Want A Hit Record Yeah (11th November 1972)

The Raspberries, a quartet from Cleveland, Ohio, had two records in the lower reaches of the Cash Box album chart, those listed between 101 – 150, from 50 years ago this week. Their eponymous debut had been released in April 1972 & “Go All The Way”, the second 45 taken from it, made the US Top 5 boosting interest in & sales of the album. After a peak of #51 it was now slipping down the list to #103 but the Raspberries were not hanging about & the next collection “Fresh” was a new entry at #107. Like their first, “Fresh” opened with a rush & a push, something that sounded good on the radio, a hit record yeah.

Power Pop is a term coined by Pete Townshend to describe his own group’s music back when he was writing killer three minute singles rather than rock operas. Even though some of my favourite bands, Big Star, Flamin’ Groovies, are regarded as such I’m not about to get definitive about such a nebulous classification, it’s enough to say that Raspberries merit a more than honourable mention in any discussion about Power Pop. Formed by members of two teenage groups from Cleveland, Ohio they found themselves a deal with a major label & a promotion budget that stretched to a “scratch n sniff” sticker on the cover of their debut album. It’s a record that owes a lot to the mid-60s Beatles, not a bad thing, good short tunes with strong choruses are always welcome though some of the more obvious steals from the Fabs are a bit cheeky. In 1972 Retro was not yet a thing but Raspberries took the best of all of six years ago & made a fine record. “Fresh”, with more consistency through the album, is even better.

Eric Carmen wrote & sang lead on the hit records, “I Wanna Be With You” made the US Top 20, while guitarists Doug Smalley & Wally Bryson had their songs to contribute. Eric liked those Mcartney-esque melodies & silly love songs – OK, romantic ballads – but the guitars added crunch to the caramel though neither Doug nor Wally were John to Eric’s Paul. Perhaps unfairly regarded as mainstream at a time when “progressive” was the thing, Raspberries well-crafted Pop was ahead of the game & still sounds good. “Side 3” (1973) had more Power than Pop but band tensions led to the departure of Smalley & drummer Jim Bonfanti & the reduced promotion meant reduced sales. With new members “Starting Over” (1974) had more ambition & the epic “Overnight Sensation” returned the group to the singles chart before Carmen decided that he should be all by himself & went solo. That’s four good Raspberries’ records, ones that plenty of young bands listened to & thought that they would like to make that kind of noise.

Clean as country water, wild as mountain dew, that’s those Nashville Cats & at #150 this week was one of the “A Team” of the session men behind the countless hits created in Music City. Charlie McCoy started out in Miami with a 50 cent harmonica & played guitar in a teenage Rock & Roll band dismissed as a little too modern in Nashville & by the faculty at Miami University. Undeterred he returned to Tennessee where, missing out on a gig as a guitarist with a band who also needed a drummer, he bought himself a kit & got the job. In 1961 he joined an all-star studio band & added a prominent harmonica part to Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man”, an international hit. Charlie thought that $49 for three hours work was good getting for a 20 year old & with the endorsement of producers Chet Atkins & Owen Bradley he would be playing over 400 sessions a year. On a 1965 visit to the New York World’s Fair he was contacted by Bob Johnston, an old friend & Bob Dylan’s producer, & was handed a guitar to play on “Desolation Row”. When Johnston & Dylan wanted to record in Nashville Charlie was asked to get the band together for the “Blonde On Blonde” sessions. There’s a story that he played bass one-handed, a trumpet in the other, on “Most Likely You Go Your Way & I’ll Go Mine”! In 1967, on the more restrained sublime “John Wesley Harding” Charlie kept both hands on the bass, playing on all the tracks.

Charlie McCoy played with all the Country greats & the stars who followed Dylan to Nashville. It’s a very long list including a whole lot of Elvis Presley, both versions of “Jackson” (Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Cash & June Carter) & with Area Code 615, his Nashville friends, on “Stone Fox Chase”, known in the UK as the theme tune to Rock TV show “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. His current, eponymous album is, like the other three collections issued in 72/3, a mix of Country classics & contemporary Pop hits all rather faithfully covered & arranged to feature Charlie’s crystal clear harmonica backed by elite studio men. The listening can be easy, these guys were used to completing four tracks in a session because they knew what went where & how it goes. The result is pleasant & proved to be popular, all four albums reaching the Country Top 10. Charlie added harp & vibes to Elvis’ version of “I Really Don’t Want To Know”, a 1953 hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford. Often covered, the song is in my collection by both Gene Clark & Jason & the Scorchers. There’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville, but if you needed a harmonica then you called up Charlie McCoy.

In August 1967 Columbia Records issued “The Byrds’ Greatest Hits”11 singles, from four LPs released between April 1965 & March 1967. Music that had heard the Beatles & answered the British Invasion with Folk-Rock, Space-Rock & Raga-Rock. The assemblage became the group’s biggest selling album, a Gold record within the year, but the times they were a changing in the Summer of Love, the audience that had grown up listening to the Byrds were looking further out & farther along. Losing group members had caused disruption but this was by no means the end of the Byrds’ artistic achievement & innovation though they no longer were the shock of the new & never as commercially successful. By 1972 Roger McGuinn was the last original Byrd standing, the new cohort, Gene Parsons (drums), Skip Battin (bass) & master guitar string bender Clarence White had been together since late 69. The opening two sides of the double album “Untitled” (1970) & other recordings confirm that the group were a great live act but their last studio record, “Farther Along” (1971), had failed to trouble the compilers of the Top 150 albums chart. Their contract with Columbia was coming to an end, a rumoured reunion of the original 5 members was causing a stir & “The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits Volume II”,#151 on the chart, was pushing it a bit.

Volume II spans the years 1968-71 & the highest chart ranking I can find for any of these 11 “greatest hits” is #65 for “The Ballad of Easy Rider”, the title track of a 1969 album. Apparently curated with the input of McGuinn only one track from each of “Notorious Byrd Brothers” (“Get To You”) & “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”), both records now rightly appreciated as ground-breaking classics, are included. The three tracks from “The Ballad of…” are good though there is no “Gunga Din” or “Deportee”. “Nashville West”, “Lover of the Bayou”, “Bugler” & “Lazy Water” would all be alternate & better choices for inclusion. I’ll go with “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, a song left over from Gram Parsons’ brief one-album stint as a Byrd, about Nashville DJ Ralph Emory who disapproved of all these longhairs playing Country music. In May 1973 “History of the Byrds”, a double album was released in the UK & Europe. Compiled by John Tobler, with a family tree by Pete Frame, two aficionados & champions of the group, it was a much more sympathetic appreciation of the latter part of the Byrds’ output. “History…” included the track “Lady Friend”, a blink & you missed it US 45 pretty much unknown on this side of the Atlantic at the time. If you have never heard “Lady Friend”, a David Crosby classic, then maybe it’s time you did.


I Remember California (February 5th 1972)

To all of those kind folk who contacted ‘handlebars HQ with words of encouragement about my meanderings through the lower reaches, the higher numbers (101-150), of the US album charts of 50 years ago, a big thank you & a digital hug to both of you. It’s not always going to be the overlooked & the undervalued, the coulda & shoulda been bigger. Two of this week’s selections are from groups who made pivotal, significant contributions to the resurgence of American popular music in the wake of the British Invasion tsunami. Their peak creativity & popularity may have been in the past but when they got it right they could still make a beautiful noise worthy of our time & attention.

Flashback: The Byrds Flip the Opry Script - Rolling Stone

With the departure in late 1967 of both David Crosby & drummer Michael Clarke membership of the Byrds, already a songwriter light when Gene Clark had left, had become somewhat of a revolving door. When Gram Parsons left after just one record & the formerly steadfast Chris Hillman decided that he would rather be a Flying Burrito Brother Roger McGuinn was the last Byrd standing of the original five who had struck jingle-jangle Folk Rock gold in 1965 with “Mr Tambourine Man”. Roger recruited ace guitarist Clarence White who found a drum stool for his friend Gene Parsons then, after a couple of records, they were joined by bassist Skip Battin for the half-live, half studio double album “Untitled” (1970). “Farther Along”, the group’s 11th release, quickly recorded after the disappointing “Byrdmaniax”, stood at #122 on the Cash Box album chart for the 5th of February 1972.

04/28/1972: The Byrds at Allegheny College Meadville, Pennsylvania, United  States | Concert Archives

Any record by the Byrds will inevitably be compared to the astounding, barrier-breaking run of four albums from “Fifth Dimension” (1966) to “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (1968) & that’s a pretty high bar to clear. This later, the final, incarnation of the Byrds showed on “Untitled” & when I saw them play in 1971 that they had the chops to make the old songs more than just revive 45s & that record’s “Chestnut Mare” returned the group to the UK Top 20 after a five year absence. Perhaps a greater democracy within the band & McGuinn’s outside interests contributed to a lack of consistency but recent airings of “Farther Along” brought back good memories & a smile that I remembered all the tunes & most of the lyrics. Two well-chosen covers, “Lazy Waters” sung by Skip & the inimitable “Bugler” by Clarence, who, whether he is rocking or Country picking is immaculate throughout, are the highlights. There’s only the one McGuinn song here, “Lost My Driving Wheel” would have been a bonus but Roger kept it back for a solo album & plans for reunion of the classic five Byrds were coming together, a half-hearted reconcilement for the final album by the group from whom we will always have “Younger Than Yesterday”, “Notorious Byrd Brothers” & “Sweetheart…”.

Pin on 60's icons

The Mamas & the Papas walked through the door for Los Angeles folkies who wanted to make Pop music opened by the Byrds & their crystal-clear, naturally balanced harmonies made their California dreams come true. John Phillips wrote the hit songs, his wife Michelle was the coolest, most attractive young woman in America, Cass Elliott sang sweet & soulful while Denny Doherty’s voice really tied the room together. Across 1966-67 there were three Top 5 albums, six Top 10 45s & John’s role in the conception & realisation of the Monterey Pop Festival placed the West Coast & his group as a focal point for the counter-culture & the Summer of Love. Such great success brought problems to a quartet whose inter-personal relationships were well, complicated. Mama Michelle was fired in June 66, re-hired in August, a 67 European tour began badly when Cass was arrested as she stepped off the boat then an argument between John & Cass led to cancelled dates. A fourth album was released, “Dream A Little Dream of Me” became a Cass Elliott single & that seemed to be the end of the Mamas & Papas. Or was it?

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS: Trip, stumble and fall  | Elsewhere by Graham Reid

Cass was embraced & loved by a mainstream audience, hit records & TV specials followed. Michelle was looking towards Hollywood while Denny’s debut was missing John’s songs. These were to be found on “John, the Wolf King of L.A.”, a soft Country Rock gem that really coulda, shoulda been bigger but business got in the way of the music. Dunhill Records had been sold by producer-friend to ABC & the M&P’s new corporate bosses discovered that the group still owed them an album, that or a million dollars! For a record made under such awkward duress “People Like Us”, #119 on this week’s chart, bears up well over time. The songs & the singers are not as fresh & innocent as before but then weren’t we all, the harmonies are impeccable & hey, there are not too many albums made by the Mamas & the Papas. “Snow Queen of Texas” takes the breath away, Denny’s sweet & irresistible vocal matches “Blueberries For Breakfast” & my selection is the whisper of a tune “Shooting Star” because it always has been & always will be. We lost Cass in 1974, Denny never found a song to do justice to his pure voice, Michelle chose films & John chose heroin. For a while they shone as bright as anyone.

Malo music, videos, stats, and photos | Last.fm

From the final records by two famous groups from L.A. it’s 400 miles up the California coast to San Francisco & a debut album, something I had never heard until this week. Malo, in 1972, were a 12 piece band, an amalgamation of mainly Latino musicians whose self-titled record is at #144 on the chart. Among the members was guitarist Jorge Santana, brother of the more famous Carlos, but there’s more to Malo than just who they knew, there was a lot of talent. I’m no expert on Boogaloo, the funky Nuyorican Salsa popular in the 1960s but when I hear Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon & others I like what I hear. Malo have a similar big band feel, a brass section & multiple percussionists filling out the sound while there’s a Rock energy about these young guys, with just the six tracks on the album allowing the musicians to stretch out & find the groove. “Suavecito”, a Top 20 hit, may be a little smooth & restrained for some tastes but it’s great to see the band play live & you should try “Cafe” where all the ingredients, brass, percussion, stinging guitar, keyboards & strong vocals, whip up a heady brew.

There was some disruption after this album, keyboard player Richard Kermode & percussionist Coke Escovedo moved over to Santana but there are three more Malo records in the early 1970s before they tiook a six year break so that’s me sorted for the weekend then. Hasta Luego!

His Own Way Of Working (Tom Petty)

By 2007 Tom Petty had been a successful recording artist for 30 years. He & his band of brothers, the Heartbreakers, released their attention-grabbing debut in 1976. Big records followed, a world tour as Bob Dylan’s backing band was a measure of their progress & the estimation in which they were held. Solo LPs added to his collection of gold & platinum records as did his turn as Charlie T Wilbury Jr in a group of superstars & friends. They were the backing band for Johnny Cash’s resurgence on his American recordings. In 2007 he was the subject of  an all-but 4 hour long film directed by Peter Bogdanovich. His steadfast commitment to anything that’s Rock & Roll, his resolve when faced with music business shenanigans & the consistent quality of his output meant that he was now ranked alongside the artists of the 1960’s who had inspired him to make music.


Tom was in the enviable position of being able to carry his audience down whatever path he chose. What he did was get his old band together. An album bearing their name was released 34 years after they had first entered a studio. Naturally, a cover of a Byrds song was a highlight of this collection.




Image result for mudcrutchMudcrutch (really ?) had been the best band in Gainesville, Florida (pop:64,510 in 1970). They sold their possessions to finance a move to Los Angeles & signed a deal with Shelter Records, home of producer Denny Cordell whose UK success with the Move, Procol Harum & Joe Cocker had continued with Leon Russell when he crossed the Atlantic. So far so Hollywood but a single failed to connect & sessions for an album were not working out. The label felt that the talent was the singer/songwriter &, while the band were running down a shared dream, drummer Randall Marsh & guitarist Tom Leadon were dropped from the roster. Tom made his smartest decision ever to keep Mike Campbell & Benmont Tench, virtuosi on guitar & piano. The pair were fellow travellers until Tom’s premature death in 2017. The rest is their story.


From the opening bars of Side 1, Track 1 of the first record it was obvious to anyone with ears that TP & the Heartbreakers had listened closely to the Byrds. “American Girl” was an urgent update on the Rickenbacker jangle. Here in the UK we were early adopters of this fresh take on classic American Rock. “Lover of the Bayou” opens “Untitled” (1970), the double LP that shows the later incarnation of the Byrds at their best. ‘Crutch (sorry, but Mud is already taken) began as a covers band & I’m sure that “Lover…” was included in their early sets. Their mature take on the song is sturdy, modern & most acceptable, maybe not as loose & swampy as the original. In 2011 “Rolling Stone” rated Mike Campbell as the 79th best guitarist while in 2003 Clarence White of the Byrds was ranked at #41 so I guess the difference is 38 !




Image result for del shannon beatlesPetty’s obsession with music began with a brief encounter with Elvis when he was 10 years old. The deal was sealed 3 years later when the Beatles arrived in the US. Del Shannon had his hits in the time between. “Runaway” (1961) with it’s strong vocal, instantly memorable chorus & a musitron ( a homemade electronic  keyboard) instrumental break, sounded great back then & still does now. For a while Del resisted & embraced the tsunami of the British Invasion. He recorded songs by the Beatles & the Stones, the Fabs’ posh mates Peter & Gordon had a hit with his “I Go to Pieces” & “Keep Searchin'” (1964) was an absolute belter. His excursions into Psych-Pop were less commercially successful. “Home & Away” an LP recorded with Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham & intended to be the “British answer to “Pet Sounds”” was made in 1967 but not properly released until 2006. Audiences still wanted to hear the hits so Del made a living as a golden oldie.


Image result for tom petty del shannonTom Petty was listening back in the day, he wrote about it in a song. In 1981 he & his Heartbreakers joined Del in the studio to produce “Drop Down & Get Me” & they made a very good record. The update is respectful, there are 3 well-chosen covers (including Jagger/Richards’ “Out of Time”), the arrangements are kept simple, the focus on Del’s voice, still strong, the falsetto still in working order. The band & Jeff Lynne, were working with Del again when Roy Orbison, another master of dramatic 60’s Pop & a Travelling Wilbury, unfortunately passed away. Shannon was a logical replacement but was then a troubled man who took his own life in February 1990. Del Shannon was very good, there’s more to say about him…later.



Image result for roger mcguinn american girlIn 1977 Roger McGuinn off of the Byrds met Tom Petty & recorded “American Girl”. It seemed to be the right move. In 1974 I had seen Roger perform a long set, something solo, something Byrds & it was a true pleasure to be there. When he hooked up with Rolling Thunder, Bob Dylan’s Rock & Roll Circus he met Mick Ronson who produced the LP “Cardiff Rose” for him. “Thunderbyrd” (1977) was a set of laid-back Folk-Rock released at a time when audiences were expecting & enjoying a new energy in our music. Columbia, who McGuinn had been with since “Mr Tambourine Man” did not renew his contract & it would be 14 years before there was another solo LP from him.


Related image“Back from Rio” (1991) found TP & the band playing & co-writing on several tracks.”King of the Hill” (see above) is the standout, the 12-string Rickenbacker sound that all the right people love for all the right reasons. Tom has no production credit but I’m sure that the song sounds exactly as he wants it. There’s a telling scene in the documentary where Petty harangues clueless A&R men who are trying to foist inferior songs on to Roger, “a great man who has achieved great things”. His respect for Rock’s legacy & for the necessity of doing it right in the studio is non-negotiable. His disregard for the men from the label is apparent too. It’s only Rock & Roll but he likes it. So do I.



The Byrds Part 5 : A New Flock.

The revolving door on the Byrds tour bus was spinning for quite a while after the departure of Gram Parsons in 1968. The group recruited Clarence White, a guitarist who had contributed to the 3 previous LPs. Clarence introduced his best buddy Gene Parsons who quickly replaced drummer Kevin Kelley. It was only weeks later that bass player Chris Hillman decided to join Gram in the Flying Burrito Brothers. This must have been a whack upside the head for Roger McGuinn. Hillman shared the wild ride from the folk clubs of Los Angeles to the top of the world’s charts & stepped up as a songwriter when the major talents of Gene Clark & David Crosby flew the coop. They lost their producer too, Gary Usher was fired by CBS for overspending on a Chad & Jeremy LP (ANY money would have been too much !). There were concerts booked, a recording commitment to the label. A new bass player, John York, joined in September 1968 & just a month later was in the studio contributing to the follow up to “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”.



The title of the new record,”Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde” (1969), reflected the split-personality of the group, caught between psychedelic Rock & a Country place. It’s the only Byrds LP where McGuinn sings lead on all the tracks &, like “Sweetheart…” it opens with a Bob Dylan song. For all the personnel changes & the innovations of the last 3 near-perfect LPs the Byrds singing Dylan was where it all started, a touchstone of American popular music. “This Wheel’s on Fire”, written with the Band’s Rick Danko, gets an assertive Acid Rock treatment with outstanding guitar work. It’s not “Eight Miles High” but it’s about six.This clip, recorded before an audience of people who thought it acceptable to be in the same room as Hugh Hefner, shows that the new band could cut it as live performers too.


There are other good tracks on the record. “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”, a leftover from Gram’s time with the Byrds, is a kiss off to the Nashville establishment’s snotty reaction to the group’s appearance at the Grand Ole Opry. The instrumental “Nashville West” & the country ballad “Your Gentle Way of Loving Me” were brought along by Gene Parsons & Clarence White. There are shades of “Notorious…” & of “Sweetheart”, it’s obviously a Byrds record  made by a new unit yet to establish their own personality on the sound. What is striking is the contribution of guitarist Clarence White. It would need a more technical person than myself to outline the advantages of his innovative Stringbender on his Telecaster but whether he was playing space-rock or a country hoedown Clarence was up to the job. “Dr Byrds…” was the lowest selling Byrds LP yet, just 7 months later there was another record in the stores.



The film “Easy Rider” was a big deal in the summer of 1969. Peter Fonda &  Dennis Hopper’s low budget ($360,000) hippie fable drew an untapped youth market to cinemas & grossed over $40 million in the US alone. The soundtrack LP, the music cost more to licence than the film, went gold within 6 months. A memorable scene in the film employed “I Wasn’t Born to Follow” from “Notorious Byrd Brothers”. Roger McGuinn was a friend of Fonda’s, he & David Crosby had dropped acid with Fonda & the Beatles in 1965. When Bob Dylan proved reluctant to allow his songs to be used McGuinn recorded “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” then completed “The Ballad of Easy Rider” after Dylan handed him the first verse. The Byrds, generally perceived to have peaked before the Summer of Love, were responsible for 3 of the 10 tracks on the coolest soundtrack album around.



Ok so CBS were a little over the top with their “The movie gave you the facts, the Ballad interprets them” tagline.There’s an element of the cash-in as the title track was the only one to have any connection with the film. “The Ballad of Easy Rider” was re-recorded for the LP, speeded up & given a classy, clear as a mountain stream, orchestral backing by producer Terry Melcher, Doris Day’s son, who had performed the same duties for the group’s first 2 LPs in 1965. During the period of recording the LP the psychotic Manson “family” showed up at Melcher’s old house with murder on their mind. The 5 occupants were brutally killed. However freaked Melcher was by these extreme events he completed a fine job. The songs are mostly short & always sweet with a coherence that was missing from “Dr Byrds…”.


Roger McGuinn only wrote the one song for the record. He was busy with “Gene Tryp”, a rock adaptation of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” (those crazy 1960s eh ?). John York, contributed a song about his dog & Gene Parsons wrote “Gunga Din” about an incident when York & his mother were refused service at the Gramercy Park hotel in New York. What a lovely song it is too. Gene, a multi-instrumentalist, was proving to be an asset. He & White had played with the Gosdin Brothers in 1968 & “There Must Be Someone”, a country lament, came from that. He had also been in the studio when gospel group the Art Reynolds Singers recorded “Jesus is Just Alright” in 1966. The Byrds’ version sounded rocking on the radio when it was released as a single from the LP. All the covers were well chosen. There’s a Dylan song, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, one from Woody Guthrie, “Deportee” & John York brought along “Tulsa County” from singer-songwriter Pamela Polland. Clarence White, playing whatever is put before him, is just perfect again. In the 1970s I briefly crossed paths with Gene Parsons & was able to thank him for the music, particularly “Gunga Din” which still sounds great. He took my fan-babble very well, a classy guy.



“The Ballad of Easy Rider” is a classy album too. I’ll not make the claim that it’s up there with the great trio of LPs, “Younger Than Yesterday”, “Notorious Byrd Brothers” & “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” but if you’ve spent enough time listening & love the Byrds then you might. Roger McGuinn was the only original member of the group, he was the keeper of the Byrds’ flame. If he wanted to continue as a unit rather than pursue a solo career then the 2 LPs of 1969 justifies his decision. As Peter Fonda wrote in the liner notes of “The Ballad…”, “whoever the Byrds are is just alright. OH YEAH!”. OH YEAH !



One More For The Rodeo Sweethearts (The Byrds Part 4)

At the beginning of 1968 the 2 remaining members of the Byrds, Roger McGuinn & Chris Hillman, hooked up with drummer Kevin Kelley for a tour of American colleges. This reduced line-up could handle a stripped down set of the folk rock hits but the subtle atmospherics of the new LP  “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” were beyond the trio. They went looking for a keyboard player & they found Gram Parsons, a young talent whose attempt to fuse country music with rock with the International Submarine Band had stalled after one unreleased LP. Gram’s association with the Byrds, proved to be short & bittersweet. It produced just one LP but “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” is undoubtedly a wonderful thing, in the modern vernacular, a “game-changer” for the group & for contemporary American music.


Roger McGuinn’s grand vision for the follow up to “Notorious…” was a double LP, a history of American popular music from bluegrass to electronic. GP brought his own ideas to the group & immediately stimulated the Byrds to pursue a new direction. He joined in February & in the first week of March the Byrds were recording on Music Row in Nashville where they made both kinds of music, country & western. Back in 1968 the audiences for rock & country were from different worlds in the same nation, a mutual fear & loathing separating  generations. Rock music was putting on a kaftan & protesting the war in Vietnam while country still proudly wore a red, white & blue collar. In Nashville the Byrds appeared at the Grand Ole Opry & the audience did not react well to this “longhair” intrusion on hallowed ground. In the summer of 1968 the cutting edge of American rock was the jagged lysergic take on the Blues from San Francisco. Within a month of each other the Grateful Dead released “Anthem of the Sun”, Big Brother & the Holding Co, “Cheap Thrills” & Jefferson Airplane, “Crown of Creation”. So here come those Byrds with some cowboy songs, yeah, that’ll work.



Side 1 Track 1, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, a flying start featuring the pedal steel of Nashville cat Lloyd Green. Bob Dylan’s unrecorded songs, written during recuperation from a motorcycle accident, were circulated on a publisher’s demo & the Byrds, in at the beginning of this Dylan cover racket, were able to take their pick. “Sweetheart…” begins with this perfect statement of intent, a full-blooded modern blend of folk, rock & country. The LP takes a road trip along a country highway, stepping back to a Woody Guthrie hoedown, gospel from the late 1940s, stopping off at some lost (to a rock audience anyhow) classics before hitting 1968 with 2 of Gram’s songs & a cover of William Bell’s Stax hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water”. The final track, “Nothing Was Delivered”, another Dylan song, brings the record back to cutting-edge Byrds country.

McGuinn & Hillman had no songs to contribute to “Sweetheart…”. They had musical roots in folk & bluegrass but it was Parsons, younger, ambitious & committed to getting it right this time, who became the dominant figure in the recording sessions. He lobbied for pedal steel player JayDee Maness to be included in the live shows. The Byrds had been here before when David Crosby’s enthusiasm for his own talent had become too big for his poncho. This time the young tyro was not even a co-signee to the group’s new contract but a salaried employee. The 2 founder members went along with this because they knew they were on to a good thing but when producer Lee Hazelwood’s lawyers showed up claiming to have Gram under contract & threatening to sue they took rapid & drastic action. On 3 songs the freshman’s lead vocals were re-recorded by the seniors & the new versions rushed to the pressing plant.



So the “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” that we heard had a lot more McGuinn than originally intended & Roger had again re-established his position as Big Byrd. The LP was now more of a Byrds record, country music through an LA cowboy filter, a full sound with crystal-clear harmonies. The sincerity & lack of irony retain Parsons’ cosmic American aspirations but this is till the follow-up to “Notorious Byrd Brothers”. Now there are re-mastered legacy editions, “Gram’s version” & you can take your choice. The original “Sweetheart…” is the record I grew up with, the one that I know & love.

The Byrds crossed the Atlantic for a European tour. In London a shared interest in  roots music & serious drugs led to Gram becoming close with Mick & Keith off of the Rolling Stones. The story goes that the Glimmer Twins persuaded Parsons that an imminent tour of segregated audiences in apartheid South Africa was really not cool & he left the Byrds just weeks before “Sweetheart…” was released. Perhaps more pertinent is a recording from the Piper Club in Rome. Gram steps forward to perform his songs while the majority of the set are those the audience know & love. This clip, accompanied by some great photos, shows the Byrds in fine form, the electric banjo of new recruit Doug Dillard is outstanding. The fledgling Byrd had travelled a long way to play rhythm guitar on “Mr Spaceman” &, I think, he knew that the poster was never going to read “Gram Parsons & the Byrds”.



I know, too much time spent on the convoluted story of the record when it should be, and is, all about the music. The Byrds did not invent country rock on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, my money is on the Everly Brothers but it could have been Hank Williams, country has always rocked. They were though, the first major act to bring this all this great music back home, to acknowledge a neglected tributary to contemporary music Before this record I had never heard Merle Haggard’s songs (“Life In Prison”), been aware of Cindy Walker’s songwriting talent (“Blue Canadian Rockies”) or of the wonder that is the Louvin Brothers (“The Christian Life”). In the following year Gram’s new group the Flying Burrito Brothers had released “The Gilded Palace of Sin”, Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” came around, the Band were up on Cripple Creek & Johnny Cash’s “Live at Folsom Prison” LP was at the front of the stack. In 1968 the Byrds were still ahead of their time.




Change Is Now (The Byrds Part 3)

The initial recording sessions for the Byrds 5th LP were unsettled & confused. David Crosby was a Niagara of creativity but seemed to have little consideration for the contributions & intentions of his 3 associates. It appeared that Crosby was looking for a way out &, in October 1967 he was gone. There was conflict & dissatisfaction with the attitude & ability of drummer Michael Clarke. He was out too, only to return then leave the group on the completion of the record. Still, as we always say down at the Freemasons Lodge, “ordo ab chao”, out of chaos comes order.Despite the problems the 2 remaining Byrds, Roger (formerly Jim) McGuinn & Chris Hillman with producer Gary Usher, did not drop the ball. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”, an experimental, ethereal, beautiful record was released in January 1968.

Now this is a strange one. “Goin’ Back” was released as a single 3 months before “Notorious…” was ready. Clarke was still around but the Byrds were reduced to a trio & that really wouldn’t fly (ouch!). To promote “Goin’ Back” on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” they called up Gene Clark, who had left the band in 1966, to make up the numbers. Gene was still signed to Columbia but his LP with the Gosdin Brothers had not sold well. He co-wrote a song, played a couple of gigs, added some backing vocals & hung around for all of 3 weeks. Crosby had not wanted to record this Goffin & King song, he wanted to leave the jingle-jangle behind. An early lethargic take does lack inspiration but McGuinn had an appreciation of how the Byrds had got to where they were, what was expected by their audience & he was right. “Goin’ Back” is a  yearning for a lost innocence, a Rickenbacker infused reverie, a trademark sound still appropriate to their new music.


“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” was recorded across the release of “Sergeant Pepper’s…”.The bar was raised whether you were a musician on a bubblegum pop assembly line or were jamming in a Haight Ashbury crash pad. It was no longer enough for an LP to consist of a couple of hit singles & some quickly recorded knock-off soundalikes. You had to mean it ma’an. The same folk, country & jazz tinges present on “Fifth Dimension” & “Younger Than Yesterday” were still around . Gary Usher’s use of brass, strings &, more importantly, the Moog synthesiser moved the sound forward, creating a depth, an atmosphere which tied the whole thing together, brought a unity to the collection. A future member of the group spoke of his ambition to create a Cosmic American Music. He was too late, the Byrds got there on “Notorious”. Change Is Now.



Man, it’s tough to choose just 3 tracks from this LP. “Old John Robertson”, a country tear up moving into the baroque with strings & phasing, all in 1 minute 49 seconds.would be the choice of 2 of my associates but they are not here right now. “I Wasn’t Born To Follow”, another Goffin/King song, became a hippie anthem when it hooked up with Captain America & Billy for a spot of easy riding in “Easy Rider”. The introductory “Artificial Energy”, an amphetamine song which gets dark in the final verse, didn’t raise the controversy that “Eight Miles High” had. The moral panic had gone to San Francisco. For myself, only the closing sea shanty sci-fi “Space Odyssey” fails to make the cut.

David Crosby’s prints are still all over this record. He has 3 co-credits on the songwriting & appears on 5 of the 11 tracks. Crosby’s cutting-edge ideas about harmony & the lyrical content of his songs were sometimes too far out for his fellow band members but inspired them to experiment & develop. “Draft Morning” follows an inductee to the battlefields of Vietnam. Crosby’s lyrics were re-modelled by McGuinn & Hillman & he was not pleased. Now we know those ins & outs, the ups & downs. Then, we just had a stirring, beautiful song.The record had the 3 remaining Byrds & a horse on the cover. Roger McGuinn denied that this was a jibe at Crosby. Well, he would say that wouldn’t he ?



“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” is the most psychedelic of all the Byrds’ LPs, the last triumph of the original group that started all that folk-rock in 1965 with “Mr Tambourine Man”. There is not the harshness of acid-rock, it’s spaced-out, tripping on a sunny day by the lake with friends. A new wave of young groups were growing their hair & sporting hippy plumage while the Byrds ditched the moptops & dressed down. No longer at the centre of American popular music but not yet ready to be filed with the golden oldies. It was a turbulent time for the group, Roger McGuinn & his steadfast sidekick Chris Hillman had been knocked about a bit. They kept an eye on where it had all begun, omitted their more far out investigations & created assured, modern music which sounded great in 1968 & still does today & tomorrow. “The Notorious Byrd Brothers”…get on it.

When Your Hair’s Combed Right And Your Pants Fit Tight It’s Gonna Be All Right (The Byrds Part II)

At the beginning of 1966 the Byrds, coming off 2 #1 singles, were the hottest band in America. The group’s 3rd LP “Fifth Dimension” was a less consistent piece, Gene Clark had left & his songs were missed. The Byrdsification of Bob Dylan songs, pivotal to the massive success, was absent this time around too. The 3 single releases from the LP failed to reach the Top 10 where their folk-rock contemporaries, the Mamas & the Papas & the Lovin’ Spoonful, had taken up permanent residence. The now 4  Byrds faced a new group dynamic, pressure to keep the hits coming & a music scene which was changing at a “blink & you’ll miss it” pace. In the first week of 1967 the Doors broke on through with their debut LP just weeks after the release of Love’s “Da Capo” with its revelatory single track on Side 2. Something was happening & by the end of 1966 the Byrds were no longer the hottest band in Los Angeles.




Image result for byrds sitar“Eight Miles High” is now a landmark song. It had been left behind by Gene Clark but Jim McGuinn & David Crosby contributed enough to share the billing. Was this acid-rock, space rock, raga rock ? Heavyweight names John Coltrane & Ravi Shankar were dropped not only by the critics. The band showed up at the press launch with a sitar. In 1998 Crosby said “they kept trying to label us; every time we turned around, they came up with a new one … it’s a bunch of bullshit.” & it was. One thing that was for sure, despite the group’s rebuttals, “Eight Miles High” is either about or inspired by drug use. Some US radio stations elected to protect the delicate ears of their listeners & did not play the record. This may have affected sales, the song may have been a little too ( a new phrase) “far out”  for the group’s audience. No matter, it fits right into the whirl of great Sixties music & still sounds fine right here.


With 20% less people around there was space for David Crosby to step forward. His individual talent for imaginative harmonization would take this young man far in the next few years & on “Fifth Dimension” he was all over the songwriting either solo or in collaboration. As the lead singer/guitarist McGuinn was the guy who people pointed the microphone at & hindsight shows that for sure he was always looking out for himself & for the group. In these 2 promo clips he seems to be leaving it up to Crosby. His distinctive guitar drives both songs but he seems to be a little disconnected. “Was it all a strange game, you’re a little insane”, that’s how this one goes.


“So You Want To Be A Rock n Roll Star” is another stunning pop record. The bass guitar rumble, screaming teenage girls, Hugh Masekela’s trumpet, sour, cynical lyrics, producer Gary Usher packed a lot in to a short song. “So You Want…” is the first track of a Byrds LP which looked back at where they had come from, forward to where they were going but mostly was about right here right now. But this was the Spring before the Summer Of Love, change is now, time to tune in, turn on & go to San Francisco. The new thing was going  “underground”, being on the charts & the teenage TV shows was no longer where the action was. The Byrds were a little too much part of that old scene to be down with the love crowd. One of the cool kids at my school was going with that flow. He bought the LP but didn’t like it. He sold me “Younger Than Yesterday”, one of the first LPs I owned, for 15 old English shillings, that’s 75 pence, just $1 American. Man, I was on the right end of that deal



Well, here comes bass player Chris Hillman, no longer rocking the Beatles mop-top but with 4 songs that capture that beat group plays country twang that the Fab Four did so well. The rock solid guitar sound on “Time Between”,  “Have You Seen Her Face” & the others is one of the reasons why some days “Younger…” is my pick of the Byrds’ great records. Crosby’s songs show just how quickly things were changing . “Renaissance Fair” is a lilting melodic Byrdsian classic, “Everybody’s Been Burned”, an ethereal haunting thing & “Mind Gardens” is just fu…well it’s abstract.

Jim McGuinn, not as flamboyant as Crosby, didn’t really want “Mind Gardens” on the LP but gave it a pass. Crosby though, kept on pushing.The group had written  & recorded a crappy, throwaway theme song for “Don’t Make Waves”, a film of similar quality. A final, disdainful “masterpiece” from Crosby showed just what he thought of such show biz nonsense. He had not wanted to record another Dylan tune. He was wrong & Jim was right. “My Back Pages” is a nailed-on cert for any best Dylan covers mix, it’s a beauty.

In June 1967 the Byrds performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, a 3 day gathering where Jimi, the Who, Otis Redding & Janis Joplin made the biggest splash. Our boys didn’t make the final cut of the movie of the gig, not hip enough. It would make interesting viewing. David Crosby’s introduction to “He Was A Friend Of Mine”, a song inspired by the assassination of President Kennedy, condemned the Warren Commission as a cover up. Another inter-song rant advocated a dose of LSD for “all the statesmen and politicians in the world.” When, the next day, he replaced the missing Neil Young in Buffalo Springfield, his fellow Byrds were resenting being told what to do by someone who did exactly as he wanted.

Then there was “Lady Friend”, a Crosby song written with the intent of returning the Byrds to the Top 20. That just didn’t happen. It’s a baroque & roll summertime smash, a big, bright boost. A month after its release a Greatest Hits collection became the Byrds biggest selling LP. The audience still wanted a bit of that old jingle-jangle from the band. The band blamed Crosby, he blamed the producer & the struggle for artistic control continued with the failure of his new song not helping his case.

So David Crosby was invited to hang up his cape. He went on to pills & hash, to Stills & Nash, to one of the best solo records I have ever heard & to a whole lot more. The Byrds, with McGuinn now calling the shots, stayed on the course set by “Younger…” & got down to recording another dead stone classic LP of the 1960s.

Jingle-Jangle Morning (The Early Byrds)

In the spring of 1965 the American record buying public was in thrall to the British Beat. In April & May there were #1 records for Herman’s Hermits (twice !), Freddie & the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders &, of course, the Beatles. I know… the Stones, the Who & the Kinks were only just getting started. England was swinging like a pendulum do while the US of A didn’t yet know what time it was. In June there was a Motown led comeback. The Supremes had, wonderfully, their 5th successive chart-topper. That 4 Tops’ Sugar Pie & Honeybunch combination proved irresistible …still does. The Beach Boys were around too with their great songs about cars & girls & surfing. They were in that striped shirt phase, between the plaid Pendletons & the Good Vibrations.Well groomed young men, clean cut music. In the first week of July “Mr Tambourine Man” by the Byrds marked America’s coming to terms with the new Mod squad which had so entranced the youth. The first US group with hair over their ears to have a #1 hit.

It was a simple plan quite beautifully executed. Bob Dylan, the folk singer,that’s the man, had “gone electric” earlier in 1965, an act of treason according to the keepers of folk’s traditional beards. You know. old people, like over-25s. Me, I was a new teenager when I bought my first Dylan LP. “Another Side of …” may have been an acoustic record but we knew that the 23 year old was writing rock & roll songs. John Lennon’s “I’m A Loser”, on “Beatles For Sale” showed the influence he was already having on pop music. “Mr Tambourine Man” is from the “folk” side of “Bringing It All Back Home”. The addition of a 12-string Rickenbacker jangle & some harmony vocals, the cutting of 3 of the 4 poetic verses, made for an instant pop classic. On the Byrds debut LP producer Terry Melcher applied this formula to 4 Dylan tunes &, I guess, invented folk-rock. They helped to make a quality record.

Master publicist Derek Taylor attempted to manoeuvre the Byrds into the centre of Los Angeles/Hollywood cool but these were different days. The group were quickly swept up by the “America’s Beatles” tag. They were teen idols, smiling their way through TV appearances & photo shoots. Guitarist Jim McGuinn wore his “granny” glasses, David Crosby had his cape. Blonde drummer, Michael Clarke was the best Brian Jones lookalike in the country while bassist Chris Hillman’s straightened moptop still makes me laugh. Another Dylan song “All I Really Want To Do” was chosen as the follow up despite Cher’s version having a head start. Ms Sarkisian had probably pinched the Dylan cover idea but she had the biggest hit. Maybe the Byrds should have gone with this B-side because it does kinda rock.

Gene Clark was the other singer in the group. He was a songwriter too. There were 5 of his songs on that debut LP. “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” ,well, as the song goes “probably”, shows that the Byrds did not rely exclusively on Dylan for a folk foundation to their rocking music. “Feel…” became another classic tune. The Flamin’ Groovies & Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers both recorded good, respectful covers, versions that will get you singing along, that aim for but just don’t hit that Spirit of 1965 bullseye. However Jim sang lead on the Dylan songs & on the title track of the follow up, Pete Seeger’s folk anthem “Turn, Turn,Turn”, another #1 hit. Jim took centre stage among the frantically frugging go-go girls, in front of the screaming fans, while Gene was out on the side, the tambourine man.

“Turn, Turn, Turn” included 2 more Dylan covers & 3 songs by Clark. The Beatle-y “She Don’t Care About Time” made only the B-side of  the”Turn…” 45, not the LP. “Set You Free This Time” was the Byrds first single of 1966 & it failed to reach the Top 50. Within a month Columbia were promoting the flipside, “It Won’t Be Wrong”, a McGuinn song. Gene wrote songs about a sad & beautiful world, gentle, poignant things that added substance to the group’s LPs. It seemed, & was perhaps confirmed over the next decade, that his individual voice & talent did not appeal to a mass audience.

It was around this time that the Byrds finally got paid for their success. Young men who, 18 months earlier, were just glad to hear their record on the radio learned some things about the music business. Gene wrote the songs & he was the guy arriving at the studio in a red Ferrari. Both McGuinn & Crosby were beginning to assert their own strong personalities & to find the pop treadmill a little old. Check the clip for that single, David in Jim’s glasses & Jim in the cape ! They were both beginning to write songs of their own too. It could have been jealousy which kept Clark’s songs off the LP, it could have been that there were just too many songs. Whatever, by the end of February 1966 Gene Clark was out of the Byrds. The authorised version was that his Pteromerhanophobia made travel too difficult. I didn’t buy that as a 13 year old kid & I don’t believe it now.

Gene went off & played a major part in inventing country rock. He & Doug Dillard’s “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark” is a triumph. The now 4 piece Byrds knew that change was needed if they were to avoid the built-in obsolescence  of pop. “Fifth Dimension” was released in July 1966, the band were more involved in the writing & there were no Dylan covers. The LP covers a range of styles, folk, country. space rock, raga rock (gotta have a label). The pivotal song was written mostly by Gene on the group’s 1965 UK tour (where the press battered the Byrds for even presuming any comparison to our Fab Four). “Eight Miles High” moved folk-rock forward towards psychedelia, got itself banned on the radio & moved the Byrds into a new musical chapter.