A Song That Changed My Life: (1) Buffy Sainte-Marie revisited on her 80th birthday
Who Knows Where the Time Goes - or where it went? Sandy Denny's song and its covers

The Byrds: when folk-rock got higher and higher



"John and Michi were getting kind of itchy, just to leave the folk music behind."

As every 1960s schoolboy probably knew, the line opened Creeque Alley, a quirkily pleasing Mamas and Papas song which, when not bidding farewell to folk, generally name dropping or commenting on Cass Elliot's weight, told us of the effects of exotic substances on Roger McGuinn and Barry McGuire.

It may or may not have been possible McGuinn and McGuire to get higher in LA ("you know where that's at") than as described in the song. But to fans of 1960s West Coast music, they didn't come much cooler. Already into folk and folk-rock, I liked McGuire and loved McGuinn's Byrds.

And recently I was reminded of how much I loved them when Eileen Jennifer, administrator of a Facebook group I belong to, 60s 70s Folk Music, posted an audio clip of the band's track Just a Season. This appeared on the 1970 Untitled album and as the flip side to Chestnut Mare, a great single cruelly overlooked in the USA, where it didn't even make the top 100, though it reached 19 in the UK. I was reminded again by Bill Taylor's stronger memory (see Comments below) that, with him and another friend, Alan Sims, I actually saw the band at Newcastle City Hall. I do remember Rita Coolidge opening for them but recall nothing else of the event.


The_Byrds_in_1965 From Wikipedia which acknowledges copyright as held by Sony Music Entertainment, 1965 (then CBS, Inc)

Here, I shall concern myself mainly with the folk-rock material the Byrds pioneered.

The debut album, Mr Tambourine Man, naturally included that terrific Dylan song or the shortened version of it that, as a single, would be hailed as folk-rock's earliest mega-hit, preceding the album and topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. 

I would always choose the original. But by making it almost another song altogether, the Byrds deserved their success. I say "their" although, as an American reader, Stan Wilson, once pointed out here, McGuinn was alone among band members to be trusted by Terry Melcher, its producer, to play on the single.

McGuinn's jangling 12-string Richenbacker was crucial to the performance and, happily enough, Melcher accepted in time for the album's recording that the rest of the band were competent enough to be heard, too. 




That first album had three other Dylan songs: Chimes of Freedom, All I Really Want To Do and Spanish Harlem Incident.

Room was found, too, for The Bells of Rhymney, a powerful Idris Davies poem from the South Wales coalfield that drew inspiration from a Welsh mining disaster and the failure of the 1926 General Strike to achieve real advances in the treatment of working people.

Set to music by Pete Seeger, the song as recorded by the Byrds - or Bryds according to the YouTube clip's image -  may not be the best version you'll find, but it worked well in its way.





I detect some inconsistency in McGuinn singing a song in honour of a left-wing, humanitarian cause and later becoming a card-carrying Republican.

But at least he saw through every Brexiter's US hero, Trump. As for the Byrds, two original members - Gene Clark and Michael Clarke - died in the early 1990s and the band eventually eventually petered out after the last of a series of reunions, reformations and contractual squabble.

The last formal appearance was a well received but one-off concert in honour of an LA music shop owner Fred Walecki, then fighting cancer,  in 2000, though there were some 2018 performances by McGuinn and another founder member, Chris Hillman, tied to the 50th anniversary of the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album.

"No, I don't want to do that [another full-scale reunion]," McGuinn said a few years after the 2000 Walecki tribute. "I just want to be a solo artist. The Byrds are well documented. I don't think we need any more from the Byrds."

But since I was mentioning earlier that the extent to which he was getting high was considered worthy of inclusion in Mamas and Papas lyrics, I will end with a bonus track, from the same Byrds era and probably my favourite piece of theirs, not remotely folk.






Bill Taylor

I remember seeing the Byrds (Rita Coolidge opening for them) at Newcastle City Hall with you and Alan Sims. It was McGuinn, the only original member, with Clarence White, Gene Parsons and Skip Battin - actually the longest-lived iteration of the group. I've seen McGuinn a couple of other times, including at Madison Square Garden with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and doing a solo, acoustic show at a little club in Philadelphia. In response to a shouted-out request from the audience he pulled off what he said was probably impossible - a non-electric, no-harmony rendition of Eight Miles High. Magical stuff.
He's also done an entertaining version, with Tommy Makem, of Finnegan's Wake...

Colin Randall

Shamefully, as I admit in an insert above, I have a recollection of seeing Rita Coolidge there, but not the Byrds.

Bill Taylor

At risk of incriminating you, I recall you smoking a joint before we went in. So perhaps you were a little tired and emotional. A shame. They did a terrific Chestnut Mare and Clarence White soloed on Truckstop Girl, a lovely song.

Stan Wilson

Colin Randall : Saw the Byrds in a meadow in Central Park , New York City with the great Clarence White on lead guitar . Great " Chestnut Mare " and all the hits . Saw Roger McGinnis on the Rolling Thunder tour . He did a few songs including a great " Eight Mles High " with Mick Ronson on lead guitar . Saw Rita ... She was a back up singer on a bill with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends in Bridgeport Connecticut in July 1969 . She sang a couple of leads as did Bonnie . The bill was : Opening act : " Taste " with the great Rory Gallagher ... Second Bill : " Delaney, Bonnie and Friends " and ... Top Bill :
" Blind Faith " on their only U.S. tour . Eric Clapton played with both Delaney and Bonnie and Blind Faith . Well worth the nominal admission of 6 dollars . Seating was 4 , 5 or 6 dollars . I splurged 6 dollars . Of course 6 dollars was 6 dollars back then . A small stage was set up on a High School football field . The
" expensive " seats were right in front of the stage . The cheap seats were a ways away in bleachers . There were maybe 1,000 to 1,500 people there . Most of the dates on the tour were much bigger venues and crowds . They had played Madison Square Garden in New York City the night before . Amazing show .

Ian Evans

Regretfully I have to enter a jarring comment.

As a Welshman I have a cultural quibble with the song, concerning the pronunciation of Rhymney.

In this case in Welsh the letter ‘y’ should be pronounced as ‘u’.

Indeed, the anglicised spelling of the name is in fact Rumney to reflect the correct pronunciation.

As one who grew up in a neighbouring valley in this mining area of South Wales the mispronunciation never fails to grate on me.

Colin randall

I would probably feel the same, Ian. The mispronunciation seems fairly universal and was discussed at https://www.salutlive.com/2017/09/cover-story-21-the-bells-of-rymney-pete-seeger-the-byrds-or-oysterband.html

Juliet Youngren

You have this weird way of syncing up with my shows lately. I'm planning to play "Bells of Rhymney" today (though not the Byrds version) as part of my focus on Wales theme. Will probably go with Ian F. Benzie's recording--he doesn't pronounce it right either, but he sings it with appropriate edge and grit, IMO.

colin randall

Juliet: whenever you leave a comment, why not add the link to your show

Juliet Youngren

Oh yes, good thought!

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