The Back Catalogue: Get to Know The Byrds

PHM contributor Millar here. You’ve probably read my concert reviews when Pete begrudgingly lets me post a band that he’s lukewarm on. Well, he’s forcing letting me do another segment. Growing up, there was no internet for me to use to steal listen to music. For me to discover cool songs, I had to rely on the radio (not always the best way) or listen to whatever records or CDs of older music my dad had playing on the stereo (also, sometimes not the best way). Luckily for me, my dad had a lot of those records/CDs and I was fortunate to have access to a large collection of music my entire life, without ever having to go online. Between that and the sweet collection of music I’ve found on my own, I’ve heard a lot of really good stuff through the years and would now like to share some of it with you.

My goal here is to gradually present to you a series of albums/artists from music’s great history that you may have missed or never heard before. A lot of it will be music that has influenced today’s artists. This new segment will be called The Back Catalogue, and I hope you enjoy it.

With modern technology and YouTube, it’s now super-easy for people to steal enjoy these songs. I will try to stay away from the super-well-known stuff, so no Sgt. Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon, or Nevermind (for now). My reason for exploring music’s history is that I won’t get to hear all the music that the future will bring (sadly, I may be here for Jay-Z and Beyonce’s kid’s inevitable albums), but if I want, I can withdraw from society and go and listen to all the music that has been recorded in the past.

The first album I’d like to tell you about is 1968’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers, by The Byrds. In case you don’t trust me yet: In 2003, it was listed #171 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and #32 on NME’s 100 Best Albums. In 2004, it made Q’s list of “The Music That Changed the World (1954-1969)”.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers
The Byrds were a rock band that rose to stardom in 1965 and hung around until 1973, releasing 12 albums over that time period. Along the way, the band’s personnel often changed and so did their music. They started as a folk-rock band, and eventually ended up a country-rock band whilst (sweet, I used the word whilst) visiting many other music styles along the way.

They became famous covering a bunch of early Bob Dylan songs as well as flower-child anthems like Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season). My aging hippy public school music teacher would make my class sing these songs a lot. Then The Byrds tried some different drugs and decided to experiment with their sound for awhile.

In the middle of 1967, The Byrds began recording their 5th studio album. Keep in mind that during 1967, groundbreaking works such as the first two Doors albums, Are You Experienced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by some group called The Beatles were all being released. The summer of love came and psychedelic music was everywhere. Bands were pushing the boundaries of what rock music could be.

The Byrds – Wasn’t Born To Follow

In this atmosphere, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, a progressive collection of songs that range from psychedelia-rock-country-folk-jazz-orchestral pop, was created. At its root you have the classic Byrds’ sound: jangly guitars and beautiful-sounding vocal harmonies. With this album, however, the band really chose to push the envelope and experiment.

Each song has a different sound/feel than the one before it, yet the album seems to effortlessly flow along. Some songs travel between musical genres. There are horns, punchy bass lines, strings, pedal steel guitars, songs about drugs, songs about wistful yearning, songs about war and freedom, a song about space, a jazzy song about hippy gatherings, guitar solos, as well as lots and lots of cool-sounding studio tricks/effects that really make this album worth checking out.

This is a really good “headphones” record to enjoy, especially the modern re-mastered version. Plus, it’s ideal for people with ADD, the entire collection of 11 songs is barely over 28 minutes long (what do you expect from an album whose first song mentions amphetamines?). Also, you may recognize the song Wasn’t Born to Follow (and its super-trippy lyrics) from the classic 60’s counterculture biker movie Easy Rider where it’s used not once, but twice in the film.

The Byrds – Change Is Now

Band member/modern-day mustache king David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and sometimes Young fame, no relation to NHL’er Sydney) got himself fired during the recording sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers. When it came time to shoot the album cover, Crosby was neatly replaced in the photo by a horse. The remaining band members claim it was a coincidence, saying if they had meant to have the horse represent Crosby, they would have turned it around.

If you are interested in hearing some really cool-sounding music from days-gone-by that you may have never heard before, take a listen and enjoy The Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers, released January, 1968.

The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers

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