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 original vocalists wrote their share of 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 sixties singles, and there are plenty of 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 a more country direction. 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.

Ten Favourite Byrds Songs

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