BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles



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BYRDMANIAX
(Columbia KC 30640; 1970)

Track Listing

Credits:
Released June 23, 1971. Produced by Terry Melcher and Chris Hinshaw. Engineered by Chris Hinshaw, Eric Prestidge, & Glen Kolotkin. Recorded October 1970 - January 1971. Cover photos: Don Jim. Cover design: Virginia Team and John Berg.

Personnel:
The Byrds v. 6.1
Roger McGuinn: vocals, guitar
Clarence White: vocals, guitar
Skip Battin: vocals, bass
Gene Parsons: vocals, drums

Except:
On "Glory, Glory"
Add female chorus
Add piano

On "Citizen Kane"
Add Paul Polena on horns

On "Pale Blue"
Add Paul Polena on string arrangement

On "I Trust"
Add Terry Melcher on piano
Add female chorus

On "Tunnel of Love"
Add Larry Knechtel on organ

On "Absolute Happiness"
Add Paul Polena on string arrangement

On "Green Apple Quick Step"
Add Byron Berline on fiddle
Add Eric White on harmonica

On "Kathleen's Song"
Add Paul Polena on string arrangement

On "Jamaica Say You Will"
Add Paul Polena on string arrangement

Singles from album sessions:
"Glory, Glory" /
"Citizen Kane"
Columbia 45440
Released August 20, 1971



Under the regime of producer Terry Melcher, both Ballad of Easy Rider and (Untitled) had made the Top 40 on the album charts, so there was never any question who would produce their next album. Sadly, the downward trend in quality only continued with Byrdmaniax. The album has two problems: first, the band came up with weak material and mediocre performances; and second, Melcher tried to compensate for the uninspired content by dressing it up with strings and female backing choruses.
The backup singers aren't out of place on "Glory, Glory." Like "Jesus Is Just Alright," it's a cover of an old gospel song learned from the version by Art Reynolds. The result is not a disaster -- in fact it's one of the better songs on the album -- but neither is it as interesting as its predecessor. Putting McGuinn's vocal out front, instead of using a team lead vocal as on "Jesus," is an improvement, but the busy arrangement buries McGuinn's guitar, the only thing about the song that sounds at all "Byrdsy." (To hear a more gospel arrangement of the song, check out the Staple Singers' mid '60s version on Freedom Highway (Columbia, 1991).)
McGuinn contributes four songs, two of which are salvaged from Gene Tryp and co-authored by Jacques Levy. "Kathleen's Song" was actually recorded during the sessions for (Untitled), and held in the can. Later, Melcher coated it with syrupy strings. The underlying song, reproduced unadorned on The Byrds Boxed Set, is an average ballad.
The second Tryp track, "I Wanna Grow Up to Be A Politician," is a slight melody with cynical lyrics in an Americana/novelty mode not unlike such Battin/Fowley compositions as "Citizen Kane." Even this little ditty is over-produced, with strident trumpets during the bridge.
"Pale Blue" is another ballad. Tasteful strings might have suited the song, but Paul Polena's orchestration is as overbearing and saccharine here as it is on the rest of the LP. "I Trust" is an agreeable enough song, buried in female choruses, strings, and anything else Melcher could think of. Based on McGuinn's catchphrase, "I trust everything will turn out all right," which appeared in the liner notes to Mr. Tambourine Man, the finished product proved how misplaced that trust can sometimes be.
Clarence White is responsible for three songs. The best of these is "Green Apple Quick Step," another barn dance instrumental by White and Parsons la "Nashville West." Like that song, "Quick Step"'s murky production obscures the nice bluegrass chops. White also sings lead on Jackson Browne's "Jamaica Say You Will," and darned if he doesn't imitate Browne's singing style with all the exactitude of McGuinn's early Dylan vocals. It's a bit peculiar that he chose to do so, since the public wouldn't hear Browne's singing for another year, when his self-titled debut, featuring "Jamaica Say You Will," was released. Unfortunately, the song is a bit outside the range of White's thin voice, and his pitch is little wobbly to boot (as is the pitch of the falsetto backup vocal). Melcher once again overcompensates with strings. "My Destiny," a traditional country number with vocals by White, is ruined by the same things: a weak vocal and overproduction.
As on (Untitled), the Skip Battin/Kim Fowley songwriting team gets a three-song allotment. "Absolute Happiness" is a limp ballad. "Tunnel of Love" features fake Fats Domino piano and a melody akin to the Rolling Stones' "Let It Bleed." "Citizen Kane" is an example of Battin and Fowley's fascination with Americana. (As the son of a TV star, Kim Fowley actually saw a bit of the decadent Hollywood lifestyle while growing up in the '40s and '50s.) The song features a catchy chorus, but its near-acapella verses, its kitschy '20s-style instrumentation, and the namechecks of long-dead movie stars (what is Fatty Arbuckle doing on a Byrds album?) make this number a novelty. All the Battin/Fowley songs on the album share certain traits. They're based on keyboards rather than guitars; they have unappealing Battin vocals; and their sound has nothing in common with any other non-Battin Byrds songs, except that they're also overproduced.
Almost as soon as Byrdmaniax was in the can, the band members started to express dissatisfaction with Melcher's overproduction. They claimed Melcher had added most of the orchestration without the band's knowledge or permission. Melcher, for his part, asserted that the songs and performances were weak, and that he had been trying to mitigate the damage. In this argument, both parties were right; it was the audience that lost. Though British critics were indulgent, the album was received poorly by the US press. Byrdmaniax made the Top Fifty, but the band members were unhappy with it, and vowed to avoid the pitfalls of the album on their next LP.


To Farther Along...


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Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"Glory, Glory":
Credited to Art Reynolds,
actually traditional, arranged
by Art Reynolds
Rec. date: January 17, 1971

"Pale Blue":
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: January 26, 1971

"I Trust":
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: October 6, 1970

"Tunnel of Love":
Skip Battin & Kim Fowley
Rec. date: January 11, 1971

"Citizen Kane":
Skip Battin and Kim Fowley
Rec. date: January 11, 1971

"I Wanna Grow Up to
Be A Politician":
Roger McGuinn & Jacques Levy
Rec. date: January 19, 1971

"Absolute Happiness":
Skip Battin & Kim Fowley
Rec. date: January 11, 1971
"Green Apple Quick Step":
Gene Parsons & Clarence White
Rec. date: January 24, 1971

"My Destiny":
H. Carter
Rec. date: January 9, 1971

"Kathleen's Song":
Roger McGuinn & Jacques Levy
Rec. date: June 1970 &
January 26, 1971

"Jamaica Say You Will":
Jackson Browne
Rec. date: January 17, 1971

Other tracks from album sessions:
"Kathleen's Song":
Rec. date: June 1970 &
January 26, 1971
Original mix without orchestration
appears on Boxed Set


Unreleased tracks from album sessions:
None


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Byrds Albums | Byrdmaniax

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