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Music / The Byrds

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The classic line-up of The Byrds. From left to right:
Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clarke, Roger McGuinn, and Gene Clark.

"To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose under heaven."
"Turn! Turn! Turn!"

The Byrds were an American band active from 1964 to 1973, 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, followed by drummer Michael Clarke (recruited partly because of his resemblance to Brian Jones) and bassist Chris Hillman shortly afterward. 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 yielded another hit single with a cover of Pete Seeger's title tune, and also offered an Early-Bird Cameo for the Byrds' future musical direction, as Hillman — whose musical background was more bluegrass/country than the others' folk — convinced his bandmates to cover the country standard "Satisfied Mind". Getting bored with folk-rock, the band 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, which 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 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 Clarke — upset with his low pay, the material he was working on, and periodic arguments with his bandmates — left during recording in August 1967 (though he returned briefly towards the end of the album sessions before once again being let go by McGuinn and Hillman). Meanwhile, Crosby was ejected by McGuinn and Hillman in October 1967 (the two having actually driven to his house on the occasion to fire him) and replaced for three weeks by a returning Gene Clark (who was sacked again afterwards). 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 a 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, and would also exert a major influence on Alternative Country. 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 a 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 that harked back to the Psychedelic Rock of 1966–67, earned 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 three 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 five 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 five would reunite. Gene Clark, who was visibly ill at the reunion, died a few months later of a bleeding ulcer caused by his alcoholism. Then at the end of 1993, Michael Clarke succumbed to liver failure, again as a result of decades of alcoholism. There would be one final one-off reunion in 2000, this time with McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman. Afterwards, they went 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.

For the first two decades of the twenty-first century, fans held out hope that the three remaining members of the classic lineup would re-unite. Crosby and Hillman expressed interest, but McGuinn consistently shot the idea down, although he did participate in a 2018 tour with Hillman to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Sweetheart of The Rodeo album, and both McGuinn and Crosby made contributions to Hillman's 2017 solo album Biding My Time. Crosby's death in January 2023 at the age of 81 has left McGuinn, Hillman, Gene Parsons and John York as the band's surviving members.

The group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Skip Battin – bass, vocals (1969–73; died 2003)
  • Gene Clark – lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, tambourine (1964–66, 1967, 1972–73, 1991; died 1991)
  • Michael Clarke – drums, congas, percussion (1964–67, 1972–73, 1991; died 1993)
  • David Crosby – lead vocals, guitar, bass (1964–67, 1972–73, 1989–91, 2000; died 2023)
  • Chris Hillman – lead vocals, bass, guitar, mandolin (1964–68, 1972–73, 1989–91, 2000)
  • Kevin Kelley – drums (1968; died 2002)
  • Jim "Roger" McGuinn – lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer, banjo (1964–73, 1989–91, 2000)
  • Gene Parsons – drums, harmonica, banjo, vocals (1968–72)
  • Gram Parsons – lead vocals, guitar, piano, organ (1968; died 1973)
  • Clarence White – guitar, mandolin, lead vocals (1968–73; died 1973)
  • John York – bass, lead vocals (1968–69)

Studio Discography:

  • 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

Live Discography:

  • 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.
  • Album Filler: The second sides of Turn! Turn! Turn! and Fifth Dimension feature a lot of this.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Chris Hillman and Gene Parsons are both half Jewish.
  • As the Good Book Says...: "Turn! Turn! Turn!" is lifted almost completely from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
  • Blatant Lies: David Crosby liked to list his height as 5'10" on most questionnaires from 1965-66, which is to say taller than Chris Hillman. Literally every photograph of the band ever taken has disproved these claims.
    • On the same questionnaires, Michael Clarke would often state that he was born in New York City, apparently because he felt that his real hometown of Spokane, Washington wasn't hip enough.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ask Roger McGuinn whether the sound at the beginning of "The Lear Jet Song" is a vacuum cleaner. As he will be very quick to point out, it's an actual jet taking off.
  • Biography: They've had several, with by far the most in-depth being the massive 1,000+ page volume Requiem For the Timeless by Byrds expert Johnny Rogan. Good luck getting your hands on the book, though—Rogan self-published it, and his 2021 death has left any future printings in doubt. Used copies can easily go for hundreds of dollars.
  • Blue Blood: David Crosby is descended from two prominent New York Dutch families, the Van Rennselaers (on his father's side) and the Van Cortlandts (on his mother's).
  • Borrowing the Beatles: The Byrds were originally styled as a Beatles-style quartet with more pronounced folk influences. They became a quintet when Chris Hillman was brought in as a result of David Crosby struggling to play bass and sing at the same time.
  • Boxed Set: The Byrds (1990), There Is a Season (2006)
  • B-Side: A few that didn't appear on their albums, including "She Don't Care About Time" (b-side to "Turn! Turn! Turn!") and "Don't Make Waves" (b-side to "Have You Seen Her Face").
  • 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, but they ended up with Gram Parsons, who overstated both his keyboard abilities and his jazz chops, then promptly steered them toward country once he was in 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".
    • Several years after the band split, Columbia records released a compilation album consisting of their various Dylan covers.
  • Cover Song: Usually several per album, particularly songs by Bob Dylan. The 1973 Byrds reunion album had two Neil Young covers, with Crosby (who produced the album) saying it was because they viewed Young as the "Dylan of The '70s".
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Sweetheart of the Rodeo gets its front cover art (and title) from the elaborate 1933 lithograph Evolution of the Cowboy by California artist Jo Mora.
  • The Diva: Croz, by most accounts.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Specifically it's Amphetamines Are Bad on "Artificial Energy".
  • Drums of War: The take of "Mr. Tambourine Man" included on the Preflyte album features Michael Clarke playing his snare drum in an oddly militaristic style.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Before joining The Byrds as a full-time band member, Clarence White appeared as a session musician on Younger Than Yesterday (on "The Girl With No Name" and "Time Between"), The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: David Crosby was initially supposed to be the Byrds' bassist. His inability to play bass and sing at the time precipitated manager Jim Dickson's decision to involve Chris Hillman in the group, despit the fact that Hillman wasn't a bassist at all. After Hillman joined, the line-up had Clark on rhythm guitar and Crosby as the non-instrumentalist. Depending on who is telling the story, either Clark willingly surrendered the instrument or Crosby bullied him out of it by undermining his confidence. At the end of the day, however, most fans feel that the instrumental re-structuring was an improvement, as Crosby was the stronger guitarist while the Tall, Dark, and Handsome Clark made a more visually striking frontman.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Chris Hillman's late 1966 decision to stop straightening his hair coincided with his emergence as a songwriter and a major player in the band's internal politics.
  • Feud Episode: The band's history is basically one of these after another. It even continued into recent years, when David Crosby blocked Roger McGuinn on Twitter. Unfortunately the two never managed to work out their differences.
  • Four-Man Band: The Byrds quartet that made Fifth Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday and around half of The Notorious Byrd Brothers:
    • Roger McGuinn was The Smart Guy (a reserved Gadgeteer Genius with a fixation on sci-fi)
    • David Crosby was the Casanova Wannabe (after all, he did write "Triad")
    • Chris Hillman was the Only Sane Man (by most accounts he was the most grounded, no-nonsense member)
    • Michael Clarke was the Butt-Monkey (as evidenced by the in-studio argument during the recording of "Dolphin's Smile").
  • Freudian Trio: The original Jet Set trio had David Crosby as the id, Roger McGuinn as the superego, and Gene Clark as the ego.
  • Friendly, Playful Dolphin: Invoked in the impressionistic nautically-themed "Dolphin's Smile".
    Rainbow's end everywhere
    Full of life, free as air
    Childhood's dream, have you ever seen
    A dolphin's smile?
  • Garage Rock: Their sound inspired several of the folksier Garage Bands.
  • Genre Roulette: Over the course of their career, they dabbled in folk, psychedelia, jazz, country, electronica, and more.
    • Even Sweetheart of the Rodeo, commonly seen as their "country album", actually contains a mashup of styles. Songs like "You're Still On My Mind" and "Life In Prison" are essentially straight country, but "Pretty Boy Floyd" borders on bluegrass, and "I Am A Pilgrim" is the sort of old-time music that could easily fit onto the sountrack album for O Brother, Where Art Thou?. "One Hundred Years From Now" and "Nothing Was Delivered," meanwhile, are country-rock—with emphasis on the "rock."
  • 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: Most of the band's remasters feature a hidden track at the end of the bonus material:
    • Fifth Dimension includes a radio interview that was recorded to promote the album.
    • Younger than Yesterday includes an instrumental guitar mix of the song "Mind Gardens".
    • The Notorious Byrd Brothers includes a radio advertisement featuring Record Producer Gary Usher, and a recording of an in-studio argument from the "Dolphin's Smile" sessions mainly between Crosby and Clarke, with Usher trying in vain to calm them down and get them to refocus on the song, Hillman attempting to be the Good Cop to Crosby's Bad Cop, and McGuinn occasionally chiming in as the Only Sane Man.
    • Sweetheart of the Rodeo features another radio advertisement, featuring a couple arguing over whether or not the album is actually by The Byrds.
    • Ballad of Easy Rider features not one, but two radio advertisements for the album.
    • (Untitled) features a short acapella rendition of the gospel standard "Amazing Grace".
    • Byrdmaniax includes an alternate version of "Green Apple Quick Step".
    • Farther Along features an alternate version of "Bristol Steam Convention Blues".
  • Hope Spot: Chris Hillman has referred to a trip to Hawaii in the summer of 1967 as having been a very positive time for the band, as they were working together closely on several songs that wound up on The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Unfortunately, this "natural harmony" was short-lived, as they began squabbling again after returning to Los Angeles.
  • Iconic Item: Roger McGuinn's trademark rectangular "Ben Franklin" sunglasses, which he wore in 1965 and the beginning of 1966. The Byrds' popularity led to the glasses quickly becoming emblematic of mid-60s fashion, with even the likes of George Harrison sporting a pair around the same time.
    • David Crosby's cape may also count.
  • Innocent Aliens: "Mr. Spaceman"—the narrator wants them to take him away.
  • Intentional Mess Making: Both Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman have suggested that David Crosby had grown disinterested in the band by the second half of 1967, and was actively trying to get himself fired so that he could work with other musicians. Crosby has always denied this and, up to his death in 2023, seemed to be quite hurt by his dismissal despite his later success with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
  • Jangle Pop: Generally considered (alongside The Beatles) to be the Trope Maker.
  • Jerkass: David Crosby became almost as famous for his bridge-burning as he was for his music, although many would consider him to have been a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • 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.
  • Medley: Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde ends with a medley of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages", the band's own "B.J. Blues", and Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do".
  • Melismatic Vocals: In the original line-up, David Crosby's vocals tended to be very melismatic while Chris Hillman's were syllabic. Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark were both somewhere in between.
  • Middle Name Basis: Harold Eugene Clark went by the diminutive of his middle name.
  • Motifs: Airplane travel, space travel, and dogs all get recurring mentions in their lyrics.
  • 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.
  • Myspeld Rökband: "Byrds" rather than "Birds." This actually caused controversy during their infamous first UK tour when the manager of an English band called the Birds sued the Californian Byrds in attempt to get them to change their name (apparently, local fans of the Birds were disgruntled at being mistakenly sold copies of the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" single). The Birds drifted into obscurity soon afterward, although their lead guitarist Ron Wood later found substantial success as a member of the Jeff Beck Group, the Faces and The Rolling Stones
  • The Napoleon: David Crosby was the shortest member of the classic line-up, but he was also—by a substantial margin—the most outgoing, egotistical, and emotionally volatile. This contrasted particularly sharply with the icier temperament of Roger McGuinn.
  • 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), as well as two who went by Gene, can make it a little confusing for folks being introduced to the band for the first time.
  • 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, distorted "Eight Miles High"-style guitar solo. And the lyrics about how "things that seem to be solid are not" fit their career perfectly.
  • Rearrange the Song: Their early hits were Bob Dylan songs and folk tunes rearranged in a Beatles-esque style with straight rock time signatures and electric guitars. Prior to the formation of the Byrds, McGuinn had worked as a professional musical arranger for artists such as Judy Collins.
  • 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 recorded in late 1968, Roger McGuinn was all that remained of the original quintet.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: Crosby ended up dropping McGuinn's and Hillman's backing vocals on "Lady Friend" in favor of overdubbing his own harmonies, a move that helped worsen his relationship with his bandmates as 1967 went along.
  • Shout-Out: Multiple times, both from them and to them.
    • Ian McLagan of the The Small Faces claimed that the line "in places, small faces unbound" from "Eight Miles High" was a tribute to his band from David Crosby, who was responsible for this section of the lyrics.
    • Eric Clapton used a 12-string guitar on the Cream track "Dance The Night Away" in tribute to the Byrds, and in contemporary interviews cited them as one of his favorite American bands.
    • Roger McGuinn got one of these from The Mamas & the Papas in their song "Creeque Alley."
    • "Space Odyssey" is basically Arthur C. Clarke's story "The Sentinel" adapted into a futuristic sea shanty, with the title referencing Stanley Kubrick's highly anticipated film inspired by the story that was still in production at the time.
    • Crosby alluded to Stranger in a Strange Land with the line about "water brothers" in "Triad".
  • Signature Style: Roger McGuinn's jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar sound and vocal harmonies.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: At the start of their career, the members of the band looked very similar to one another, as they dressed in jackets, turtlenecks, and dark jeans, and wore their hair in Beatles-esque moptops. In most of the promotional shoots the guys did in 1965, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke in particular basically look like brothers. By 1967, however, they became a lot easier to distinguish, with one newspaper article from that summer noting that visually, "each Byrd has got his own bag".
    • David Crosby started wearing colorful hippie-inspired clothes (including an array of distinctive hats), stopped cutting his hair, and grew his now-iconic walrus mustache—which is to say, his famous CSNY look was already in place by the time he was booted from the Byrds.
    • Roger McGuinn's fashion became, conversely, more conservative and he sported a goatee which would not have been out of place in the Greenwich village folk scene several years earlier.
    • At the advice of a stylist, Chris Hillman stopped torturing his natural curls with hair straighteners.
  • Slice of Life: "Gunga Din" (from Ballad of Easy Rider) is a fragmentary Rock Star Song centering on two specific incidents that happened to band members—Chuck Berry not showing up for a concert in Central Park with the band ("It rained in New York City, Mr. Rock 'n' Roll couldn't stay"), and John York going out with his mother for breakfast, only to have the restaurant turn him away for wearing a leather jacket.
  • Stage Names:
    • Michael Clarke's real name was Michael Dick. The new surname was inspired by Dick Clark.
    • Roger McGuinn was born James Joseph McGuinn, and went by Jim professionally until the summer of 1967 when he switched to Roger, after getting involved with the Subud spiritual movement.note  McGuinn's legal name is actually still James—he just changed his middle name from Joseph to Roger.
    • Gram Parsons' birth name was Ingram Cecil Connor, but he later adopted the surname of his stepfather Robert Parsons.
    • Skip Battin's first name was actually Clyde.
    • Clarence White was born Clarence Joseph LeBlanc, obviously using a translation of his French surname for his stage surname.
  • Studio Chatter: Before the stereo version of "Lady Friend" on the 1991 box set, with David Crosby apparently battling a cold as they record the song.
    Crosby: (clears his throat as McGuinn counts the song in) Can't even talk, how can I sing?
  • 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 haven’t been called “Lord of the Flies with guitars” for nothing.
  • Tenor Boy: David Crosby.
  • 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.
  • Uncommon Time: "Get To You" features 5/4 time interspersed with 6/8 time. The song was partly conceived as a Take That! to the recently fired David Crosby, who apparently didn't believe that the rest of the Byrds were musically sophisticated enough to do justice to his jazzier compositions.
  • "Untitled" Title: The ninth album is officially called "(Untitled)". This was actually meant to be a placeholder, but became the final title by accident.
  • Vocal Tag Team: The classic Byrds vocal sound was made up of McGuinn and Clark (and, after Clark's departure, Hillman) singing a given song's main vocal line in unison while Crosby added a high harmony over the top. Each member of the classic line-up save Michael Clarke also received their own solo vocal spots. Examples of each member's lead vocals include:
    • McGuinn - "Mr. Spaceman," "My Back Pages," "Get to You" and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
    • Clark - "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better," "Set You Free This Time" and "If You're Gone"
    • Crosby - "Everybody's Been Burned," "Lady Friend" and "Tribal Gathering"
    • Hillman - "Time Between," "The Girl With No Name" and "Blue Canadian Rockies"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Skip Battin was fond of writing songs like this.