The Byrds The Notorious Byrd Brothers

The Byrds Album Reviews

The Byrds started as a folk band, but their single ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ crystallised their distinctive sound, with Roger McGuinn’s ringing twelve-string guitar and the group’s gorgeous harmonies. The combination of an ornate yet organic sound, coupled with Dylan’s intricate lyrics, proved highly influential and launched the genre of folk-rock.


The Byrds had a huge talent pool at their disposal. Frontman Roger McGuinn (he changed his name from Jim while exploring Subud mysticism) had a distinctive 12-string guitar sound and a pretty voice. Gene Clark was the most prolific songwriter in The Byrds’ early career – although he left during the recording of their third album, he went on to have an artistically satisfying solo career. David Crosby had a great ear for harmony and went on to achieve fame with Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Chris Hillman was an accomplished musician, converting to bass after growing up as a bluegrass player; he was a dark horse as a writer and vocalist on the group’s strongest albums, and he went on to play a supporting role on significant albums like The Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin and Stephen Stills’ Manassas.

All four vocalists in the original band wrote songs, and the group having so many talented voices made group dynamics tense – right from the start, Clark and Crosby were vying for who got the rhythm guitar and who got the tambourine. Along with the record company’s demand for quick material – the group released their first six albums in little over three years – their career arguably wasn’t as sparkling as it could have been. But there are plenty of terrific songs on their albums – ‘Eight Miles High’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, and ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ are classic 1960s singles, and there are many gems to be found.

My favourite Byrds’ albums are 1967’s Younger Than Yesterday and 1968’s The Notorious Byrd Brothers, where they explore different sonic textures, and Crosby, Hillman, and McGuinn are all contributing great songs. Crosby was fired during the recording of The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and his replacement Gram Parsons led the group into country music. After 1968’s Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Hillman and Parsons both left the band, and this page’s coverage stops – after this McGuinn was the only original Byrd remaining. McGuinn carried The Byrds name on until 1973, when the original five reunited for a one-off self-titled album before the band broke up. I’ve heard it, and like it, but it reflects the members’ solo careers more than it does the band’s original sound.

The Byrds Album Reviews

Best Album: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Mr. Tambourine Man

The Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man

1965, 7.5/10
The Byrds’ debut showcases the harmony vocals of Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Gene Clark, and McGuinn’s chiming 12 string Rickenbacker. The title track is a landmark for rock music – its innovation of combining Dylan’s poetic lyrics with lush harmonies and sparkling guitars was a landmark for rock music. Only McGuinn was permitted to play his instrument on the title track and its b-side ‘I Knew I’d Want You’, as the group had only recently acquired their rhythm section, but the group’s harmonies are still featured, and the rest of the band join him for the remaining tracks.

Although the title track is the standout, the band tackle three other Dylan songs, and their take on ‘All I Really Want to Do’ is a marked improvement on Dylan’s rough version. They also had a strong in-house writer in Gene Clark, who contributes four strong songs, notably the excellent ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’.

Mr. Tambourine Man has plenty of excellent songs, but it’s less than the sum of its parts. The Byrds employ the same mid-tempo folk-rock sound for the entire album, and it’s too uniform for the record to shine.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

The Byrds Turn! Turn! Turn!

1965, 7/10
Turn! Turn! Turn! is essentially a repeat of the formula of Mr. Tambourine Man, harmonised electric folk music. It’s obviously not as fresh the second time around, but there are still plenty of strong songs. The most notable is the title track, where The Byrds give Pete Seeger’s ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, based on the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, the full Byrds treatment, with luscious harmonies and chiming guitar.

Again, there are more strong songs from Gene Clark – ‘The World Turns All Around Her’ particularly – while one of his best Byrds songs is relegated to a bonus track – ‘She Don’t Care About Time’, with McGuinn playing a solo that’s a straight lift from Bach. But there are more weak points than their debut; the cover of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” feels redundant, and their version of American folk song ‘Oh! Susannah’ is gimmicky.

There’s plenty to like on Turn! Turn! Turn! if you enjoyed The Byrds’ debut album, but it feels like a slightly paler copy.

Fifth Dimension

The Byrds Fifth Dimension

1966, 7.5/10
Due to a fear of flying and group in-fighting, Gene Clark left The Byrds before Fifth Dimension was released. Without Clark, and a decision to avoid Dylan covers, the group are looking elsewhere for material – along with four covers from other sources, most of the songs are written by McGuinn and Crosby. Song for song, Fifth Dimension is weaker than The Byrds’ first two albums, but it’s much more diverse, and the bad songs help the strong ones stand out. The Byrds are expanding their sound – alongside their folk-rock, with 1966-era psychedelia creeping into the mix.

The centre-piece is the psychedelic ‘Eight Miles High’, where McGuinn plays John Coltrane inspired leads on his twelve-string guitar. ‘I See You’ mines similar material with its psychedelic guitars, while Crosby’s ‘What’s Happening’ sets off a blues beat against McGuinn’s guitar. Three of the covers are among the best material – The Byrds sound beautiful on British folk songs ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ and ‘John Riley’, and the strings only sweeten their sound, while ‘I Come and Stand at Every Door’ is haunting. The most awkward moment is a cover of ‘Hey Joe’ – Crosby’s conversational vocal doesn’t work, especially in comparison with Jimi Hendrix’s more celebrated version.

The increased diversity makes Fifth Dimension their most enjoyable album yet.

Younger Than Yesterday

The Byrds Younger Than Yesterday

1967, 8.5/10
The Byrds’ bassist Chris Hillman steps into the limelight on Younger Than Yesterday, writing and singing lead on his four compositions. The group continue with the psychedelic sounds of Fifth Dimension, but it’s a more mature and consistent effort.

David Crosby considered the Dylan covers of ‘My Back Pages’ an artistic regression, but it’s terrific, and it’s one of their strongest cuts. The satirical ‘So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star’ is the lead single, featuring Hugh Masekela’s trumpet. Of Hillman’s songs, the psychedelic ‘Thoughts and Words’ is the standout, while Crosby contributes the torch song ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’ and the impressionist ‘Renaissance Fair’. More problematically, Crosby also insisted on including his composition ‘Mind Gardens’, featuring theatrically pretentious lyrics delivered pompously over a droning backdrop; it’s a jarring low point on an otherwise terrific album.

The remastered version of Younger Than Yesterday also contains some important bonus tracks; Crosby’s non-album single ‘Lady Friend’ and pretty ‘It Happens Each Day’ are both worthwhile.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers

The Byrds The Notorious Byrd Brothers

1968, 9/10
The Notorious Byrd Brothers follows a similar template to Younger Than Yesterday, with the band’s writers, Hillman, McGuinn, and Crosby, contributing most of the material. The album, however, was recorded at a time of turmoil for The Byrds; drummer Michael Clarke left during the recording sessions, while the outspoken David Crosby was fired after trying to lead The Byrds in a more radicalised direction, particularly debates over his controversial ‘Triad’. The Notorious Byrd Brothers is particularly impressive in terms of texture – it was one of the first rock albums to use a Moog synthesizer, while there are also elements of country, horn sections, and other disparate elements mixed into The Byrds’ template, resulting in a shimmering album of baroque pop.

Two of the strongest songs on the album come from Carole King and Gerry Goffin, with the gentle ‘Goin’ Back’  and ‘Wasn’t Born To Follow’, showing the group’s ongoing skill as song interpreters. Crosby contributed the excellent ‘Draft Morning’, while his ‘Tribal Gathering’ is a unique amalgam of fifties vocal group harmonies and a gently psychedelic arrangement. McGuinn’s pretty ‘Get To You’ is one of his best songs for the group, and Hillman’s ‘Natural Harmony’ is also noteworthy.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers relies on its wonderful production and inventive arrangements, but it rates as The Byrds’ best album for me.

The 1997 reissue appends a fun studio fight between Clarke, Crosby, and McGuinn that’s almost worth the price of admission alone.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo

1968, 8/10
Sweetheart of the Rodeo was originally intended as a grand overview of 20th Century American music. But new recruit Gram Parsons, bought in to replace David Crosby, steered the group into country music. While country had been present in their sound, particularly Hillman’s songs, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is disarmingly straightforward country music; ‘Christian Life’ is delivered entirely sincerely. It also bypasses the signature Byrds sound – the chiming Rickenbacker and the vocal harmonies are largely absent, although the record company’s insistence to wipe some of Parsons’ lead vocals and replace them with McGuinn’s gives it more of a Byrds’ feel.

It’s a very consistent record; there are only two originals, both from Parsons – the soulful ‘Hickory Wind’ and the quicker ‘One Hundred Years from Now’. Elsewhere, there are a couple of Dylan songs, from his as-then unreleased Basement Tapes, and a bunch of country chestnuts from the likes of Woody Guthrie, The Louvin Brothers, and Merle Haggard.

Once you’re accustomed to a Byrds record that bears only a passing resemblance to their previous work, Sweetheart of the Rodeo is very enjoyable. Hillman and Parsons left The Byrds after this album and started the Flying Burrito Brothers, whose 1969 album Gilded Palace of Sin is even better.

Cincinnati Babyhead Says:
A favorite album of CB’s . I followed Hillman/Parsons careers. Both made great music. I went back to this album after the discovering GP then the Burrito’s. Hillman is still making great music. I have two solos, ‘Desert Rose’, ‘Morning Sky’. Various Desert Rose Band albums. Any of his bluegrass albums with Rice, Rice, Hillman and Pedersen. He just makes music that hits a nerve with CB. Great playing with no BS involved. Totally out of the mainstream for years.

10 Best Songs by The Byrds

Eight Miles High
Mr Tambourine Man
Turn! Turn! Turn!
She Don’t Care About Time
Draft Morning
Hickory Wind
Lady Friend
Thoughts and Words
My Back Pages
I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better

Back to 1960s album reviews…..


  1. That’s another good top 5 you got.
    My favorite Byrds song is Chestnut Mare. I think it’s everything that The Byrds were famous for except done to perfection. I think it topped everything they did before. Maybe because it’s on a crummy album from the time period where they weren’t considered that great anymore that people don’t think more of it. Maybe it got buried.

  2. My ten favorite
    1. My Back Pages
    2. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better
    3. Lover of the Bayou
    4. You Ain’t Going Nowhere
    5. Mr. Tambourine Man
    6. Eight Miles High
    7. Mr. Spaceman
    8. Turn, Turn Turn
    9. All I Really Want To Do
    10. The Ballad of Easy Rider

    • That’s a nice list, although I don’t even know #3 – I’m pretty unfamiliar with the post-Hillman stuff. My Back Pages is lovely – probably suffers a little from “sequel-itis” as it’s another Dylan cover.

      • They did interupt Dylan well…
        Lover of the Bayou was from around 69-70…it was more of a live song that sounded really good with Clarence White and McGuinn.

        Tom Petty covered it later with Mudcrutch…

  3. Wish you could find the time to lend an ear to some of Gene Clark’s solo releases, most notably: “The Fantastic Expedition …” (1968), “White Light” (’71), “No Other” (’74), maybe “Two Sides To Every Story” (’77) and “So Rebellious A Lover” (with Carla Olson, 1987). It is now widely agreed upon that the early Byrds’ primary singer/songwriter was painfully underappreciated in his lifetime and has only found due recognition since the beginning of the internet age. David Crosby, too, made some terrific, yet underrated music with his group CPR around the turn of the centuries, in particular on “Just Like Gravity” (2002), with more good solo records to follow since 2014 (“Croz” etc).
    Besides, I do like your review-writing style, and I find that you have been covering a lot of my own favourites (Fairport Convention, Crowded House, Decemberists …), there seems to be a great deal of intersection in musical taste. Looking forward to read more!

    • Hello! Thanks for writing in.

      I’m a fan of Gene Clark already – I especially like No Other and White Light. I need a bit more time to absorb some of his records, but I’m sure I’ll get to him already.

      I haven’t heard any David Crosby solo past his debut – I’ve heard from other places too that his recent solo stuff is good (and he has a great Twitter account).

  4. Nice reviews.

    I bought debut LP upon its release and stayed with the band through all of its iterations. I really like the first two albums. The sound of the group was fresh in 1965 and I played them both many times. However, the two that I’ve played the most over 50+ years are Younger Than Today and Notorious Byrd Brothers. 1967-1969 are my favourite musical years. I worked in a family owned record store at the time. I could unwrap and play pretty well whatever I chose. I played these two a lot. Substitute the one omitted track and delete Mind Gardens (I’m a big Crosby fan, but… ) and I’d say you’d have a rival to Rubber Soul. The latter has. Goin Back, a great song, and no weak songs. Sweetheart lost me in 1968 although I play now it frequently now along with Gram’s records and the Burritos, all of which were too country for me back then.

    Favorite Brydsongs? .I find a difficult to make such lists although I do agree with badfinger20 (are there 19 others? Good band too with many great tunes) that Lover of the Bayou is terrific.Is there a studio version? The Mudcrutch version is fantastic too.

    • Thanks for writing in – I wasn’t even born when those Byrds records were released! Younger and Notorious are my two favourites too, despite the weird song choices at times – ‘Mind Gardens’ was a weird inclusion, and ‘Lady Friend’ would have been a great addition.

  5. This group is totally great, awesome. And a pity it is almost forgotten now. The harmonies are marvellous, almost at Beatles and Beach Boys level. But they were much more than voices and much more than folk rock. Remember that the first album was released in 1965. In that year only Rubber Soul and maybe The Beach Boys Today! could have been better. And the best tracks from the first 5 albums are a fantastic journey. This band is in my top 5 from the 60s with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix.

    • I get a little frustrated by the lack of variety on the first album – I don’t feel like listening to it often even though the individual songs are great. You are right that they were more advanced than a lot of what’s around from 1965. Would you rank it ahead of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited?

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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