The Byrds went through a series of incarnations and I love most of them. They started off nicking the Searchers jangly Folkrock and doing a Rock job on Dylan songs. They were great and Dylan liked them too! They went on to develop this psychedelic sound with 8 Miles High and 5th Dimension. Then they became very West Coast Acid Rock with Notorious Byrd Brothers (my favourite album). After that they went downhill. Gram Parsons took them down the wrong route with Sweetheart of the Rodeo with smatterings of Christian guff.
Never mind – we have a lot of their good stuff to listen to!
Back in the sixties we felt we were part of a movement that was changing the world. There was a naïve optimism and idealistic fervour. We no longer believed in the establishment and all that it stood for. We did not aspire to wealth, power and comfort. We were seeking truth, love, fun, colour and spirit. We thought we could find a better, more creative, simpler way of living that was more attuned to the planet.
Our stance and appearance brought us into conflict with the establishment. There was violence, rebellion and bloodshed.
At my interview for university I was told that my appearance and attitude was opposed to everything the university stood for. They still gave me a place.
I still believe in the bulk of those ideals. I am still opposed to the madness of society, religion and the establishment. I am still a rebel.
David Crosby was affirming his allegiance to the sixties ideal in this song. He was reminding us that it wasn’t a fashion; it was a statement.
“Almost Cut My Hair”
Almost cut my hair, it happened just the other day.
It’s getting’ kinda long, I coulda said it wasn’t in my way.
But I didn’t and I wonder why, I feel like letting my freak flag fly,
Cause I feel like I owe it to someone.
Must be because I had the flu’ for Christmas and I’m not feeling up to par.
It increases my paranoia, like looking at my mirror and seeing a police car.
But I’m not giving in an inch to fear cause I missed myself this year.
I feel like I owe it to someone.
When I finally get myself together, I’m going to get down in that sunny southern weather.
And I find a place inside to laugh, separate the wheat from the chaff.
I feel like I owe it to someone.
The Byrds started up in Los Angeles in the wake of the Beatles. They married the style of the British Beat Group to Folk Music. This was not quite as radical as it might appear. They had all been Folk musicians. When the Beatles stormed America they were instantly smitten and wanted to form a Rock Band with the same instrumentation as the Beatles. The Folk and Beat elements came together naturally.
The band got hold of a demo of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tambourine Man’ and produced a Rock version of the song. The jangley sound of Roger McGuinn’s 12 string Rickenbacker and the close harmonies of the group gave it a distinctive sound. They had created something different that went on to be described at FolkRock.
They invited Dylan along to hear it and he was impressed. He even joined them on stage at Ciros’ on the Sunset Strip where they had a residency pulling in all the hip dudes. It was the start of a long and fruitful two-way relationship. Dylan, who had started out in Rock before going down the Folk route, was turned back on to doing Rock by the Byrds, Manfred Mann and Animals, who had successfully converted his or other Folk songs into Rock, and the Byrds got the endorsement of Bob Dylan who was riding high as one of the hippest dudes around.
The single and album took off and established the Byrds as a major force. They followed it up with other Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger Folk songs as well as a number of their own compositions.
When they arrived in England they were served with a writ by the British Birds, a Beat group featuring Ronnie Wood, who were doing a publicity stunt about the American Byrds stealing their name.
As the sixties went on the Byrds moved with the times into a more psychedelic direction and got themselves in trouble with the media for what was perceived as drug references in their lyrics. They made the cross-over into being viewed as serious members of the alternative counter-culture and also have been cited as major influences on the Acid Rock scene in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their songs were spacey with extended psychedelic phases though the relationship with Dylan material and Bob himself continued.
They suffered a series of personnel changes and their best album by far was the wonderful ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’. The singing, songwriting and musicianship all reached a peak. Unfortunately things inside the band were not so hunky dory. Crosby was acrimoniously ousted and instead of building on this perfection they got Gram Parsons in, went down a Country route with Christian overtones and petered out into mediocrity.
It was a sad end to what was an outstanding band, a true original sound and a great force on the scene. They left a legacy that was immense.