My favourite Byrds lineup


7 déc. 2008, 11h53m

I've been a user of for more than a year, but this is only my first journal entry here. I posted this writing in The Byrds group as a topic start yesterday, and I think it's worth to make an article here on its own (with a few little modifications).

The Byrds saw a number of lineup changes during its decade-long career, and these changes had great impact on the musical directions of the band,

My personal favourite is the second one, featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke. Their three albums, Fifth Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday, and The Notorious Byrd Brothers are my favourite records by the band. The main reason is that their trademark jangling folk rock sound was expanded with a variety of influences, such as psychedelic rock, traces of Indian music, and even some jazz. I also admire that they attempted to adopt more "features" of the recording studio, for example recording instruments backwards (popularised by The Beatles), and creating more complex music (you can hear it on The NBB).

It is also the phase when McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman started to emerge as serious songwriters who didn't necessarily have to record cover versions of Bob Dylan or folk/country staples. Don't get me wrong, I like the Dylan covers, but I fancy some original compositions better, especially the ones written by David Crosby, such as Everybody's Been Burned, What's Happening?!?!, or It Happens Each Day (just a few examples).

However, there are some shortcomings as well. Gene Clark was a great songwriter who contributed with most of the original songs on The Byrds' first two albums. He was perhaps the less egoistic, too, and his departure can be seen as the first sign of the band's long struggle in shaping itself and its sound to a satisfactory level (that may be a bit exaggerated, but between 1966 and 1969 there were lineup changes every year, sometimes more than once).

Another low point is the bickering between McGuinn and Crosby, and Clarke and the whole group. The tensions between McGuinn and Crosby are well-documented: Crosby was becoming the frontman, he praised LSD and talked about the Kennedy assassination at lengths at Monterey, and his song Triad was left off The NBB because the other members considered it too risky to release (it was about a menage-a-trois). Strange, because the first song on that album, Artificial Energy, mentions the use of amphetamine... who knows why that wasn't risky enough to omit. Anyway, Artificial Energy is a very good song, I really like it. But now back to the topic.

Whereas Crosby was perhaps the most original and forward-thinking member of the group (I have to admit that I appreciate him the most), Clarke was the weakest link. As it is told, he was hired because he almost looked like Brian Jones' twin brother. Maybe he looked like a famous (and a talented) musician, but he certainly was not that talented. Over his Byrds years he got a little bit better and had his moments, but musically he wasn't the best choice. In the third segment of Universal Mind Decoder (an outtake from The NBB) several attempts to record Crosby's Dolphin's Smile can be heard. Let's forget about his alcoholism and what the others say to him (very few people could play while others keep taunting him), but he was definitely the one who couldn't play the song right. And his answer to why he was in the band was that he did it because of the money. Well, we'll never know if he really meant it or just tried to give an adept answer to his not-so-friendly colleagues.

By December 1967 this lineup dissolved, and a few months later was followed by the one which recorded Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, a landmark in the history of popular music. But that's another story.


  • thafranz

    I just love their early 70s albums with Clarence White. IMO The Byrds have always been best when they didn't try to be anything but folkies and at the time no folk formation would rock more than McGuinn/White!

    11 jan. 2009, 13h52m
  • echo725

    I would have loved a McGuinn, Hillman, White, Crosby + excellent drummer lineup.

    22 déc. 2010, 14h31m
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