There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
The Byrds were an American band active in The '60s who were the Trope Makers for the genre of Folk Rock (alongside Simon & Garfunkel), although they experimented with different genres throughout their career such as Psychedelic Rock and Country Music. The band was formed initially as a duo comprised of Jim (later Roger) McGuinn and Gene Clark as guitarists and singers. Third guitarist David Crosby soon joined up, and the Byrds was born. Drummer Michael Clarke (recruited partly because of his resemblance to Brian Jones) and bassist Chris Hillman joined shortly after the formation. Thus, the "classic" Byrds line-up was born. Thanks to their manager Jim Dickson's connections, they got signed to Columbia Records.
The Byrds' first recording was a cover of the Bob Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man", and established their style. McGuinn's use of Rickenbacker 12-string guitars with heavy compression resulted in a distinctive, bright sound, which was put in the service of melodic, jangly guitar riffs. Their heavy use of harmony in vocals owed an obvious debt to The Beatles - all members except Clarke would sing, Crosby inevitably providing high vocals while McGuinn and Clark would alternatively sing in unison or harmony. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was released as a single and became successful.
The single was followed by two albums, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn, which relied heavily on covers of other songs, generally by Bob Dylan or traditional folk songs, with original songs mostly contributed by Gene Clark. The latter album also had an Early-Bird Cameo for their future musical direction, as Hillman, whose musical background was more bluegrass/country than the others' folk, convinced the band to cover "Satisfied Mind". However, the band got bored with folk-rock and began to experiment with Psychedelic Rock on Fifth Dimension, which provided another hit with the creepy "Eight Miles High".
Clark left the band in 1966 due to his fear of flying (though internal tensions caused by the other band members' resentment of the royalties he made from being the band's primary songwriter aided his decision), reducing the line-up to McGuinn, Crosby, Hillman and Clarke. The new line-up recorded the famous, bitter satire of the music industry "So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star", allegedly after being irritated by the success of The Monkees, and a new album, Younger Than Yesterday. Yesterday showcased continued experimentation with psychedelia, straight folk-rock, Indian influences and country (largely contributed by Hillman), though the loss of their primary songwriter was somewhat reflected in the uneven and disjointed, genre-hopping quality of the material.
However, intra-band relations deteriorated, in particular between McGuinn, Hillman and Crosby. The former two regarded the latter as an overbearing egotist and Jerkass, a perception not reduced at all by his rambling, lengthy and incoherent speeches during the band's appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival and his guest appearance playing with Buffalo Springfield (filling in for an absent Neil Young), which made McGuinn and Hillman regard him as disloyal. The internal turmoil somehow didn't find its way into The Notorious Byrd Brothers, which contained ethereal songs created through a fusion of psychedelic rock, folk-rock, country and jazz, with electronic influences also appearing through the adoption of the Moog synthesizer and some of the sci-fi lyrics. The album also showed the band's worsening tendency towards line-up changes, as Crosby was ejected by McGuinn and Hillman in October 1967 (the two having actually driven to his house on the occasion to fire him), replaced for three weeks by a returning Clark, who was sacked again afterwards, and Clarke also left during recording in August 1967, upset with his low pay, the material he was working on and periodic arguments with his band-mates, though he also returned briefly towards the end of the album sessions before once again being let go by McGuinn and Hillman. After being fired, Crosby went on to form the Supergroup Crosby, Stills And Nash, which Neil Young later joined.
McGuinn and Hillman recruited drummer Kevin Kelley (Who was Hillman's cousin) and set out on a college tour in support of the album as a trio, which highlighted the difficulty of reproducing their studio material as a three-piece and led them to seek out a new member. McGuinn had been planning their next album as a historical overview of 20th century American popular music, so Gram Parsons was brought into the band initially as a keyboardist, but soon moved to guitar. Parsons, a devotee of country music, found common ground with Hillman and managed to persuade McGuinn that their next album should be an country album instead of his original Concept Album idea, arguing that the stylistic change would broaden the group's audience after the internal turmoil had caused it to decline. This predictably attracted They Changed It, Now It Sucks! from Byrds fans and hatred from the Nashville establishment once Sweetheart of the Rodeo was released. The album, however, has since been Vindicated by History as the Trope Codifier, if not the Trope Maker, of Country Rock. Parsons himself didn't last long, quitting the Byrds in the summer of 1968 in protest against a plan to tour South Africa (then in the midst of The Apartheid Era) before the album was released, and going on to continue the country-rock direction of Sweetheart of the Rodeo through a commercially unsuccessful but influential solo career and as part of The Flying Burrito Brothers, dying of an heroin overdose in 1973. The subsequent South African tour turned out to be disastrous, as the band hired one of their roadies, Carlos Bernal, as a rhythm guitar player on extremely short notice, found themselves being forced to play to segregated audiences despite having demanded that promoters not allow audience segregation, and turning in badly rehearsed, ramshackle performances marked by antagonism both between themselves and towards the apartheid regime, leaving in a cloud of bad publicity and death threats and being lambasted by the press in the UK and USA for playing in South Africa.
Regrouping in California after the album's release, McGuinn hired Clarence White as Parsons' replacement at Hillman's urging, as White was a session guitarist who had contributed countrified guitar work to all their albums since Younger Than Yesterday and Hillman felt he could handle both their older rock material and their new country-oriented direction. At White's urging, the two also replaced Kelley with drummer Gene Parsons (unrelated to Gram Parsons), who White had previously played with in the country band Nashville West. This line-up also disintegrated quickly, as Hillman had this point grown disenchanted with The Byrds thanks to the disastrous South African tour and their manager Larry Spector's mismanagement of band finances, and on 15 September 1968 an argument between Hillman and Spector backstage after a concert escalated into violence, ending with Hillman throwing his bass away and walking out to join Parsons in The Flying Burrito Brothers.
Even with only one original member remaining, The Byrds trudged on as McGuinn brought in bassist John York to replace Hillman, and chose to sing lead vocals on all the songs on the next album Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, believing that fans would be too confused hearing the unfamiliar voices of the new members, who were restricted to backing vocals. Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde, whose title reflected the material's split between the country-rock direction the band continued to pursue and newer songs which harked back to the Psychedelic Rock of 1966-1967, garnered some good reviews but became their lowest selling album in the USA, limping to #153 on the Billboard charts (being actually out-charted by Preflyte, a compilation of 1964 demo recordings compiled by the band's former producer Gary Usher) while paradoxically attracting rave reviews and becoming a great seller in the UK. The next album, Ballad Of Easy Rider followed quickly the same year, began to repair the band's position as they consolidated their country-rock style and attracted attention due to the title track being used as the theme song for Easy Rider. Another line-up change occurred prior to the album's release, with York being sacked as the other members doubted his commitment to the band and Skip Battin hired as his replacement.
The McGuinn-White-Battin-Parsons line-up counter-intuitively became The Byrds' longest-lasting and most stable line-up, and toured relentlessly for three years to rave reviews. The band thus decided to release a live album, but had also accumulated enough songs to record a new studio album, leading producer Terry Melcher to suggest a double album. Named (Untitled) thanks to a mistake by one of the employees at Columbia Records, the album was released in 1970 and considered the band's return to form, with the live renditions of their previous hits (among them a 16-minute version of "Eight Miles High") helping reconnect the band to their past audience while the entirely self-penned studio material was noticeably improved in quality compared to the more uneven records the band's internal turmoil had resulted in. Accordingly, (Untitled) garnered great reviews and resurrected the band's popularity and commercial success, peaking at #40 in the USA and #11 in the UK, and their live performances in the period also earned positive notices. However, the band's gruelling tour schedule left them exhausted and under-equipped for material as they sporadically recorded their follow-up, Byrdmaniax in-between touring. Once the sessions were completed, the band went back on tour, and Executive Meddling ensued as the material was overdubbed with strings, horns and a gospel choir without the band's knowledge or consent. Upon release, Byrdmaniax was received as well as a turd in a punchbowl and irreversibly undermined the second wind of popularity the group had been riding. In response, The Byrds quickly recorded a self-produced album, Farther Along, to counteract the criticisms directed at Byrdmaniax, but the pace of the recording further affected the available material and meant that the album failed to either restore the band's reputation or their flagging audience.
The unravelling of the band's career took a toll on its members, as Parsons was fired in July 1972 due to arguments with McGuinn over pay and his drumming and replaced with session musician John Guerin (who was never officially a member of The Byrds) for live dates, Battin was also kicked out after a concert (replaced by a returning Hillman), and White died in a car crash. Dissatisfied with the shambolic live performances, McGuinn officially disbanded the band's line-up to make way for a reunion of the McGuinn-Clark-Crosby-Hillman-Clarke line-upnote which resulted in the Self-Titled Album Byrds in 1972. The album was criticised for the absence of the band's jangly guitar sound and weak material, with McGuinn and Hillman having since speculated that all the members except Clark were reluctant to bring their best songs to the sessions, saving them for their solo careers instead. Discouraged by the bad reception of the reunion, The Byrds finally called it a day in 1973. In the late 1980s, Hillman had some modest success fronting the Desert Rose Band, a mainstream country music group.
Since then, there had been 3 separate reunions. The first was from 1989 to 1990 with McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman. However, Michael Clarke had gained full legal ownership of "The Byrds" name, and sued the 3 when they toured as The Byrds. In 1991, the original 5 Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with the rest of the former members such as Gram Parsons and Clarence White snubbed). The event was timely, as this would mark the last time the original 5 would re-unite. Gene Clark, who was visibly ill at the reunion, died a few months later of "natural causes". Then at the end of 1993, Michael Clarke succumbed to liver failure, a result of decades of alcoholism. There would be one final one-off reunion in 2000, this time with McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman. Since then, they have gone their separate ways, with Crosby gaining the rights of "The Byrds" name in 2002, Kevin Kelley dying of "natural causes" in 2002, and Skip Battin dying from Alzheimer's disease in 2003.
The group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Principal Members (Founding members in bold):
- Skip Battin bass, vocals (19691973, died 2003)
- Gene Clark lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, tambourine (19641966, 1967, 19721973, 1991, died 1991)
- Michael Clarke drums, congas, percussion (19641967, 19721973, 1991, died 1993)
- David Crosby lead vocals, guitar, bass (19641967, 19721973, 1989-1991, 2000)
- Chris Hillman lead vocals, bass, guitar, mandolin (19641968, 19721973, 1989-1991, 2000)
- Kevin Kelley drums (1968, died 2002)
- Jim "Roger" McGuinn lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer, banjo (19641973, 1989-1991, 2000)
- Gene Parsons drums, harmonica, banjo, vocals (19681972)
- Gram Parsons lead vocals, guitar, piano, organ (1968, died 1973)
- Clarence White guitar, mandolin, lead vocals (19681973, died 1973)
- John York bass, lead vocals (19681969)
- 1965 Mr. Tambourine Man
- 1965 Turn! Turn! Turn!
- 1966 Fifth Dimension
- 1967 Younger Than Yesterday
- 1968 The Notorious Byrd Brothers
- 1968 Sweetheart of the Rodeo
- 1969 Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde
- 1969 Ballad of Easy Rider
- 1970 (Untitled) note
- 1971 Byrdmaniax
- 1971 Farther Along
- 1973 Byrds
- 1970 (Untitled) note
- 2000 Live at the Fillmore February 1969
- 2008 Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971
Eight Tropes High:
- Advertised Extra: Inverted In 1989, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman sang guest vocals on a re-recording of "You Ain't Going Nowhere" that appeared on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Volume Two album. Even though the NGDB featured prominently on it, the single was credited solely to McGuinn and Hillman.
- As the Good Book Says...: "Turn! Turn! Turn!" is lifted almost completely from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
- Boxed Set: The Byrds (1990), There Is a Season (2006)
- Canon Discontinuity: The 1973 reunion album Byrds is generally ignored in histories of the band, since it was poorly received at the time, the band largely disowned it, and it was released on Asylum Records instead of Columbia, who controls the rest of their catalog.
- Concept Album: McGuinn's initial plan for what would become Sweetheart of the Rodeo was to record a double album that would showcase a history of American popular music, starting with early bluegrass and Appalachian music, then moving through country, jazz, R&B, rock, and finally culminating in electronic music played on the Moog synthesizer. The concept led McGuinn to look for a pianist with a jazz background, which was how Gram Parsons was recruited into the band.
- The Constant: Roger McGuinn was in every line-up of the band from start to finish.
- Country Rock: On their later albums. Sweetheart of the Rodeo is considered the Trope Codifier for the genre.
- Cover Album: Sweetheart of the Rodeo comes close, with only two in-house songs, both by Gram Parsons ("Hickory Wind", "One Hundred Years from Now"). Along with the two requisite Dylan songs, it also featured covers of songs originally by Woody Guthrie ("Pretty Boy Floyd"), George Jones ("You're Still on My Mind"), Merle Haggard ("Life in Prison"), Gene Autry ("Blue Canadian Rockies"), The Louvin Brothers ("The Christian Life"), Stax Records artist William Bell ("You Don't Miss Your Water") and the traditional "I am a Pilgrim".
- Cover Song: Usually several per album, particularly songs by Bob Dylan.
- Filk Song:
- "Space Odyssey" is based on Arthur C. Clarke's "The Sentinel", rather than 2001: A Space Odyssey, since it was recorded a year or so before the film was released.
- "Citizen Kane" isn't an example, other than the mention of Xanadu alongside Kane's name in the chrous. But it does mash-up a lot of imagery of The Golden Age of Hollywood in a comical way, with Shout-Outs to Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, The Cisco Kid, Louella Parsons, Errol Flynn, Rudolph Valentino, Fatty Arbuckle and Frankenstein.
- Folk Rock: Their early albums.
- Friendly, Playful Dolphin: "Dolphin's Smile".
- Garage Rock: Their sound inspired several of the folksier Garage Bands.
- George Lucas Altered Version: For the 1987 rarities album Never Before, the original plan was to present a stereo mix of the 1967 single "Lady Friend", which had only been released in mono. But David Crosby decided to go beyond that and fix what he considered were two big flaws in the original version: producer Gary Usher's Spector-like wall-of-sound mix, and Michael Clarke's drumming. So for the released version, he had a drummer come in and contribute a new drum track that sounded very much like typical drumming from The '80s. He also slightly sped up the song for some reason. Fans weren't amused, and this mix has never been re-released.
- Greatest Hits Album: They've had several, as you might expect. The first (called, naturally enough, The Byrds' Greatest Hits), released in 1967 and focusing on the Gene Clark/David Crosby era singles, is the best-selling item in their catalogue.
- Hidden Track: The remastered CD reissue of The Notorious Byrd Brothers features as a hidden track a recording of an in-studio argument between Crosby and Clarke, with Record Producer Gary Usher trying to get them to stop fighting.
- Innocent Aliens: "Mr. Spaceman".
- Jerkass: David Crosby has become almost as famous for his bridge burning as he is for music.
- Job Song: "BB Class Road" is about a roadie boasting about how cool his job is.
- Line-of-Sight Name: They hadn't decided on a name for their 1970 double album yet when they submitted it to Columbia Records, so the producer just wrote "(untitled)" where the label paperwork asked for the album's title. Columbia mistakenly thought that was the title and released it as such.
- Long Song, Short Scene: It's the belief of many fans that the 1965 version of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" was wasted, due to being intended for a single that didn't get released at the time. It is amongst the best examples of their chiming guitar sound.
- Motifs: Airplane travel, space travel and dogs all get recurring mentions in their lyrics.
- Myspeld Rökband
- Miniscule Rocking: Most of the Byrds' material is in the 2-3 minute range, and sometimes even shorter, with their albums largely staying in the half-hour range. The shortest, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, lasted 28 minutes and 28 seconds, and the longest album is (Untitled) by virtue of it being a double album. Said album features their longest songs, the live remake of "Eight Miles High" lasting 16 minutes, and the studio recording of "Well Come Back Home" which lasts 7 minutes.
- New Sound Album: Their switch to Psychedelic Rock and Country for The Notorious Byrd Brothers and country for Sweetheart Of The Rodeo onwards.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Lady Friend", "Space Odyssey", "Tiffany Queen".
- Once an Episode: The Byrds' early albums all featured a humorous, quirky ending song: Mr. Tambourine Man concluded with an ironic cover of Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" (inspired by its usage in Dr. Strangelove), Turn! Turn! Turn! ended with a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the folk song "Oh! Susannah", and Fifth Dimension finished with "2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)", which features a catchy groove with minimal lyrics panned hard right while the left channel includes sound effects depicting a plane taking off. The tradition ended with Younger Than Yesterday, but was temporarily resurrected for Ballad Of Easy Rider through "Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins", a light-hearted meditation on the Apollo 11 moon landing.
- Actually, on the re-release of Younger Than Yesterday, the song "Don't Make Waves" is added near the end and serves this purpose.
- One Steve Limit: Having pairs of unrelated band members with the last names Parsons and Clark(e) makes it a little confusing for folks being introduced to the band.
- Pop-Star Composer: Did the title song for the cheesy 1967 Sex Comedy Don't Make Waves.
- Production Foreshadowing: While it wasn't intended that way, "Change Is Now" on The Notorious Byrd Brothers seems like it was specifically created to be a bridge between the band's early and late careers. It starts off with the familiar Rickenbacker guitar and harmonies, then goes into a country-style chorus, then a complex "Eight Miles High"-style guitar solo, played by future band member Clarence White. And the lyrics about how "things that seem to be solid are not" fit their career perfectly.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: In the original lineup Crosby was the Red Oni and McGuinn was the Blue Oni.
- Renaissance Fair: "Renaissance Fair" from Younger Than Yesterday was inspired by the Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California, one of the Real Life Ur Examples.
- Revolving Door Band: It was particularly nasty after Gene Clark left. When Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde was released in 1969, Roger McGuinn was all that remained of the original quintet.
- Signature Style: Roger McGuinn's jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar sound and vocal harmonies.
- Take That!: The Notorious Byrd Brothers replaced the departed David Crosby with a horse on the cover, or at least that's how Crosby interpreted it. McGuinn has repeatedly insisted it's not meant to be a reference to Crosby but was merely a coincidence that happened when they were shooting the cover, pointing out that if they did intend a Take That!, they'd have turned the horse backwards.
- "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" is an insult towards Nashville DJ Ralph Emery, who during the promotion of Sweetheart of the Rodeo conducted a hostile review insulting the band, initially refused to play "You Ain't Going Nowhere", and once he played it he dismissed it on air and in front of the band.
- "So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star" is often called a Take That! to The Monkees, but they've denied it and said that it was more of an amused reaction to how easily new bands could be hyped into popularity in The '60s.note
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Between the egos, legal battles, infighting, drug use, Creative Differences, they havent been called Lord of the Flies with guitars for nothing.
- Titled After the Album: A 1980s country duo called Sweethearts of the Rodeo named themselves after the famous Byrds album, and even paid homage to said album with the cover of their Buffalo Zone album.
- "Untitled" Title: The ninth album is officially called "(Untitled)". This was actually meant to be a placeholder, but became the final title by accident.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Skip Battin was fond of writing songs like this.