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Monday, 27 March 2017
The Byrds "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (1965)
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The Byrds "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (1965)
Turn! Turn! Turn!/It Won't Be Wrong/Set You Free This Time/Lay Down Your Weary Tune/He Was A Friend Of Mine//The World Turns All Around Her/Satisfied Mind/If You're Gone/The Times They Are A Changin'/Wait And See/Oh! Susannah
'The times they are a-changin' runs one of two Bob Dylan covers on this second album, but actually what's so odd about 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' is how much of the same there is. The Byrds would go on to become a band who never repeated themselves under any circumstances, so it's odd to hear them structuring an album to be as much like their debut as possible. The fact that most people - including the five in the band - feel that the sequel was never a match for the original might perhaps explain why they never bothered to repeat themselves again. But just take a look at that track listing: is this really a worse LP than its illustrious predecessor? There are less Dylan covers, three classic Gene Clark songs that improve even on his first batch, Roger McGuinn waxing lyrical about JFK, David Crosby's first professional writing credit, the first country Byrds song and a far greater sense of scope all round. Not bad for a group who only had six months since the last LP to get everything ready, interrupted by c0onstant touring (although in a sign of just how quickly things moved back then, Derek Taylor's sleevenotes complain about the length of time and that this album 'was as long in the making as a president'. What, Trump?!) The band aren't quite turn turn turning yet, maybe, with half an album full of filler, but the wheels are in motion for greater things and this is, along with 'Untitled', the most under-rated album of the band's entire run, full of good things bordering on great.
Most of those greater things will happen despite the fact that most of the 'heroes' of this album - Gene Clark, manager Jim Dickson, producer Terry Melcher - will be long gone by the time The Byrds next return to the studio. Most of these departures will be down to pure old fashioned jealousy of the sort that can only happen in young and hungry groups that have suddenly taken off before the ground beneath their feet was properly established (the five-piece have only been together as a unit for a year after all). Manager Jim Dickson is jealous of how close producer Terry Melcher is growing to his protege Jim McGuinn. David Crosby is jealous of the fact that Jim Dickson is more interested in McGuinn than him. The rhythm section of Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke are jealous of the attention the band's frontline always seem to be getting. And everyone is jealous of Gene Clark who, as by far the band's most prolific writer, is suddenly swimming in royalties - the irony being that the more spiritual Gene is the Byrd least disposed to actually caring about the money and ended up giving quite a bit of it away or giving in to rash advice. Crosby is particularly annoyed that Gene and Jim suddenly have amazing cars (the latter a 'gift' from Terry when McGuinn's broke down and he was forced to get the bus to the sessions) when he can't afford even a basic car himself. Suddenly all the fissures and cracks that have been lying under the surface before Mr Tambourine Man was even a boy have suddenly exploded into wild backstabbing, arguments and egos. Before the next album is underway Gene will have walked, suffering a Brian Wilson-style breakdown during an aeroplane ride (an irony for a 'Byrd' not lost on Crosby and damning outtake 'Psychodrama City') and paranoid about the four band members either trying to make his girlfriends split up with him every time they needed a new song (because that's when he wrote the most and hardest) and ogling his money. Melcher will have been pushed. And Dickson will have come out worst from a fist-fight with Crosby during a photo session that went disastrously wrong. If the first album was all about feathering the bands' nests then this second one has the band flying away from home. In many ways this is from now on a band on borrowed time, the end simply delayed album by album until everything finally collapses - here is where the band start needing a turn-turn-tourniquet.
We may be only six months on from the debut album but already there's a sense that the band's time is up and change is on the horizon. Perhaps that's why it's an album that seems to be mostly about parting, unusual and unique for the generally upbeat trends of music in 1965. The album opens with the admonishment that 'to everything there is a season' and The Byrds play in gloomy splendour, despite the Beatley backbeat and massive harmonies, the end in sight. 'It Won't Be Wrong' pleads for a second chance as a lover is halfway to the door, because a chance to be loved can never be wrong. 'Set You Free This Time' is a devastating song about agreeing to let a loved one go even when it hurts. 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' is the ultimate goodbye, of death. 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' continues the theme by mourning Kennedy. 'The World Turns All Around Her' has Gene reflecting on how he never quite realised just how much a certain girl meant to him. 'Satisfied Mind' sighs 'When my life is over, when my time has run out...' 'If You're Gone' is yet another tortured Gene Clark ballad about loss. 'The Times They Are A Changin' recognises how nothing is ever stable. Only the last two songs sit rather outside this album's collection of farewells, with 'Wait And See' a 'Tambourine Man' style 'hello' song and 'Oh! Susannah' arriving from Alabama with a banjo on its knee (although even this track has a girl weeping goodbyes). By and large, though, this album is a sea of partings and there's a sense of palpable loss across the album, an unspoken feeling that the band actually won't meet again some sunny da-e-ay, a dark world where romances are doomed to fade and fall apart, where tunes (and singers) are laid to rest and where presidents pay for their liberalness with their lives. So much for being just another teenybopper mid-1960s album!
Which is a particular shame because the first Byrds line-up sound as if they've just cracked out what to do with all the disparate talents in the band. The first album, was to a greater extent, all about McGuinn, his Rickenbacker singing its way through the few songs he wasn't singing lead on even if, in composition terms, The Byrds were already largely Gene Clark's show. Here everybody gets a say: Crosby's harmony vocals are all over this album which features far more uses of the full Byrd three-part harmony, Gene gets an even greater share of the songwriting credits having hit a particularly rich seam of songs and Chris Hillman, the band's quiet bassist, starts to get noisy here and pushes the band towards a country sound for the first time with his song choice 'Satisfied Mind'. There are some terrific performances across this album as The Byrds grow in confidence from their first album without the occasional self-indulgences of their future work. The title track, for instance, took 78 takes to get right but it's worth it, with a rock-solid drum beat, a walking bass and McGuinn's smiling Rickenbacker going in three different directions at once but somehow ending up in the same place anyway. 'The World Turns All Around Her' beats even that song, being the tightest, most streamlined rocker the band ever put together (the bootlegs of the tracking session are some of the most thrilling moments in the Byrds canon, released or unreleased, with their criss-crossing guitars a prototype for 'Eight Miles High' a few months later). There's an almost unbearable tension across 'Set You Free This Time' and 'If You're Gone' which also suggests that even if the rest of the band didn't always understand or share Gene's vision they were content to fly with him while searching for it. In short The Byrds sound like a 'band' in a way they really won't until the White-Battin-Parsons line-up really gets going circa 1970 - despite the fact that, behind the scenes, The Byrds had never seemed less like a band (I would of course have loved to have been in all of the AAA bands just to see the music being made firsthand, but the more I read about The Byrds the more I realize this is the one band that I really wouldn't have wanted to be a part of, with new line-ups every other record and power struggles galore - at least CSN made a point of how much they respected each other before breaking up, while The Who blew up on stage but bonded by destroying hotel rooms together! This era Byrds seems to have largely spent their down-time from making records and playing concerts sulking).
What's more there are some pretty inventive and brave decisions across this record. We forget it now we've heard it so many times on the radio, with that Rickenbacker part exploding out the speakers, but everyone involved with 'Turn Turn Turn' as a single was slightly edgy. Second single 'All I Really Wanna Do' had been a flop and this first release that wasn't a Bob Dylan single struck many people as 'wrong'. Would soon-to-be-hippie teenagers really buy a single made up of Bible quotes? Was the idea of everything having a natural end really a message American teenagers would flop towards? Was the Bach-style guitar solo really as ear-catching as 'Tambourine Man'. In a way these fears were well places - the single flopped badly in Europe (with a peak of just #28 in the UK charts, perhaps on the back of a disastrous UK tour when the band were sloppy and out of tune and being billed as 'America's answer to The Beatles' to a nation's youth still mourning the fact the fab four never seemed to be at home anymore these days) and only really sold well in America. 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' was perhaps the least suitable Dylan song the band could ever have chosen - it's a dirge (that's not me being rude, that's what it is being a slow ballad about grief, but dirges had to get their bad reputation somewhere) that's slowed down even further in The Byrds' interpretation. While there had been country-rock songs before (most of them on 'Beatles For Sale' in December 1964) none had ever been quite as traditional sounding as 'Satisfied Mind'. Back in 1965 'The Times They Are A Changin' still sounded vaguely like a threat to mums and dads, instead of a bit of vintage folk trotted out on 1960s documentaries - you had to be a rebel to sing it back then, even if singing it didn't always make you sound rebellious. gene Clark is at least a thousand light years ahead of anybody (Dylan included) beating even the better Lennon-McCartney songs on 'Rubber Soul' with his oh so real aching interpretations of love in all its many dimensions. And, hey, you have to be brave to try and make a folk song as clichéd as 'Oh! Susannah' sound hip (although McGuinn reportedly suggested it as a joke and waited, shocked, for either his band or his manager or producer to shoot his idea down in flames; taking him at face value that the song would be a 'hip' and trendy thing to do, in the end only Michael Clarke laughed at the idea and openly mocked the song in his marching drum pattern). That's 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' in a nutshell. Even when things are going wrong, even when the band are deliberately making mistakes and doing things any other band would have been laughed at, in their magical first year of 1965 The Byrds still have the street-cool to get by. Well, everywhere except the album cover.
The one thing that doesn't quite work on this album is the packaging. We've already commented on Derek Taylor's uncharacteristically flung together sleevenotes that don't really capture the spirit of this album at all, complaining about the delay and offering apologies rather than praising the band in cryptic self-deprecating comments the usual Derek Taylor way. The front cover isn't much better: a posed shot of an obviously bored band against a blue background where they've never looked odder (or less like a band - I'd never realised there were five very different ways of pulling the same blank expression but The Byrds have this down pat on the sleeve). 'Mr Tambourine Man' screamed cool, what with McGuinn's then-new granny specs, Crosby's then-new cape and a fish-eye lens shot that seemed hip and modern. Here The Byrds seem like yesterday's news story already, with even the glasses and cape beginning to look like props. The time they are a changin' - so why is this sleeve harking back to the past? Just compare to The Beatles' decidedly more creative and groundbreaking sleeve for 'Rubber Soul', out the week before, which seems to come from another dimension altogether (a fifth one?)
It's a shame, then, that we didn't get a third album featuring the original Byrds because that would have been quite something, with the band growing in confidence and ideas. Just imagine what a full album of the next song made by the five Byrds in a studio ('Eight Miles High') would have sounded like, before Gene's departure robs the band of their lead songwriting voice. In a way even this second album is robbed of their songwriting voice. At least two songs (probably 'Satisfied Mind' and 'Oh! Susannah', maybe 'Wait and See') were added to the album at the last minute in place of two extra Gene Clark songs recorded at the sessions, again out of pure jealousy. Even the song's composer couldn't remember writing or recording 'The Day Walk' when the tapes were unearthed for the 'Never Before' compilation in 1987 (Gene giving the song that same title until discovering what his younger self had intended to call it on Columbia paperwork), but he should - it's unforgettable, even for this period of Gene's songwriting, with its paranoid air and reckless use of the Rickenbacker and harmonies that till now had usually been used for sunshine and colour. Ditto 'She Don't Care About Time', relegated to a B-side, even though its complex words about a Miss Haversham-style character trapped in a loneliness of her own making were perhaps the most revealing of Gene's entire career, full of pathos and despair that hint at how badly being sidelined was making him feel. We've said it before and will no doubt be saying it again soon, but Gene Clark really was The Byrds in these early days, with the best songs, the most committed vocals and the charisma to be the band's front-man - the only things he didn't have were the confidence or, indeed, the support of his bandmates and managers. For now, though, he's in a whole stratosphere ahead of everyone else - though in time Crosby will out-flank even him for boldness and originality, with McGuinn and Hillman not far behind either, for now Clark is King and The Byrds will never be the same again without him. Add those two songs in instead of the Beatley-crib 'Wait and See' (Crosby's first hour is not his finest), the so-slow-it-hurts 'Satisfied Mind' and that joke finale with the banjo and suddenly you have a near-perfect second record (equally Crosby's other three songs attempted for this album but rejected for being 'too weird' - the backing track to 'Stranger In A Stranger Land' being the only one that still exists - would have made for a far more interesting album).
Even so, 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' isn't a bad record. While it was never going to be quite as influential as 'Mr Tambourine Man' simply through doing the same thing a second time round rather than the first, in terms of track-on-track action it's probably better. Gene's songs are sharper, there are less wimpy Dylan covers, less uncertain cameos from McGuinn and Crosby and a much tighter and more disciplined band sound as well as a far more adult subject matter of loss and moving on. The Christmas market of 1965 was flooded like perhaps no other season with oodles of AAA classics to enjoy: as well as 'Rubber Soul' The Rolling Stones were 'Out Of Our Heads', The Kinks had a 'Kontroversy' and The Hollies released their third eponymously titled album. Arguably only The Who's 'My Generation' (this album's polar opposite, all about noise attitude and cynicism, not calm cool and optimism) and The Searchers' 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' (it's twin sister, full of folk-rock with production forward glances) really matched 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' which more than held its own in very illustrious company. For now the band are around seven and a half miles high, surely peaking with their very next single, before suffering a free-fall that's going to last pretty much for the rest of this book. Often overlooked between better selling, more respected albums, 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' isn't just better than reputation suggests, it's one hell of a lot better than reputation suggests - perhaps the band's finest until 'Notorious Byrd Brothers'. Especially once Gene Clark is given the microphone and songwriting pen, although even without him McGuinn is on top form too with the title track and 'He Was A Friend Of Mine'. Slowly, bit by bit, this album's reputation is growing too although most people still tend to rate the albums either side of it. But them to everything these is a season including this album - I swear it's not too late!
'Turn! Turn! Turn!' itself is quite a watershed moment for The Byrds in many ways. Back in 1965 most bands were still chasing the tail of The Beatles in 1964, when music was largely frivolous and fun. There certainly wasn't another band around in 1965 setting bible extracts to music but that's exactly what's happening in this adaptation of The Book Of Ecclesiastes, section III to be exact (the most musical and rhythmical of the Bible chapters - so much so I've often wondered if it was always meant to be set to music even at the time). 'Mr Tambourine Man' was a clever choice as first song (by manager Jim Dickson) precisely because it allowed the band to do anything - but hitting the halfway point between Beatles and Bob it allowed the band to go cute or deep. At first the band chose 'cute' with 'All I Really Wanna Do' (perhaps the silliest of Dylan's 1960s songs) but it never really suited them and when the single crashed and burned (beaten by a Sonny and Cher cover released the same week with unfortunate timing) the band had a re-think and McGuinn remembered a song he'd liked and arranged for Judy Collins while working for her third album (sensibly titled 'Judy Collins Three') in 1963. What impresses most about this Byrds song is how solemn the band sound. There are no shortcuts here: McGuinn's snazzy guitar line sounds centuries old with a real weight and power behind it, while this rare example of true three-way harmonies sounds magnificent, The Byrds' frontline taking it in turns to shine: Gene nails the verses, Jim McGuinn (as he still was then) the choruses and Crosby shines on the last falsetto line of each chorus. You can tell that the band have worked long and hard and indeed this song nearly stretched them to breaking point across 78 takes (the most they ever reached in their career without giving up). Between them The Byrds capture the chill of the weighty words about the inevitability of loss and what little choice mere mortals have in the matter, with a sense of something bigger and grander going on behind the scenes (this is a band that sound impressively in command given the many problems and power-plays behind the scenes in this era, not to mention the sheer doubt in the studio control-room about whether making what was essentially a musical Bible reading the band's third single was a good idea or not). In context of 1965, the stepping stone year when the 1960s when from being fun to being serious with a growing anger about Vietnam and teenage curfews, it's plea for peace and tolerance by youngsters with long hair using words that everyone would have known from Bible school (something the 'adults' still insisted on) was perfectly timed and more than a little moving, with a sense of togetherness and unity that could never have been found from just writing a new song about current trends.
Many people, then and now, rightly praised the band for their courage and effort - but it should be remembered that actually what the Byrds demonstrate most here is their ability to colour and shape someone else's vision rather than their own. The band copied this song wholesale from an arrangement of Pete Seeger's which the folk singer had been performing since 1958 (though not on album until 1962 as part of the LP 'The Bitter and The Sweet'). Everyone who'd ever played in a folk club - like the frontline of Byrds all had - would have know the song well and all they really do is 'fill in' the gaps with electric noise (McGuinn's Rickenbacker and the harmonies mostly). The band keep things simple too, adding to what was already there rather than twisting it a new way, which in terms of pure musicality makes this less of a Byrds song than the re-sculpted 'Tambourine Man' ever was. People who talk about this as The Byrds' greatest moment perhaps the fact that this is Pete Seeger's greatest moment, given a Byrd boost (arguably King Solomon deserves credit too for writing the original verse - or at least, that's who we're meant to think wrote it!) Incidentally Seeger always considered this an 'interpretation' too in his version and waived his co-writer fee which went to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions charity, including the sudden spike in funds when The Byrds covered this song. However, it's still a brave choice for a single and The Byrds (especially McGuinn) were clever enough to pick up on the fact that this was a song that would suit their burgeoning band sound well enough to follow Dylan covers into the charts (had the band gone with their other choices, an aborted outtake of Bob's 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue' turned into a rock song or this album's 'The Times They Are A-Changin' as their third single, their audience might have got bored and we'd have never heard from them again!) It's a real shame that this founding Byrds line-up didn't stay together long enough to make a fourth folk-rock cover because it would have been fascinating to see where they might have gone next (Woody Guthrie? Bert Jansch? Joan Baez? Jim, Gene and David singing Peter, Paul and Mary?!) As a piece of trivia as well, whilst bands like Pentangle covered songs that were older, this is easily the 'earliest' #1 hit for an AAA band (or any band?), thought to date back to at least 3BC (possibly up to 10BC!) And you thought the 1960s were a long time ago!...
McGuinn wrote 'It Won't Be Wrong' in 1964 when he returned to folk-clubs as a solo act after years touring America as the guitarist for various other acts (most notably Bobby Darin). His folk singer pal Harvey Gerst helped finish the song off for him, with some folkie tunings, but Jim's melody is clearly Beatle-influenced and, without knowing it, this simple song is in many ways the genesis of The Byrds' sound, mixing folk and rock long before McGuinn met Jim Dickson and was asked to cover 'Tambourine Man'. It seems odd The Byrds should have passed this song over for their first album (especially as the band had already arranged it, as heard on 'Preflyte') and it's notable just how rocky they do this song, removing most of the folk elements from it. A song that takes its cue from 'Please Please Me', with the long stretched out lines of a folk number, it features an oddly emotional lyric for McGuinn (maybe because most of it was written by Herst?) and has him pleading with a loved one to take him back. It's all very physical: the three singers (with Gene, oddly, the loudest) really out their all into an ever-moving song so that we really feel the 'weight' of the liver 'in my arms' and the promise 'I'll never do you harm' sounds almost painful to sing, with its upward lift in the middle of 'harm'. Most of the song is doomy and gloomy by Byrds standards, so much so it sounds far more like one of Gene's songs (which might be why he's effectively 'given' the lead here), with a McGuinn rickenbacker part that starts off playful and ends up serious and desperate, turning from light plucking to an 'Eight Miles High' style drone. The chorus, though (or middle eight or whatever it is - we hear it twice but not where you would normally stick a chorus!) sounds like the sun coming out, a promise that 'you'll see' if only the un-named girl in the song can surrender to the narrator's wishes and he can sweep her off her feet instead of always fighting her. It's a breathless performance, wrapping up three verses and two choruses in not quite two minutes and one the band took a long time to get right according to the bootlegs, especially the tricky opening which nearly stretched their patience past breaking point (no wonder they all end the song with such an audible sense of relief!) One of the band's better rockers and one of McGuinn's better songs.
'Set You Free This Time', however, is a masterpiece. An oddball choice as the band's fourth single, it was never going to sell in a month of ecclesiastical Sundays, but as a song it's pure genius. Poor Gene has had his heart broken again, 'replaced' by a lover just as the narrator was beginning to feel comfortable and 'safe'. Unable to cope full-on with his emotions yet, Gene tries to think about this rationally and sets up one of his most erudite lyrics, full of surreal imagery of girls standing by doors and memories that 'tear me out of my mind' every-time Gene thinks he's forgotten and moved on. However there's nothing lacking in the emotion of Gene's vocal which is one of his best, a little boy lost whose suddenly turned into a man and taking the brave decision to let his loved one go for her own good, even though it breaks his heart. In may ways this song is an update of Arthur Alexander's 'Anna (Go To Him)' (a song The Byrds would have known well after a cover appeared on The Beatles' 'Please Please Me' album) but the mood is all Gene: grief wrapped up in intelligence and philosophy. The best line comes in the second verse when Gene sighs about not making the most of this love when he had it, that he'd 'never been so far out in front that I can ask for what I want and have it, anytime' - a classy summary of a character whose not used to things working out for them anyway. Then there's Gene's heartbreaking realisation that his ideal relationship he has in his head probably doesn't exist: ('Now whose wondering...why it cannot be arranged to have each thing work fine'). The girl starts the song by saying that she's 'not blind', but oh she is: she doesn't realise any of these deep thoughts are running through her exes' head or how much her casual dismissal of him is going to deeply wound him. Impressively free from anger or bitterness, though, Gene simply shrugs that 'this wasn't how it was set up to be' and that there's no point hanging onto something that's moved on. Gene ends the song on a mournful harmonica lick, but musically the star role here is McGuinn's Rickenbacker which is impressively on the money, the echo which usually brings so much brightness and hope to Byrds arrangements now a mocking hollow echo of everything that used to be so hopeful. Crosby's harmonies are also note-perfect, his more naturally emotional singing voice making a good double act with Clark's solemn lead. Even by Gene's standards this song is brilliant, so far ahead of its time and one of the greatest things any line-up of The Byrds ever did. But it's not a single and it's failure in the charts (even though its author didn't want it to be a single) damaged Gene's standing with his fellow Byrds.
Bob Dylan's 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' was intended for his January 1964 album 'The Times They Are A-Changin' but his version didn't come out on record until 1985's 'Biograph'. You can kind of hear why: it's unusually one-note for a Dylan song and feels more like a hymn, repeating a chorus over and over and using just one simple metaphor throughout the song - a musician narrator dying and laying his songs to rest. Dylan says he was trying to write a song to match a Scottish folk song he particularly liked though he's never said which one (perhaps 'Auld Lang Syne') and the piece does feel as if it has the drone of a bagpipe throughout the song even though there isn't one on either version (which is perfect for The Byrds in their early psychedelic phase, given how similarly bagpipes work compared to sitars). Offered to The Byrds as an 'exclusive' following their success with 'Tambourine Man', this was often said to be the only Byrds cover that Bob actually liked. However if this song was an oddball creation for Dylan its way out of The Byrds' usual style and a bit of a slog to sit through. McGuinn tries to liven the song up with his usual take on Dylan covers (sarcasm, basically) but he's a fish out of water and his bitterness seems at odds with the song's feeling of weary resignation, the narrator's health failing as he fades away like the dying notes in the air (is this song set during a battle? There are bugels blowing which suggests a civil war, be it English or American). Crosby too adds a gormlessly cheery falsetto part that's right at odds with the sheer frustration and torment in the song and - almost uniquely for Dylan - the choruses is irritating and twee, repeated too many times for comfort. Only Gene sounds at home here amongst the shadows and he's mixed far too low. Not one of The Byrds' better covers and one of their worst Dylan ones, whatever its author thought about it.
Another instance of McGuinn electrifying folk comes with 'He Was A Friend Of Mine', although this time his adaptation was far more hands on,. The song has existed for centuries in various forms, written by an unknown folk-writer about the death of his friend 'Shorty George' sometime back in the Middle Ages. McGuinn's version though doesn't so much adapt the song as totally re-write, turning it from a general song about grief to a song about specifics. In The Byrds' hands it's a tribute to JFK, the president having been shot around two years before this recording, although McGuinn later said he wrote it the very night Kennedy died on November 23rd 1963 (which must have been a peak day for songs, what with Brian Wilson doing the same with 'Warmth Of The Sun' the same night over in California - in Britain of course everyone was watching the first episode of Dr Who that night!) You can tell that this song was originally written in anger; like Paul Simon's very similar 'He Was My Brother' it makes its mark thanks to long held notes that sound like stabbing (especially the elongated 'Heeeeeee') and the occasional bitter lyric ('His killing had no purpose, no reason or rhyme!') Two years later, though, and that sense of emotion has killed enough for Crosby to wrap around his partner's wobbly lead with a vocal of warmth and love and for the main sense to be one of loss of someone the narrator felt close to. Some of the lyrics are inspired and sum up JFK's spirit well, if not the truth of what he was really like ('though I never met him, I knew him just the same'). Some are just clunky and journalistic and don't belong in a tribute song ('From a sixth floor window a gunner shot him down'). Caught between heartfelt sincerity and parody, this 'feels' like a song written when the band were younger and didn't quite know what they were doing yet and one wonders why McGuinn brought it back into his repertoire at this point (The Byrds had oodles of songs left over from their 1964 'Preflyte' sessions they never used and don't seem to have attempted this song back then). Sung with new venom during the band's performance in Monterey in 1967, it was the only McGuinn song that Crosby allowed in the set, suggesting he liked it, though during the performance he was using it to very much make a political point about assassination and cover-ups; here there's no such underlying motive, just sadness. Sweet as it is, Brian Wilson's tribute was better.
Over on side two Gene Clark has just realised that maybe he shouldn't have set his girl free, anytime. He's only now realised after parting that 'The World Turns All Around Her' and he's reminded about her in every single little things he does, kicking himself for not realising how much she meant to him before. It seems safe to say that this song was inspired by the same girl and Gene's shock at seeing someone he thought was only made for him with another man, although we don't know who this person was (most of the relationships we know about for Gene happened long after this, with romances with Mama Michelle Phillips and actress June Fairchild while it's too early for it to be about his wife Carlie Lynn). Here once again Gene doesn't feel bitterness or anger so much as shock, offering advice to his successor to treat her right and make 'the world turn all around her' or he too will end up as heartbroken and lost as he feels. This gorgeous song tries so hard to look on the bright side and makes good use of everything The Byrds once stood for (at least on their debut album): McGuinn's bright and breezy Rickenbacker (especially the Bach-ish part that bookends the song), killer Beatley harmonies (with nobody apparently having told Crosby this is a sad not a happy song) and a great drumming pop hook from Michael Clarke. However this is all window dressing: Gene's narrator is clearly devastated and every time the song tries to pick itself up and start again, bouncing back from defeat, a sudden unexpected memory knocks him off his feet back to a minor chord. 'Now whenever I see her with you I realise how much I didn't know' he sighs to himself in a most melancholy middle eight, desperate to correct his mistake. Simple as this song is by Gene's 1965 standards, it's all tremendously effective and your heart breaks along with him, even while you're tapping your feet and enjoying one of the best Byrds band performances. Even Gene's desire to write a 'pop' song like people want him to is overshadowed by the fact his world turns all around his girl - this should have been the single, not the more worthy but more wordy 'Set You Free This Time', Gene proving that he could be as commercial as the next Byrd if he wanted to be but, with heart broken, he usually didn't want to.
'Satisfied Mind' is perhaps the album's weakest cut. Chris Hillman's first love was bluegrass and he was forever trying to interest the rest of the band into his large stock of LPs. They tended to prefer his country songs and eventually decided, as they were short on material, to let the bassist have his own slot on the album. Chris chose a former country hit for Portener Waggoner by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhodes, which paid tribute to the former's parents (his dad asking him to name some millionaires and claiming they were all less happy than a man with a 'satisfied mind', alongside some comments from his mum on similar lines). Hillman's shaky vocal debut is rather overshadowed by McGuinn's sneer and Crosby's sweetness and while The Byrds will later do this sort of country song in their sleep they all sound a tad uncomfortable here, tourists rather than inhabitants the way the band will be from 1968 onwards. Only Gene's harmonica really captures the country feel of the song which isn't really suitable for the band or for a rock and roll treatment, being too ponderous and slow. It seems an odd choice given how many far more suitable tracks Hillman knew inside out (and had indeed arranged for the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers and Hillmen albums, the second of which was at the time still unreleased and available for use), chosen perhaps for its slightly Biblical air in the wake of 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' However this is a sermon, not a hymn, a lecture on how it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven. The lyrics urge caution against not only money but jealousy of people with money, which is treated as a red herring in the mystery of life: 'It won't buy you back your youth when you're old, a friend when you're lonely or love that's grown cold'. But this isn't brotherly advice, it's patronising and The Byrds sounds oddly cold-hearted and flat-footed here. Who, buying this album in 1965, would have guessed that this of all recordings is the closest thing to a future Byrds template sound?
Gene's 'If You're Gone' - his last song to be released with The Byrds - gets overlooked in his catalogue compared to his other great songs on the band's first two albums. But this track too is one of his best, taking McGuinn's jangly bouncy Rickenbacker and turning it into a weapon on another atmospheric song about love and loss. It sounds like a postscript to the same split in Gene's love-life, a list of surreal images that capture his feelings of desperation and hopelessness now that a great thing in his life is over. For a third song in a row, though, gene isn't as angry or as bitter as most songwriters would be, instead coming to terms with just how great a part of that life this was now it's over. He sees the brightness now he's no longer 'blinded by the sun' so close to his proximity and has worked out how much he genuinely loved the mystery 'her' now she's gone, concluding finally that 'if you're gone there's nothing that remains'. This is a very oddly structured song even for Gene, with one long verse and a shorter one and no chorus and even though the main signature line is very Byrdsy with its McGuinn guitar breaks, it never settles down into the pattern you're expecting and you spend your time waiting for a chorus that never arrives (or perhaps in gene's case a reprieve from his departed lover that never comes either). It sounds the most emotional song of the three though, with its emphasis on the cracks in Gene's gorgeous voice, Jim and David's ghostly wordless harmonies that sound like a harbinger of doom throughout and a general sweeping air of passion and wild fury that's only just kept in check by McGuinn's oddly aggressive guitar work. Gene is the peaceful eye in the centre of this hurricane, rock solid even though everything else in the song is trying to blow him over and yet still he 'loses', the song ending with those ghostly, angry harmonies. It seems ridiculous to say a song as strong as this is the weakest of Clark's three but the fact that it is merely shows how brilliant the other two songs are. 'She Don't Care About Time' and 'The Day Walk' might have had the edge, however.
After all that power, 'The Times They Are A-Changin' sounds like an awkward backwards step. Which is ridiculous given that this is a song about change and moving forward, with Dylan's song still just about retaining shock value almost two years after its release. After all, had any song before this ever been quite so damning of adult, parental figures? 'The battle outside raging' claims one of Dylan's better lyrics as he depicts a world where parental authority figures and maybe even capitalism itself is a river that's become flooded and about to bring the population misery. It's too late for the 'father and mothers throughout the land' who in a classic couplet shouldn't 'criticise what they can't understand' and the feeling of rage against an authoritarian, war-mongering culture that the young hippies want to change. Instead Dylan invites 'writers and critics' to join him in a revolution 'while the wheels' still in spin', to unite and make things right. Notwithstanding the fact that this revolution will end up with the brakes on for the most part or however many similar songs on a similar theme came out afterwards, this song is still astonishing, up there with 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' as Dylan's strongest lyric. So it's a shame that The Byrds, pioneers of that same youthful spirit and change, treat this song as being merely ordinary. Everything about their arrangement is perfunctory: McGuinn doesn't live this song the way he did 'Tambourine Man' and simply reads out the lyrics in a typically McGuinn type voice; Crosby and Clark's harmonies are there for colour and sweetness in a song that's about not having either of those things and the backing is slapdash and hurried, ending with a 'ta-dah!' guitar riff and cymbal crash that sounds like a bad musichall act. It speaks volumes that this cover version won't be performed at all in the band's setlists despite its near-single status (nor will 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' for that matter, though the Dylan covers from the first album will all be played regularly down the years). A bit of a mess.
On any other album McGuinn and Crosby's collaboration (their second and last after 'The Airport Song') 'Wait and See' would shine out with its lovely riff, pure harmonies and sweet chord progression. But this is an album that's just starred Gene Clark and Bob Dylan and this return to Beatley pop feels a little silly and lightweight. Chances are McGuinn wrote the jangly riff and Crosby the song that came with it - the song features elements of both men's work which has lots of room for both to shine, especially the audible twinkle in Crosby's eye as he tries to chat a girl up! My guess is this song started life as a cross between two Beatles songs, 'You're Gonna Lose That Girl' (the same tempo and the fact she 'belongs' to someone else at the start of the song, probably poor Gene!) and 'Run For Your Life' (which has a similar chord structure). The narrator paints this as an ideal romance between soulmates, but compared to what gene's just been through it sounds generic: walking, talking and hand-holding. There's no sense that if and when this relationship is over the narrator is going to have his heart ripped out or that it's going to inspire him to write poetry - it's just a way to spend the time. The rhyme of 'over' and 'gonna love her' is also cringeworthy. Perhaps the only straightforward Crosby song in his entire canon, this is second-rate Beatles enlivened only by the ending when the song lurches to an awkward full-stop (a section that has Gene's fingerprints written all over it). The other weakest song on the album.
Or maybe that's 'Oh! Susannah', a joke that went too far. McGuinn figured that if what The Byrds were meant to do was combine folk and rock then he may as well plunk for one of the most famous examples in history. However he fully expected to be shouted down or stopped by somebody - the other Byrds didn't exactly back down from a fight while both Melcher and Dickson were strong figures in their own right. Nobody, though, seemed to understand McGuinn's humour and his dead-face pan that a modern-day cover of this traditional piece would be 'hip' and 'happening' was treated at face value (only Michael Clarke harrumphed and his mock military playing is hilarious, doing to Roger what Keith Moon used to do to 'his' Roger, sending him up no end). The song was, of course, written by Stephen Foster and is a 'Minstrel' song from 1848, generally played in blackface, and which would surely have been a number one hit had America had charts back then (it broke the record for sheet-music with 100,000 copies sold, which must count for something). I've never been quite sure why: even its author admitted the lyrics were 'nonsense' and that it was written as an Americanised spoof of the polka, currently all the rage in Europe. Had the song been about a Rickenbacker rather than a banjo it would have made more sense, but The Byrds have nothing in common with this song and only McGuinn is in on the joke so they pitch it all 'wrong'. Less convincing even than 'We'll Meet Again' (another deliberately 'wrong' choice picked to end a record), I'd even take the sound of McGuinn's hoover on next closing Byrds number 'The Lear Jet Song' over this one!
Overall, then, 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' sinks fast during its last turn turn turn, but the first three-quarters of the record is as strong as anything else in the band's catalogue. general consensus at the time was that The Byrds were standing still after the newness and freshness of their debut, but that's a patchy record with several mistakes - this is the early Byrds album with the great triumphs including all of Gene's songs and a couple of others along the way too. The early Byrds catches the biggest worms, then and the title track alone was hit enough for this album to sell well. But already there's a feeling of change in the air and a sense that the band's peak period is over and running out of steam. Gene's departure should have been a devastating blow to the band, given that without him the band are basically a covers act with the odd song that had been lying around for years. Instead they seem to have shrugged their shoulders and reckoned they could do better without him - which is half-true, as the equally patchy and even more rollercoaster ride between greatness and ghastliness on '5D' will demonstrate. Never again will The Byrds sound quite as much of a 'band' either (or at least not until 'Untitled' in 1970 when things calm down once more), which is a tragedy. But to everything there is a season - and we fans are simply overjoyed this season lasted at all, even with oddball songs about banjos, Beatle throwbacks and weak Dylan covers.
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/the-byrds-five-landmark-concerts-and.html