – perhaps a damnation of the lack of imagination of the band in the song, with the only release from the tension a very Eurovisiony chorus of ‘la-la-la-la-la! La-la-la-la-la! – but even though the band are laughing at other bands for being boring, they sadly are pretty boring themselves here. The end result is a mixed bag really – the horns and guitar-work are genius, but the rhythm section and most frustratingly the harmonies sound lacklustre and there are too many filler lyrics to go with the spot-on observations (‘and when your hair’s combed right and your pants so tight it’s a gonna be alright’), the sound of a talented band trying too hard and only hitting the mark occasionally. Still, considering Hillman had never had a song released by the band before, it’s pretty good for a first attempt – and it’s hilarious to think that Chris’ first songwriting credit (barring the group jam ‘Captain Soul’) was for a track that poked fun at songwriting! The screams, by the way, come from a Beatles concert (if you listen carefully you can just hear someone shouting ‘Ringo!’ in the instrumental section) and were probably ‘loaned’ by Derek Taylor, the publicist for both bands in this period.
For my money, Hillman’s lesser known ‘Have You Seen Her Face?’ is far superior and sets the tone for most of his country-rock hybrids to come (The Byrds may have had all the fuss about creating the genre with their ‘Sweethearts Of The Rodeo’ album in 1968, but really they started playing with the idea as early as their second LP). This simple song has a lovely flowing melody that seems to jump from one foot to the other in it’s excitement at falling in love and being caught up under his girl’s ‘spell’. In fact, this song is almost McCartneyesque in the way the song sounds complete and fully formed and so seemingly obvious you’re surprised it hasn’t been around for decades longer. You can also hear the Hillman-Crosby blend at its best, the two friends handling the lion’s share of vocals for this album without McGuinn adding his own parts for some reason and they sound so similar in parts it’s like hearing one voice. Interestingly, Byrds expert Johnny Rogan (whose book on The Byrds ‘Timeless Flight’ is still the only one ever published about the group, perhaps because it’s so detailed and definitive there’s really not much more to add) reckons this song’s basslines are McCartneyesque too – had Chris just been turned ‘on’ to the moptops, some years after his band members and started writing in their style? (as a mandolin player in the early 60s Chris had the least pop background of all The Byrds, a background dominated by country and folk). Interestingly, though, its Beatle fan McGuinn who adds the most exotic touches to the song, with an intriguing guitar part that burbles underneath the main tune in contrast to what everyone else is doing, with a sound more akin to a pedal steel than his usual Rickenbacker trademark (actually, it’s a Gretsch Country Gentleman, making its only appearance on a Byrds album). Less ambitious than most of the other tracks on the album, ‘Face’ is actually one of the most impressive songs on here, rattled off by the band with a casual breeze that makes it a delight and far more in keeping with their past work than the other songs here. A quiet triumph for the band and especially for writer Chris Hillman.
‘C.T.A-102’ is, in contrast, one of the weirdest songs in my collection and is easily the most outrageous thing The Byrds ever tried (well, until Skip Battin joins the band anyway!) McGuinn was famous for his love of both gadgets and science and he gets to indulge in both here, with a bleeping synthesiser-laden soundbed that sounds like an alien world – and futuristic lyrics about contact with aliens on top. The song was inspired by a scientific article Roger read about quasars, which in the 1960s had only just been discovered and weren’t yet that well understood. We know now (well I say we, I wouldn’t have a clue!) that qasars are random pulses of radiation given out by imploding stars – but, back when they were first discovered, the noises picked up by distant telescopes fascinated scientists and even led some to believe they were the sounds of aliens making contact. Inspired by this, McGuinn turns in one of his funniest works, far more hilarious than his similar but gauche ‘Mr Spaceman’, with a jolly group of scientists who speak directly to the aliens and send their own pulse-waves across the stars. There’s a poignancy here too, though, with, the line about ‘we don’t care whose been there [in space] first!’ a defiant cry against the space wars between America and Russia. Remember, this is two years before man had landed on the moon, with the whole universe up for grabs by one or other leading power, and the Byrds here embrace the idea that space discoveries should be for the benefit of all mankind. It’s the ending, though, for which this song will be best remembered, with a sped-up McGuinn and Crosby (both still pretty recognisable despite some great effects) trading lines of gibberish while a synthesiser pulsates behind them. The band also borrowed from Stockhausen for some of the more out-there noises (such as piano pedals being banged with fists and being treated with echo to provide a suitably spacey, monotonous sound) and what sounds like a xylophone being struck very heavily. The result is a fun piece, one that successfully conjures up images of aliens and space and makes it sound like a fun place to be (which, in 1967 before Nasa’s accidents and any casualties, it was), in steep contrast to McGuinn’s later space anthems ‘Space Oddysey’ and ‘Hungry Planet’, both of which portray space as being big, black and scary. One of the gems of the record, so 1967-sounding and yet so timeless at the same time. Oh and McGuinn must have had some friends in high places, as respected radio astronomer Dr Eugene Epstein (of Jet Propulsion Laboratories) references the song in his scientific paper ‘The Astrophysical Journal’, something which must have pleased science fanatic McGuinn no end!
‘Renaissance Fair’ is a Crosby song which McGuinn helped him complete, a song that somehow manages to sound very 60s and also true to the Renaissance period of the title. Crosby, always one of the hippie dream’s biggest champions, fondly imagines that people will look back on ‘his’ decade with as much fondness and admiration as people do about the Renaissance with its sudden uprising of poets, artists and scientists. On the one hand a simple list of exciting things happening, on the other ‘Renaissance Fair’ can be seen as quite a deep song about the parallels and similarities of the two eras, both of them happy times when discoveries are constantly being made and the old monotonous order is being overthrown. (Actually, I’ve only just learnt while researching this article, that there really was a ‘Renaissance Fair’ festival in L.A. in late 1966, with hippies dressed up in medieval clobber, which is presumably where Crosby got the idea). The chorus line ‘I think that maybe I’m dreaming’ is quite a famous one, being recycled by Eric Burdon in his hippie tribute song ‘Monterey’ (which also includes the line ‘The Byrds and the Airplane did fly...’) and the whole song sums up well a feeling of disbelief, not out of confusion for once on this site but from happiness. The tune switches several times throughout the song and together with McGuinn’s frenetic guitar riff and Hillman’s ever-moving bass riffs it really does sound as if there are too many good things for the narrator to take it at once. I’m especially fond of the middle eight – it doesn’t change the song that much, but the slight slowing tempo and reflective minor key is very Crosby and sums up the feeling of nostalgia well, until the song happily resolves itself on Hillman’s plunging bass riff. Considering most of the band hated Crosby’s contributions, this one went surprisingly smoothly and lasted in their set for quite a while and its perhaps the best example of Crosby matching his hippie ideals and desire to push the limit of music with the sort of three minute pop songs the Byrds specialised in. Enticing and exciting, there’s just two factors preventing this from being among the best ever Byrds tunes – a rather tired sounding Hillman and Crosby sharing the vocals and the brevity of the song, clocking in at under two minutes (there’s so much happening all around, surely we can spend longer looking at it all?!) Still, a fine song.
‘Time Between’ is another Hillman song that sounds at one with other AAA songs about being on tour (10cc’s ‘Lifeline’, Jack The Lad’s ‘Back On The Road Again’, etc), with the narrator out on the road desperate to phone home and speak to his girlfriend. The only problem is, he’s so far from her she’s in a different time zone and he has to compensate for the time difference, with a metaphor there also for how far apart they are geographically and emotionally – describe it as he can, there’s no way the narrator can reconcile these two very different ways of living with each other. There’s also a dual meaning there too – the ‘time between’ the pair is also the narrator’s regret that two people who have just met and were so in love have had so little time together. A love letter turned into a song, this song sounds both very personal and honest and very crafted all at the same time (like many a Hillman song, this one is a lot of little melodies perfectly stuck to each other so that you can’t hear the join). Clarke’s frantic drumming slightly on the off-beat is an excellent underpin to this song, sounding like someone really tired running really fast, while guest Clarence White (who’ll become a Byrd himself in two years and three album’s time) is as great as ever on the country guitar part. Hillman himself doesn’t think much of this song – allegedly the first he ever tried writing – but he should, as it shows many of the character traits that will mark his songs for years to come, with clever half rhymes, a staccato rhythm delivered at speed and a chorus that somehow manages to sound happy and sad all at the same time (‘Through love and trust I know it’ll work out fine – the only pain I feel is all this time between you and me’). A forgotten gem.
‘Everybody’s Been Burned’ is also Crosby’s first song – give or take a couple we don’t know about, although it’s certainly the first many of his early followers remembers hearing from Crosby’s early club-singing days, along with a cover of Dino Valentini’s ‘Get Together’. I was amazed when I first learnt that fact, partly because this fragile, spacey song which speaks in metaphors sounds so much of its time, partly because the band hadn’t chosen to revive it before (its certainly better than Crosby’s other songs on the first three Byrds albums) and partly because from the first Crosby has already found his ‘style’ of unusual guitar tunings, moody atmosphere and controversial lyrics. The idea of the song is that everybody in love suffers at some point – an idea at loggerheads with the 1950s image of ‘one true love’ and childhood sweethearts’ – and branches out to the idea that love only matters to the two people sharing a romance and that no one else’s opinion counts, whatever the criticism. I can just see that idea going down well with the other Byrds! There’s also plenty of other Crosby images he’ll pick up on later in his career – there’s a ‘bitter wall’ with ‘doors’ (reminiscent of both ‘The Wall Song’ from the first Crosby-Nash record in 1971 and this album’s ‘Mind Gardens’ – was Crosby inspired to write that one after re-discovering this song perhaps?) and an ending where Crosby’s narrator ignores all of his fears and decides to just love instead. Manager Jim Dickson (see below) reportedly hated this song, perhaps the reason why it never came out until his influence over the band was coming to an end) because it was ‘so off it’s time’ – if so then its hard to understand what he means. Sure, ‘burned’ is a phrase that was slightly anachronistic by the mid-60s, but fans would still know what he means and the intense atmosphere gets the claustrophobic atmosphere across perfectly well. Impressively the other Byrds – less than supportive of Crosby’s other songs in general – do the song proud, with a tender guitar solo from McGuinn that reeks of both pain and strength and Hillman’s uncharacteristic bass rumbles add an ominous air to the song that’s very fitting. This is Crosby’s show, though, and his vocal (only his third solo vocal of all released up to that time) is delightful, dripping with pathos and sympathy and his acoustic guitar playing too is sublime, pulling on the notes as if trying to drag some response from the narrator’s partner. A strong song expertly presented, this may well be Crosby’s shining moment with the band in their lifetime – although see this album’s outtake ‘It Happens Each Day’ for perhaps Crosby’s greatest Byrds song of all.
Now onto the second genius song in a row, Hillman’s ‘Thoughts and Words’, a song I rated highly on my ‘gold, silver and bronze’ award list a few months ago (see the forum!) At first glance this is another simple song with Hillman’s characteristic clipped sentences and half rhymes, this time stretched out across three lines so that the bassist is out of breath by the end. It’s also another song about being caught up under someone’s ‘spell’, but this time it’s the underside of that thought, with the narrator trapped in a relationship he doesn’t want because he’s terrified to leave. As the chorus tells us, this guy thought he was in charge of the relationship but he hadn’t realised just how powerful a hold his girl had on him. Just at the point where you’re beginning to work that out, in comes the most memorable moment of the song, a cascade of backwards tape loops and sound effects that sound like nothing short of the world ending, propelling the narrator further down his hypnotised trance, especially when played in counterpart to each other. By 1967 standards or, well, even today’s standards this effect is mesmerising, so other-worldly and modern it sounds like it can’t possibly be coming from a record made 44 years ago, but there it is – a scary, scary moment on a quite terrifying song. So much for Hillman writing the more conservative songs for The Byrds! Many fans and critics dismiss this song as being all about the sound effect, but even without this would be quite a powerful song, with the whole band performance full of tension and crackling with fear. Hillman’s vocals, seemingly deliberately ducked in the mix, makes it sound as if the narrator isn’t really there while the group harmonies on this song have just the right amount of menace and politeness, so that we too can’t quite work out what’s going in this song. Listen out too for Crosby’s counterpart harmony at the end, singing his own cut down version of Hillman’s part which in its own way makes just as much sense (‘One day you came into my mind and everything it was all mine...loveliness, I feel your magic, feel your magic ways’ against ‘One day you came into my mind when everything it looked as thought it was all mine, loveliness to gaze upon, to feel your magic pulling me away’). Wow, quite possibly the highest peak The Byrds ever reached, powerful and progressive without losing the commercial feel of the song, its criminal how so few fans know about this track and how lowly regarded it is (it didn’t even make it onto the Byrds box set!) Full marks to everybody for this one, especially Hillman.
Alas, from this point in the album on, ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ seems to lose its way a bit. Crosby’s latest epic ‘Mind Gardens’ is one of those marmite Byrds tracks you either love or hate – even the band and management were heavily divided in their opinion of it at the time and it only made it onto the LP after a protracted argument. Considering how much I love Crosby’s other-worldy most out-there songs (‘Where Will I Be?’ ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody There’ ‘Tamapalpais High’ ‘Flying Man’ etc) I have to say I was quite disappointed by this track, although its not as bad as some fans suggest. Less of a song and more a monologue set to music, this piece has no lyrics in the traditional sense (no verse or chorus structure; no rhyming scheme) which was outrageous for the times, but this is less of a problem than the backing, with its squawking tape loops and backwards guitar parts. The backing just gets in Crosby’s way too often, which is a shame as much of this song contains some very moving images, with Crosby telling us about the garden inside our minds that gets over-run with problems and shut off behind defensive ‘walls’ that block the ‘sunlight’ man needs. It’s all very psychedelic, possibly the most out-there the Byrds ever got, but unlike the other psychedelic pieces on this album, it’s not quite timeless enough to work as well now. I have to say though that I love Crosby’s voice on this one, soaked through with passion and steering it’s way through Cod Shakesperian English (‘The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’) and Indian melismas, a circular held note usually heard on sitars (‘and when the sun ca-a-a-a-a-a-me’). In lesser hands than Crosby’s this song would have been a mess, but if you can put up with this song’s left-field approach there’s much to love about. Listen out too for Crosby’s triumphant ‘I tore the walls all down!’, a full dozen years before Pink Floyd yelled ‘tear down the wall!’ The irony, of course, is that the struggle to get this song on an album against the wishes of the other Byrds added more undergrowth to Crosby’s ‘garden’ than ever before – and took up time that might have been better spent pushing for the inclusion of ‘Lady Friend’ and ‘It Happens Each Day’ on this album, superior songs both. Still, ‘Mind Gardens’ is a fascinating experiment and even though its a flawed one you still have to give credit to The Byrds and Crosby in particular for trying to pull off something this complex. As an aside, I actually prefer the unreleased ‘demo’ version on the CD re-issue, which makes up for a lesser Crosby vocal by toning down the sound effects and letting McGuinn’s bubbling guitarwork shine through.
‘My Back Pages’ is an awkward backward step, a Dylan cover that only made it to the album after another lengthy argument, as part of the compromise for including ‘Mind Gardens’, this cover’s polar opposite. Now, I’ve never been that much of a Dylan fan, whether in the hands of The Byrds or The Hollies or the original, and this cover is played particularly badly. Crosby, famously, hated it and argued they shouldn’t be throwing back to the past with cover versions when their own songs were so strong – if its a choice between this rubbish and ‘Mind Gardens’ then I’m with Crosby, but then again that would have left McGuinn with just the one song and vocal to his name. McGuinn tries hard, but this is a song less suited to The Byrds style than any of their other covers (I still say the menacing live version of ‘Positively 4th Street’ from ‘Untitled’ is the best) and none of the band seem to know their parts that well (McGuinn’s solo is played so slowly even I could make a stab at playing it, Michael Clarke’s drumming gets slower as the track wears on and in contrast to his excellent playing on the rest of the album, Hillman’s bass part here is looped and literally wanders round and round the same part on the final verse, as if in search of the tune). Sure there’s that clever line that gave this album its title and its very fitting for an album released just before the summer of love – but, seriously, what were The Byrds thinking, putting this on the album whilst ‘It Happens Each Day’ missed the cut? Ironically only Crosby sounds at all comfortable, repeating his old ‘innocent’ harmony vocal he used on the band’s previous Dylan covers. Again, I slightly prefer the unreleased version included as a bonus track on the CD, although the differences are slight with just a chirpier organ part that makes the recording sound more ‘involved’ somehow.
‘The Girl With No Name’ is Hillman’s last song on the album – amazingly, it’s his fifth, more than McGuinn or Crosby – and probably his weakest. Like ‘Time Between’ it’s a country-rock number that tells the story of a relationship in the style of a Western (Crosby must have been listening, as his 1971 solo track ‘Cowboy Movie’ – which tells the story of the breakup of CSNY – is very similar). The events are true too - well, in as much as Hillman’s friend of the time really did have the unusual name ‘Girl’ as her Christian name – and it may well be the same person who inspired Hillman’s other songs on the album. The tale is another simple one linked by Hillman’s quick stabbing lines and quick, clever rhymes, with the pair on the beach finding that they’ve just fallen in love despite the warnings of their friends and, by the final verse, watching the relationship die. Hillman doesn’t sound that upset, though, with a vocal that treats the song as a joke rather than a real moment of loss and heartbreak. The rest of The Byrds sound less at home, especially Mike Clarke’s drums which are off the wall even for him, a basic drum pound on the off beat of the off beat! (Well, you’ll know what I mean if you hear it!) Thank goodness for the presence of Clarence White again on guitar, adding a typically complex yet understated part that chimes in well with the country and western vibes of the song, although it seems odd that yet again McGuinn is missing (he’s not a part of the harmonies on this track either and might not be on this track at all). Fun but inconsequential, especially next to the other strong Hillman tracks on this album.
The album ends with ‘Why?’ That sounds like a good name for a recording that’s caused much debate among Byrds followers over the years – namely, why did the band decide to resurrect this track so long after it’s first release (as the B-side to ‘Eight Miles High’ – what a great pairing that was! – in early 1966), a full year before this re-recording. And why then was this revisitation so bad? The answer seems to be that Crosby, the chief writer of this song (with McGuinn’s credited for changing the lyrics of the first verse to make them more ‘universal’) didn’t like the first recording and wanted another – but alas the band either hadn’t bothered to learn the song again or were in a bad mood that day, as this second stab is a pale shadow of the first. Still, ‘Why?’ is a strong song, one of Crosby’s finest Byrds pieces, with an updated lyric of ‘What’s Happening?!?!?’ from the ‘5D’ album asking first why a relationship isn’t working and then why the world is suffering. The song allegedly begun as a diatribe against Crosby’s mother (the first line read ‘keep saying no to you since I was a baby’) and acted as a sort of metaphor for the 60s generation and the battle against their conservative 1940s/50s parents. In McGuinn’s hands, however, the twist became that the narrator has only just realised how pretty his friend is, whose rebuttals he’s been giving since early childhood. The whole track is held together by a great riff, a sort of staccato stabbing punctuation mark after every sentence and McGuinn’s solo is one of his best on the first recording, a maelstrom of anger, pride and defiance, channelling the hopes and fears of the hippie generation through his Rickenbacker. Hillman’s bass swoops, like an Eagle looking for prey, are also fantastic on the original (as heard as a bonus track on the re-issue of ‘5D (Fifth Dimernsion)’, but here on this re-recording the whole thing sounds lacklustre and unmoving, particularly without Gene Clark’s gruff bass to hold the song together, and all but collapses by near the end (with McGuinn and Clarke way out of time with each other). Perhaps the band should have gone for another take, used the original (which few but the band’s biggest fans would have heard) or dropped the idea entirely. As so often happens with The Byrds you have to ask: why?!?
If you’re a Small Faces or a Pink Floyd fan, say, then the choice is easy: your favourite group’s best album is ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ or ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, give or take a fan or two. For Beatles and Rolling Stones fans then it’s harder – ‘Sgt Peppers’ often gives way to ‘Abbey Road’ or ‘Revolver’ nowadays, whilst Stones fans traditionally plump for ‘Exile On Main Street’ with ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Let It Bleed’ catching up fast. But for groups like The Hollies, The Moody Blues and The Byrds there is no real contingency over what their best album is. If push comes to shove, most fans probably plump for this one – which is why I elected to leave it off the reviews page proper, given that we wanted to give people heads up on under-rated albums. To be honest, I wish I’d added ‘Yesterday’ to the list anyway, even though it isn’t as adventurous as ‘5D’, as consistent as ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ or as much of a neglected gem as ‘Untitled’. There’s plenty to love about this album and the first side is superb, with the album as a whole containing three of my all time favourite Byrds tracks in ‘CTA-102’ ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’ and ‘Thoughts and Words’. But things go badly wrong on the second side, as if this album was rushed (though goodness knows why seeing as The Byrds were on quite a lenient schedule by 1960s standards) and at a running time shorter than any other Byrds albums – only slightly more than half of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘After Bathing At Baxters’ from the same year for instance – you can’t help but be disappointed that such a great ride is over so soon. There’s also two songs in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ and ‘My Back Pages’ that are among the nadir of The Byrds’ catalogue, backward looking pieces that don’t belong to stand beside the gems of the record. But if you’re a fan who hasn’t got round to buying this record yet, or even a follower curious about how America’s premier folk-rock act sounded in the psychedelic years, then this album’s for you, every bit as wild eclectic and powerful as you’d help. In fact, had I come to this album first in The Byrds’ canon before the albums outlined above I might well have agreed with critics who say that The Byrds couldn’t get any higher because parts of it really are that good – but then I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/the-byrds-five-landmark-concerts-and.html
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/the-byrds-five-landmark-concerts-and.html