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


Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Byrds vs. Byrds

For most Rock fans, the Byrds are known primarily for their catchy renditions of Bob Dylan tunes and the jangling style of Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. This version of the Byrds essentially broke up in 1968, though another version, the "country" Byrds, continued to play and record until 1972. So different are the two incarnations that to this day some fans still contend the latter day Byrds were not the Byrds at all.

Technically, there are three versions of the Byrds - the original line up, the Gram Parsons/Sweetheart of the Rodeo group that lasted six months and one album, and the final line-up. The only constant of all three versions is McGuinn.

Fans aren't the only ones who favor the earlier Byrds - David Crosby convinced McGuinn to record a "reunion" album in 1973 with the original line-up to redeem the Byrds name. While it was commercially more successful than Farther Along (the latter-Byrds final album) the reunion album was considered by fans and critics inferior to any of the Byrds other releases. Ironically, the reunited Byrds played songs with a country flavor more compatible with the latter Byrds than their earlier tunes.

Clearly the songs on Farther Along are much different than on Mr. Tambourine Man, but should Roger McGuinn have called it quits for the Byrds in 1968 and called his new band something else? Jimmy Page renamed his "New Yardbirds" to Led Zeppelin in 1969, when the rest of the Yardbirds quit. But Page was not an original member of the Yardbirds, and Led Zeppelin had such a different sound from his old band - a name change made sense.

McGuinn however was an original member, and the sound of the Byrds evolved during his tenure. While the Byrds always dabbled a little with country-styled songs, it wasn't until the Gram Parsons experiment of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, that the Byrds dove deep into the country vein. McGuinn wasn't the only original member at that point - both he and Chris Hillman moved the Byrds into country after the original line-up had dwindled down to a trio the year before. The link between the original Byrds and the final line-up does exist.

To say that the latter-day band was not worthy of the Byrds moniker is an insult to their body of work - while one could argue that Clarence White, Gene Parsons, and Skip Battin did not have the writing skills of Gene Clark, David Crosby, and Hillman, one can't deny the playing skills the later members possessed. And though the later Byrds are known primarily as pioneers of the burgeoning "country-rock" of the late &lsquo -60's and early &lsquo -70's, they also could rock out a lot harder and better than the early band, and even break out in harmony almost as good as the original line-up.

I admit it took me a long time to appreciate the later Byrds, focusing mainly on the days of "Turn, Turn, Turn" and "Eight Miles High." But to say nothing of the Byrds later canon matches up with such classics is to grossly underestimate the Byrds catalog. At a later point, I hope to review Farther Along, as it is quickly becoming one of my favorite Byrds albums (also one of the few later albums I've had the chance to fully listen to). Both versions of the Byrds, by any other name, would still sound as good.
Posted at 2:55 pm ET