BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles

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(Columbia CL-2549 / CS-9349 / CK-9349, 1966)
Reissued: (Columbia/Legacy CK 64847, 1996)

Track Listing

Released July 18, 1966. Produced by Allan Stanton. Engineered by Ray Gerhardt. Recorded at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, December 1965 - May 1966. Cover Photo: Horn/Griner.

On "Eight Miles High," "Why" (single and alt. 2 versions):
The Byrds v. 1.0
Jim McGuinn: vocals, 12 string lead guitar, 6 string guitar
Gene Clark: vocals, tambourine
David Crosby: vocals, 6 string guitar, some 12 string guitar
Chris Hillman: bass, mandolin
Michael Clarke: drums, percussion

On all other songs from album sessions:
The Byrds v. 2.0
Jim McGuinn: vocals, 12 string lead guitar, 6 string guitar
David Crosby: vocals, 6 string guitar, some 12 string guitar
Chris Hillman: vocals, bass, mandolin
Michael Clarke: drums, percussion

On "5D (Fifth Dimension)"
Add Van Dyke Parks on organ and electric piano

On "I See You"
Add clavia

On "Hey Joe"
Add cowbell

On "Captain Soul"
Gene Clark: add harmonica

On "John Riley"
Add banjo, strings

On "2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)"
Add Lear Jet sound effects

Singles from album sessions:
"Eight Miles High" / "Why" (alt. 1)
Columbia 43578
Released March 14, 1966

"5D (Fifth Dimension)" / "Captain Soul"
Columbia 43702
Released June 13, 1966

"Mr. Spaceman" / "What's Happening?!?!"
Columbia 43766
Released September 6, 1966

"The Times They Are A-Changin'":
"The Times They Are A-Changin'" had been released on the album Turn! Turn! Turn! three weeks before the Byrds recorded the song at the RCA Studios. The band must have been trying to improve on the somewhat listless album version with an eye to possible single release. The RCA version was never completed; instead "Set You Free This Time" became the second single from Turn! Turn! Turn! in January of 1966.

A song about drugs:
Whether the lyrics of "Eight Miles High" were meant as an extended double entendre about recreational pharmaceuticals has long been a topic of debate among critics, fans and even band members. (McGuinn insists it wasn't about drugs; Crosby has said it was, although more recently he says it wasn't.) The debate about the lyrics seems pointless today. In the minds of millions of radio listeners (who may have heard the answer in the music, not the lyrics), and hundreds of nervous radio programmers (who may have heard the answer in the third word of the title, and ended their inquiry right there), "Eight Miles High" was obviously a drug song, and so it was a drug song.
In any event, there's no reason the song can't be about airplane flight and drug use. Indeed, Gene Clark was so scared of flying that he usually had to be sedated with a combination of booze and controlled substances, so it would be no surprise if the two subjects -- planes and drugs -- were associated in his mind.

"Raga rock":
For purposes of this discussion, "raga rock" is defined as popular music which borrows elements of its sound from Indian music, whether or not actually played on sitars or other Indian instruments. Obviously, the use of this term in its rock sense is not intended to disparage or trivialize the Indian music from which the term is derived.

First major group:
The first major rock group to record a raga number was the Yardbirds. Their song "Heart Full of Soul," released in June of 1965, was to have featured a sitar, though the released version has Jeff Beck imitate the sound with fuzz guitar. The song is available on the The Yardbirds' Greatest Hits Volume One: 1964-1966 (Rhino, 1986).
In October of '65, the Kinks released their single "See My Friends." Again, no Indian instruments were used, but the sound is clearly influenced by Indian modalities, considerably moreso than the Yardbirds' hit had been. The song can be heard on the reissue Kinks-Size Kinkdom (Rhino, 1988). According to the liner notes of that release, the song was based either on the chanting of Indian fishermen outside Ray Davies's hotel room in Australia, or on a demo Shel Talmy played Ray Davies by another of his bands. (In late 1966 the Kinks would revisit raga with "Fancy," the droning sitar number on their wonderful album Face to Face (Reprise, 1966) which sadly remains out of print, at least in the US.)
The greatest Western proponent of raga, George Harrison, also beat the Byrds to the punch by including a sitar on "Norweigian Wood," which came out in December of 1965 on the album Rubber Soul. Their next album, Revolver, featured Harrison's first all-out Indian-style raga number, "Love You To."
The Byrds do deserve credit for turning George Harrison on to the sitar. According to McGuinn, Crosby had watched Jim Dickson produce sessions for Ravi Shankar at World Pacific Studios, and became an ardent fan of Shankar's music. When the Beatles were visiting LA in the fall of 1965, a large group of Byrds and Beatles were dropping acid in a hot tub when Crosby demonstrated some Shankar-esque licks on his guitar to a fascinated Harrison.*.
Bringing up the rear were the Rolling Stones, who released "Paint It Black" in April 1966 on their album Aftermath (London, 1966).

Rival L.A. bands:
Lester Bangs summed up the story of "Hey Joe" in his inimitable style: "....there was this song called 'Hey Joe' that everybody and his f#$&in' brother not only recorded but claimed to have written even though it was obviously the psychedelic mutation of some hoary old folk song which was about murderin' somebody for love just like nine-tenths of the rest of them hoary folk ballads."*
For years the identity of the real author was something of a mystery, but of late the picture has become more clear. The song was first copyrighted by Billy Roberts, a West Coast folksinger who never copyrighted another song or met with any other success. The slow versions of the song (Tim Rose, Jimi Hendrix) were generally credited to Roberts. It is unclear whether Roberts actually composed the song, or arranged a traditional number as Bangs and others have supposed.
The Byrds' version (and the Leaves') was initially credited to Chester Powers, which was the real name of Crosby's friend Dino Valenti. Other versions, like Love's, were credited to Valenti under his stage name. Valenti claimed to have written the song as well; he certainly was responsible for introducing it to Crosby, who popularized the song by singing it during Byrds shows.
John Beck of the Leaves wanted to record "Hey Joe," but felt it was necessary to secure permission from the Byrds, even though they hadn't written the song. He says Jim Dickson gave him the okay; Dickson doesn't recall giving it to him.* The Leaves released the single in November of '65, and dissatisfied with the sound, pulled it. They released a second version in early '66, which flopped. Original guitarist Bill Rinehart left, and the Leaves redid the song again with a fuzztone by new guitarist Bob Arlin. This version of the song, the best of the uptempo versions, became a hit, hitting #1 in L.A. and peaking at #31 nationally in June. Meanwhile, in March, Love, a new band formed by former Byrds roadie Bryan MacLean and Arthur Lee, released "Hey Joe" on their debut LP. It was later their second single, but their version was not a hit. The Shadows of Night put the song on their first LP, released in May of '66.
The Byrds recorded their version on May 17, 1966 and released it on the 5D LP on July 18. The song was never released as a single by the Byrds. Other covers from that era include the Standells and the Music Machine. Jimi Hendrix released the definitive slow version as his vinyl debut in December of '66, and earned a #6 hit. Other versions include Cher, Johnny Rivers, the Cryan Shames, Tim Rose, and Deep Purple. Wilson Pickett had an R&B hit with his soulful version (featuring Duane Allman) in the summer of 1969.
On the 1990 Boxed Set, the Byrds version of the song was still credited to "C. Powers," but on the 1996 album reissue, the credit has been changed to "B. Roberts." Similarly, on Love Revisited (Elektra, 1970), the tune is credited to "Valenti," while on the later comp The Best of Love (Rhino, 1980), it is credited to "Roberts" on the sleeve (but "Powers" on the LP!). The liner notes to the reissue of Fifth Dimension state that Roberts actually sold the rights to Valenti.* Valenti in turn sold it to Third Story Music, apparently around the time of his arrest. Third Story have administered the song since 1966.*

"Eight Miles High" / "Why"

Just before Christmas, 1965, shortly after the release of their second album, the band (still in its original line-up at this point) repaired to RCA Studios with manager Jim Dickson producing and recorded three songs. One was an unfinished attempt at "The Times They Are A-Changin'." The other two were the first attempts at the songs that would comprise the band's next single: "Eight Miles High" and "Why." At that time Columbia required that all material on its releases be recorded at Columbia Studios with Columbia producers, so the label forced the band to re-record both songs at Columbia. (The RCA versions were unreleased until 1987, when they finally appeared on Never Before.) About a month after the RCA sessions, the Byrds recorded the versions of "Eight Miles High" and "Why" that appeared on the single, with Allan Stanton producing.

A poster from the August 1965 UK tour that inspired "Eight Miles High." From the collection of John Lawson.
The band had toured in late '65 with only one hastily-assembled road tape, John Coltrane on one side and Ravi Shankar on the other. Each of these musicians would profoundly influence a side of the "Eight Miles High"/"Why" single. The A-side was written primarily by Clark during the Byrds' British tour in the fall of 1965, after an evening hanging out with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Clark was inspired by the flight to England and the sights and sounds that greeted the band there. McGuinn and Crosby added some lyrical contributions and gave the song its brilliant arrangement. McGuinn has credited Rod Argent's organ break from "She's Not There" by the Zombies for showing that jazz-inspired playing could be incorporated into rock music, and McGuinn's playing took that notion to an entirely new level. "Eight Miles High" was a radical departure from the band's previous work, but today the song is considered by many to be the definitive Byrds song, and the single that embodies psychedelia.
Listen to the song now and you hear the original Byrds with all pistons firing. In the opening, the dueling bass and guitar parts create a sense of foreboding. McGuinn's 12-string chimes in with the familiar ringing four-note riff, cribbed from Coltrane's song "India." Then, in a feat never attempted before and rarely matched since, McGuinn emulates the sound of Coltrane's saxophone on his 12-string, playing an amazing series of riffs and solos that run the length of the song. The jagged, edgy solos, and Clarke's unusually frenetic drumming, suggest the panic and disorientation Gene Clark felt during the England trip. There is no solo vocal; Clark, McGuinn and Crosby sing harmony throughout. But these vocals aren't like the harmonies of 1965. They're dark and slow, almost ghostly, contrasting with the amphetamine drumming. The effect is eerie and edgy and disturbing. Without even considering the lyrics, anyone who heard this music might reasonably have assumed that it was a song about drugs.
The RCA version of the song, available on Never Before, was rumored for years to be superior. While it has slightly rawer solos that will interest any fan of McGuinn, its unfinished vocals and hesitant ryhthm section ensure it will not replace the single as the definitive version.
The Indian influence is filtered through Coltrane on "Eight Miles High," so the flipside, "Why," should probably be considered the Byrds' first real foray into "raga rock." (Though the Byrds were not the first major group to record a "raga" song.) There's no sitar on the record (or on any Byrds recording, for that matter) but McGuinn emulates the sitar with his guitar, just as he used it to imitate a saxophone on the A-side. (The band held a press conference for the release of the single at which they appeared holding a sitar and proclaiming the virtues of raga rock, causing considerable confusion about which song was "raga" and whether there were sitars on "Why.")
Of the three versions of "Why" available, the single version, with its raw solos and its quick tempo (this time Hillman sounds like he's on speed), is by far the best. The RCA version, available on Never Before, is slower, without the intricate bass work of the single version, but has some great pseudo-sitar solos as well. The band would later record a third version, which appeared on Younger Than Yesterday. That version is also uptempo, but the solos are subdued and the bass work halting at times.

Fifth Dimension

In July, the album Fifth Dimension finally appeared. Except for Gene Clark's swan song, "Eight Miles High," on which all five original Byrds appeared, the album featured the second incarnation of the band, McGuinn, Crosby, Hillman and Clarke, with Hillman assuming the responsibility for a third vocal part. Like the single, the album was a deliberate departure from the sound and substance of the first two LPs. No Dylan or Seeger songs were in evidence, though four of the songs had roots in folk music. With Clark gone, the band eschewed straightforward pop songs, opting instead for more experimental fare. McGuinn and Crosby each began to come into their own as songwriters with this album, and collaborated well together on several numbers. Elsewhere, though, were signs of the rift that would develop between the two.
The new, post-Clark equilibrium is displayed to good effect on the two folk standards, the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme," and "John Riley," a song by Bob Gibson and previously recorded by Odetta. Both feature strong harmonies, and for the first time, string arrangements. These are Allan Stanton's contribution, and are used sparingly enough that they don't overwhelm the material.
Crosby and McGuinn collaborate on "I See You," which they co-wrote. The modal melody and free verse lyrics sound like the work of Crosby, and McGuinn's tenor vocal sounds as if he's deliberately imitating Crosby. McGuinn's contribution is another round of the angular, Coltranesque guitar style used on "Eight Miles High."
Surprisingly, the most effective collaboration between McGuinn and Crosby appears on "What's Happening?!?!," Crosby's first solo songwriting credit with the band. The song is a successful experiment with subject matter and song structure in which McGuinn responds to each verse with a different sitar-like guitar lick. The raga influence is even stronger on this number than on "Why," and McGuinn's solos effectively complement Crosby's lyrical theme of confusion and disorientation.
The other Crosby song is "Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)," which he had picked up from longtime chum Dino Valenti. The Byrds had been performing the song live for some time, and the song came to be associated with Crosby. He had been wanting to record the song for some time, and became frustrated when rival LA bands scored with it. At his insistence, the band recorded their own version. The most notable apsect of the song is not Crosby's punky singing -- it's the strong bass work by Hillman and McGuinn's guitar work, again in his skittery new style.
One of McGuinn's contributions also had its roots in the folk movement. For "I Come and Stand at Every Door," McGuinn set the words to a poem by Nazim Hikmet to a traditional ballad called "Great Selchie of Shule Skerry," which Judy Collins had recorded on The Golden Apples of the Sun (Elektra, 1963). With its morbid lyrics about the ghost of a child killed in Hiroshima, this song might have become little more than a gruesome dirge, but the elegiac melody and simple arrangement just barely manage to keep the song in the realm of good taste.
McGuinn's two solo compositions are the standouts, which must be why they were chosen as the two singles. "5D (Fifth Dimension)" is sort of an attempt to explain Einstein's theory of relativity, based on a book that had caught McGuinn's fancy called 1-2-3-4, More, More, More, More by one Don Landis. To McGuinn's dismay, its trippy lyrics were, not surprisingly, interpreted as an ode to the lysergic experience. Whatever it meant, it sure sounds good. Check out the harmonies on the chorus, and the rousing "Ooooooooohhhhh!!!" that launches the next verse. Professional eccentric Van Dyke Parks adds some nice keyboards.
The whimsical "Mr. Spaceman" continues the band's tentative exploration of country music, which they are still unwilling to attempt without a veneer of ironic detachment to protect their hipness. Nevertheless, it's an engaging song, with the best melody by McGuinn up to that point. (The song is no relation to the 1964 Holy Modal Rounders track by the same name.)
The final McGuinn composition (you couldn't really call it a song) is a throwaway called "2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)." As indicated by its subtitle, it was a nod to John Lear, who had befriended the aviation-besotted McGuinn around this time. The track's jet engine sound effects and control tower exchanges seem mundane today, though they were something of an innovation at the time (compare "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles a few months later).
Somewhat out of place, not just on this LP, but in the entire Byrds repertoire, is the slight soul/blues instrumental vamp, "Captain Soul." All four band members receive writing credits, but Michael Clarke is the one who thought the band should try an R&B song. "Captain Soul" is based on the opening riff of the song "Get Out of My Life Woman," a hit for the great New Orleans soul singer Lee Dorsey in early 1966, written by New Orleans musical giant Allan Toussaint.
Fifth Dimension had many strong cuts, particularly the three singles, but is a bit more uneven than its two predecessors. It would prove to be a transitional album, a glimpse of the second version of the band trying to establish a balance among its members' songs, interests and egos.

"I Know You, Rider" / "Psychodrama City"

Ten days after the release of Fifth Dimension, the band reconvened in the studio with Allen Stanton to record a single. The intended A-side was another traditional folk number, "I Know My Rider." A different version of this song was recorded as "Rider" by the Big Three, a folk group led by Cass Elliott before she joined the Mugwumps. (This track can be heard on Troubadours of the Folk Era Volume Three (Rhino, 1992)). Under the name "I Know You, Rider," the song was covered by others like Mama Cass and the Grateful Dead, and Crosby had recorded the song during his pre-Jet Set solo sessions with Jim Dickson. The Byrds must have worked on it together before Gene Clark's departure, because he gets an arranger's credit along with McGuinn and Crosby.
The Byrds' uptempo arrangement, modeled on the Beatles' recent hit, "Paperback Writer," can be found on Never Before, on The Byrds Boxed Set, and as a bonus track on the 1996 reissue. It sounds as if all three versions are, as they claim to be, the same track. On the other hand, the box lists the recording date as May 16, 1966, during the album sessions. The reissue lists the date as July 28, during the single sessions. The May 30 release date of "Paperback Writer" suggests the later date is correct. For some reason, this great song was never released.
The intended B-side was the Crosby song "Psychodrama City," which appeared on Never Before, and with a one-minute guitar intro restored, on The Byrds Boxed Set. It contains some impressive bass work and more jazz-style guitar work, but is more or less melody-free. The lyrics make a nice bookend to the 5D sessions that began with "Eight Miles High," inasmuch as they comment on Gene Clark's fear of flying and the pre-flight panic attack that had precipitated his departure from the Byrds.

To Younger than Yesterday...


Crosby and Harrison. DiPerna at 42.

...Hoary folk ballads. Bangs, "Psychotic Reactions" at 8.

John Beck and Jim Dickson. Claybaugh at 6; Fred Dellar at 121.

Billy Roberts and Dino Valenti. Rogan, 5D at 13.

Third Story Music. Fred Dellar at 121.

[Back to top.]

Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"5D (Fifth Dimension)":
Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: May 25, 1966

"Wild Mountain Thyme":
Traditional, arranged by Jim
McGuinn, Chris Hillman, Michael
Clarke, and David Crosby
Rec. date: May 25, 1966

"Mr. Spaceman":
Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: April 29, 1966

"I See You":
Jim McGuinn and David Crosby
Rec. date: May 19, 1966

"What's Happening?!?!":
David Crosby
Rec. date: April 29, 1966

"I Come and Stand At Every Door":
Music traditional, lyrics adapted
from a poem by Nazim Hikmet
Rec. date: May 16, 1966

"Eight Miles High":
Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn and
David Crosby
Rec. date: January 25, 1966

"Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)":
Billy Roberts
Rec. date: May 17, 1966

"Captain Soul":
Chris Hillman, David Crosby,
Michael Clarke and Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: May 18, 1966

"John Riley":
Bob Gibson and R. Neff
Rec. date: May 25, 1966

"2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)":
Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: May 3, 1966

1996 Bonus Tracks:
"Why" (single version):
Jim McGuinn and David Crosby
Rec. date: January 24, 1966
Also appears on single and on Boxed Set

"I Know My Rider" aka "I Know You, Rider":
Traditional, arranged by David Crosby,
Jim McGuinn & Chris Hillman
Rec. date: July 28, 1966
Also appears on Boxed Set

"Psychodrama City":
David Crosby
Rec. date: July 28, 1966
Also appears on Boxed Set

"Eight Miles High":
(RCA version)
Rec. date: December 22, 1965
Also appears on Never Before

(RCA version)
Rec. date: December 22, 1965
Also appears on Never Before

"John Riley"
(instrumental version 1):
Rec. date: May 4, 1966
Previously unreleased version.

Other tracks from album sessions:
"I Know My Rider" aka "I Know You, Rider":
Rec. date: July 28, 1966
Different mix, appears on Never Before

"Psychodrama City":
David Crosby
Rec. date: July 28, 1966
Different mix, appears on Never Before

Unreleased tracks from album sessions:

[Back to top.]

Byrds Albums | Fifth Dimension

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