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Another Spin
A blog by Scott E. Shepherd · A continuing look at popular music, past, present and future.


Monday, January 31, 2011

The Byrds – “Retitled”

Released in 1970, the Byrds' (Untitled)album was seen as a turning point and a high mark for the band, both by critics and fans alike. It is considered the best release of the latter-day Byrds, consisting of Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battan. Consisting of one live album and one studio album of all new material, (Untitled)showed the group at their peak, both as a live act and a relevant recoding artist.

In 2000, Columbia Records expanded (Untitled)to a two CD set, including unreleased studio material and another whole live set. Aptly renamed (Untitled)/(Unissued),the second CD reveals such gems as the studio version of "Lover of the Bayou" and the Byrds excellent cover of "Willin'"

Though I appreciate the live music, and both sets attest to the validity of the later Byrds as a concert draw (Clarence White was one of the greatest guitarists of the early country rock sub-genre), it is the studio cuts that draw me most to (Untitled)/(Unissued); so much that I've decided to create my own version, "Retitled."

Taking the tracks to make "Retitled," I am amazed at how good the Byrds were at this point and how much of a disappointment their later albums became. Starting with he classic "Chestnut Mare," McGuinn and his newest band mates created music that both rivals the Byrds' earlier work and creates a logical bridge into their newfound interest in country rock. Clarence White's take on "Truck Stop Girl" is sweet and poignant and "Hungry Planet" is a delicious slice of country blues meets psychedelia, with a healthy helping of eco-consciousness.

I took out the original versions of "All the Things" and "Yesterday's Train," substituting them with the alternate takes supplied by the "unissued" portion of the CDs. "All the Things" is one of McGuinn's best songs, and the longer alternate version is much better. The alternate of "Yesterday's Train" is slower tempo, but it too sounds better than the original.

"All the Things," "Just a Season," "Kathleen's Song," and "Lover of the Bayou" were all to be part of a country rock opera that Roger McGuinn was developing, but the play was never finished. "Just a Season" is another of my favorite tracks from this album, with its reflective lyrics and moving melody.

The Byrds take a tongue-in-cheek approach with their rendition of "Take a Whiff" and "You All Look Alike," nodding to the anti-drug, anti-hippie establishments of the time. Skip Battan's one vocal is a powerful plea to the soldiers of Vietnam, "Well Come Back Home" that closed the original studio album.

At one point, the Byrds put on a fifteen-minute jam session, a portion of which was spliced to make "White's Lightning," an instrumental that closes out the studio portion of (Untitled/Unissued).It shows how good the Byrds were as musicians, especially Clarence White's prowess on guitar.

(Untitled)was one of the Byrds' best albums, and "Retitled" has been a fun album to make and listen to; I recommend this experiment to all Byrds' fans.


Posted at 2:13 pm ET