67. The Byrds

The Byrds are a rock band from Los Angeles, California. Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby all started as sidemen in folk rock bands. McGuinn and Clark loved The Beatles, and were playing as a duo when they met Crosby. Crosby introduced them to Jim Dickson, who had access to the World Pacific recording studio. It was Dickson who first suggested the trio listen to Bob Dylan. The Byrds achieved fame rapidly. Their first two singles, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, were their two #1 hits.

The band’s career was volatile, as Clark, Clarke and Crosby left the band within three years. McGuinn and Hillman then led the band through a series of personnel changes, and they recruited great talent, especially Clarence White and Gram Parsons. The band experienced a second fertile period of music making, by country-minded musicians with good taste in music that preceded them. A fascinating but heartbreaking story, the Byrds were the first so-called “country rock” band, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.


Roger McGuinn (b. 1942), lead guitar and vocals
Gene Clark (1944-1991), tambourine and vocals
David Crosby (b. 1941), guitar and vocals
Chris Hillman (b. 1944), bass, mandolin
Michael Clarke (1946-1993), drums

Among the other important contributors to The Byrds were:

Clarence White (1944-1973), lead guitar
Gram Parsons (1946-1973), songwriter, guitar and vocals

Wikipedia Biography of The Byrds
Byrdwatcher: A Field Guide to The Byrds of Los Angeles
The Byrds Lyrics Page

A Young Band

The Beatles changed the pop music landscape; girls went crazy for the young rock bands. Efforts to make The Byrds popular were clearly made. Initially, not all band members could play their instruments well enough for recordings. Studio musicians were brought in early, but the talented band soon became better musicians.

Jingle Jangle

Roger McGuinn plays the same Rickenbacker 12-string guitar that George Harrison played on “I Call Your Name”. This is the guitar that gives “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and other Byrds hits, their distinctive jingle jangle sound.

David Crosby was asked to leave the Byrds because of artistic and political differences. Crosby and Stephen Stills formed a long partnership with Graham Nash, with occasional participation by Neil Young. It’s noteworthy that CSN&Y was also an uneasy collaboration. Crosby fought to have his compositions played. But I suspect that heavy drug and alcohol use made intense collaborations less stable.

Gene Clark, the best songwriter during the early years, left the band because of internal jealousies and personal struggles with air travel. He recorded sporadically throughout his shortened life, but struggled with alcoholism. His 1974 album No Other is considered an unrecognized classic recording.

The Kentucky Colonel

Many years ago, I bought a Rhino Records bluegrass compilation. My favorite song from this initial foray into bluegrass was the instrumental “Nine Pound Hammer” by the Kentucky Colonels. Turns out the Kentucky Colonels were founded by Clarence and Roland White, a couple of young bluegrass pickers from southern California. I bought their album, Appalachian Swing, to learn more about them. “Nine Pound Hammer” is known as a Merle Travis song, but it is an old folk song, also known as “Take This Hammer” and “Swannanoa Tunnel”.

Gram Parsons

There is much debate about the band’s relationship with Gram Parsons; the album Sweetheart Of the Rodeo is widely acclaimed. Parsons and Chris Hillman formed the Flying Burrito Brothers shortly thereafter, after which Parsons recorded two albums as a solo artist. Parsons brought a country sensibility which worked best during his tenure with the Byrds.

Half-Wracked Prejudice Leaped Forth

Dad liked “Mr. Tambourine Man” for as long as I can remember; I think we owned that first Byrds album in the family collection. However, there’s no question Dad preferred Bob Dylan’s original version. I remember Mom buying the 45 RPM single for “Eight Miles High”, one of the earliest and best California psychedelic songs, and perhaps the band’s best original composition. It’s fascinating to think about your parents, and think about why they liked certain songs. Just like me, these songs meant something to them.

My favorite Byrds song is “My Back Pages”, another Bob Dylan composition. Dylan wrote it as a waltz, but the Byrds transformed it into a 4/4 time with a gentle rock beat. Dylan’s lyrics are somewhat opaque, but resolve in a simple refrain. The Byrds version is the rare cover version that far exceeds the original.

“Crimson flames tied through my ears,
Rollin’ high and mighty trapped.
Countless fire and flaming roads,
Using ideas as my maps.
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I,
Proud ‘neath heated brow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth,
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed.
Lies that life is black and white,
Spoke from my skull, I dreamed.
Romantic facts of musketeers,
Foundationed deep, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand,
At the mongrel dogs who teach.
Fearing not I’d become my enemy,
In the instant that I preached.
Sisters led by confusion boats,
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

My guard stood hard when abstract threats,
Too noble to neglect.
Deceived me into thinking,
I had something to protect.
Good and bad, I define these terms,
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.”

— Bob Dylan

“Great song acknowledging the acceptance one develops as they age. The black and white world of our youth, softens to grey one day. It’s never simple or straightforward.”

— Cheryl

The Byrds went down easy these last couple weeks; I could listen to them for a long time without getting bored. They were a conduit to and from old folk and country music; the Byrds knew a lot of good songs. Check out the long list of related songs at the end of the post.

The Byrds Song Notes:

1. “Eight Miles High (Alt)” can be found on the remastered version of Fifth Dimension.

2. “My Back Pages (Live)” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (Live) are found on Live At Albert Hall, 1971.

3. “Pretty Polly (Alt)” is found on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (Legacy Edition).

4. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better (Alt)” is found on the remastered version of Mr. Tambourine Man.

5. “You’re The Only Girl I Adore” and “You Showed Me” are demo tapes made before their first album, and can be found in a number of places, including Pre-Flyte.

The Byrds Songs:

Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season), The Byrds ✭✭✭✭
My Back Pages, The Byrds ✭✭✭✭
Eight Miles High, The Byrds ✭✭✭✭

Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds ✭✭✭
Eight Miles High (Alt), The Byrds ✭✭✭
Wasn’t Born To Follow, The Byrds ✭✭✭

He Was A Friend Of Mine, The Byrds ✭✭
Hickory Wind, The Byrds ✭✭
I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better (Alt), The Byrds ✭✭
Everybody’s Been Burned, The Byrds ✭✭
Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man, The Byrds ✭✭
You Showed Me, The Byrds ✭✭
Willin’, The Byrds ✭✭
Mr. Spaceman, The Byrds ✭✭
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, The Byrds ✭✭

The Ballad Of Easy Rider, The Byrds
Black Mountain Rag (Live), The Byrds
So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N Roll Star, The Byrds
Renaissance Fair, The Byrds
Goin’ Back, The Byrds
Chimes Of Freedom, The Byrds
The Only Girl I Adore, The Byrds
The Christian Life, The Byrds
The Bells Of Rhymney, The Byrds
I Am A Pilgrim, The Byrds
One Hundred Years From Now, The Byrds
Pretty Polly (Alt), The Byrds
Chestnut Mare, The Byrds
Time Between, The Byrds
Stranger In A Strange Land (Instrumental), The Byrds
My Back Pages (Live), The Byrds
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Live), The Byrds

Related Songs:

Turn! Turn! Turn! (Live), Pete Seeger ✭✭

My Back Pages, Bob Dylan

Mr. Tambourine Man, Bob Dylan ✭✭✭✭✭
Mr. Tambourine Man (Live), Bob Dylan ✭✭

Jesus Is Just Alright, The Doobie Brothers ✭✭

I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

You Showed Me, The Turtles ✭✭

Willin’, Little Feat ✭✭

Black Mountain Rag, Doc Watson ✭✭
Black Mountain Rag (Live), Doc Watson ✭✭
Black Mountain Rag, Chet Atkins

Goin’ Back, Carole King ✭✭

The Christian Life, The Louvin Brothers ✭✭✭

I Am A Pilgrim (Live), Merle Travis ✭✭
I Am A Pilgrim, David Grisman & Tony Rice

Pretty Polly, The Stanley Brothers ✭✭✭✭

All I Really Want To Do, Bob Dylan ✭✭
All I Really Want To Do, Cher

Nine Pound Hammer, The Kentucky Colonels ✭✭✭✭
Nine Pound Hammer, The Monroe Brothers

Christine’s Tune, The Flying Burrito Brothers ✭✭

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