BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles

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(Columbia CL-2775 / CS-9575 / CK-9575, 1968)
Reissued: (Columbia/Legacy CK 65151, 1997)

Track Listing

Released January 3, 1968. Produced by Gary Usher. Engineered by Tom May and Don Thompson. Recorded at Columbia Studios, Hollywood. July - December 1967. Cover Photo: Guy Webster.


On "Old John Robertson"
"Change Is Now"
"Tribal Gathering"
"Dolphin's Smile"
"Draft Morning"
(Crosby plays but
does not sing)

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 "Old John Robertson" (single & LP versions)
Crosby plays bass, Hillman plays 6-string guitar
Add strings; add fiddle on LP version

On "Change Is Now"
Add Clarence White on pull string guitar

On "Draft Morning"
Add sound effects (Gunshots from Firesign Theater)

On "Tribal Gathering"
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums
Add piano

On "Dolphin's Smile"
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums

On "Triad"
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums

On "Goin' Back"
(single & LP versions)
"Artificial Energy"
"Natural Harmony"
"Wasn't Born To Follow"
"Get to You"
"Space Odyssey"
"Moog Raga"

The Byrds v. 3.1
Jim McGuinn: vocals, 12 string lead guitar, 6 string guitar
Chris Hillman: vocals, bass, mandolin
Michael Clarke: drums, percussion


On "Goin' Back" (single & LP versions)
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums
Add Red Rhodes on pedal steel guitar
Add Paul Beaver on Moog synth
Add celeste, harp, cello

On "Artificial Energy"
Add brass, piano

On "Natural Harmony"
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums
Add Moog synth, strings

On "Wasn't Born to Follow"
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums
Add Clarence White on pull string guitar
(Engineered by Roy Halee)

On "Get to You"
Add Jim Gordon replacing Michael Clarke on drums
Add Clarence White on pull string guitar
Vocals processed through Leslie speakers

On "Space Odyssey"
Add Moog synth (Engineered by Roy Halee)

On "Moog Raga"
Add Moog synth, conga, electric bongo, electric tabla, resinators (Engineered by Roy Halee)

Singles from album sessions:

"Goin' Back" (alt.) / "Change Is Now" Columbia 44362
Released October 20, 1967

("You Ain't Going Nowhere") / "Artificial Energy"
Columbia 44499
Released April 2, 1968

The old West:
Gram Parsons claims that the title The Notorious Byrd Brothers was based on the name "the Flying Burrito Brothers," which Ian Dunlop, Mickey Gauvin and a shifting group of confederates were already using by 1967. These original Burritos started after Dunlop and Gauvin parted ways with Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band, and Parsons sometimes sat in with his former bandmates.
Parsons claimed that "...while they were recording The Notorious Byrd Brothers, before they had a title for the album.... I just happened to go to a Byrds' session.... Crosby was wearing his velvet hat. And they said, 'What are you playing with now,' and I said, 'Flying Burrito Brothers' over the microphone.... And they all freaked out, and wanted to use the name for the album, and if they had, we wouldn't have had a name. (Laughs.) I told them they couldn't do it..."* Parsons implies that the Byrds instead settled for the similar-sounding title "The Notorious Byrd Brothers."
The liner notes to the Boxed Set repeat this story, and the name certainly does sound similar. On the other hand, this story contradicts most published accounts of how Parsons met the Byrds, and Parsons was himself fairly notorious as a b.s. artist.

Interest in jazz:
Chris Hillman's interest in jazz was documented on the liner notes of the very first album, in which Billy James wrote of Hillman: "I'm told he plays Coltrane solos on the mandolin -- does that wake you up?"

Altering the lyrics:
It's difficult to sort out exactly what happened with "Draft Morning." All parties agree that Crosby does not sing on the track, and that the lyrics to "Draft Morning" were changed by McGuinn and Hillman after Crosby's departure, with the result that the two received co-credit for writing the song. On this point, Hillman has said, "Crosby had written the basic song but we had to rewrite some of the words because he had left right after introducing the song to us and we could hardly remember the lyrics."*
Actually, the song was recorded almost two months before Crosby's departure, according to the sessionography. Yet Hillman is adamant in another interview that none of Crosby's vocals were erased from Notorious.* Assuming Hillman is not mistaken, either the vocals were never recorded while Crosby was with the group, or vocals from the original sessions were lost, or the sessionography is in error about the dates of the original recording.

Heavy metal:
The following exchange is from a May 1991 conversation among Jas Morgan, Roger McGuinn, and Sandy Pearlman (the former rock critic who went on to produce Blue Oyster Cult, the Dictators and the Clash). It appeared in Mondo 2000:
JM: Why don't we start with your heavy metal theory, Sandy?

SP: I invented the term "Heavy Metal"'s my fault. I actually got it out of the periodic table of the elements, but I am the person who stuck it onto music when I was a writer.

RM: That's a dubious honor, really.

SP: Here's how it happened. One day I was listening to "Artificial Energy" on The Notorious Byrd Brothers. I was impressed with the quality of the distortion -- the over-modulation... the inter-modular components -- the incredible complexity of the distortion. I said, "Here's something new that I don't remember hearing before." I thought back and said, "Well, maybe on a live Buddy Guy record, where he was using the amp to generate a similar distortion series..." but I think the most impressive, the most directly vectored use of this was on your album.

RM: You mean the term "Heavy Metal" cam out of something the Byrds did!?!

SP: I'm afraid so. You can find it in my Crawdaddy article on The Notorious Byrd Brothers. So here I am speaking to the ur-text, so to speak, on this particular subject.

RM: Just another arrow we put into the quiver of innovation.*
Pearlman's review in Crawdaddy does not in fact contain the term "heavy metal"; perhaps a helpful reader can identify some other mention of the Byrds where Pearlman uses the term. Note that Lester Bangs usually gets credit for lifting the term from William Burroughs and applying it in its musical sense. Still, Pearlman's observation is interesting even if his memory is inaccurate.

Having read countless reviews in which the Byrds are credited with inventing folk-rock, jazz-rock, raga rock, country rock, electronic rock, space rock (whatever that means), and now heavy metal, the reader is right to be skeptical about a claim that the Byrds have anything to do with punk rock. Certainly the Byrds aren't usually considered progenitors of punk, either of the '60s or the '70s variety. But check out the great proto-punk anthem "1969" -- the first song on the self-titled debut of the Stooges. The entire song is built on a transposed and energized version of the heavy riff from the bridge of "Tribal Gathering"! (And where would '60s or '70s punk have been without "Hey Joe," while we're on the subject?)

Crosby number was omitted:
It's difficult to say whether Crosby's songs were left off the album because he was fired, or Crosby was fired because he made such a fuss about his songs being left off. Both statements probably contain elements of truth. Given that Crosby was fired in October, when only about half the tracks were finished, and given that the album was not released until January, the decision about what songs would make the album was probably not finalized until after Crosby left.

Ménage à trois:
The lyrical reference to "water brothers" shows the influence of Robert A. Heinlein's proto-hippie manifesto Stranger in a Strange Land. But Crosby didn't just write songs about Stranger-style polygamy -- he lived it. Inasmuch as he has since settled down into a happy marriage with a single person, we can only assume he learned the answer to his own question, "Why can't we go on as three?"

The most adventurous:
Those who were shocked by the original song, and even some folks that really liked the original, would certainly be scandalized by the "Triad" / "Chestnut Mare" medley by the Icicle Works. Once you've heard their version, neither of the originals will ever sound the same again. ("She'll be just like a wife," indeed!) The track is on Time Between: A Tribute to the Byrds (Communion / Imaginary, 1989).

"Goin' Back" (single version) / "Change Is Now"

After the release of "Lady Friend" in July of '67, the band released a less experimental single, "Goin' Back." By the time the song was released in late October, Crosby was no longer with the band. In fact, although he was still a Byrd when "Goin' Back" was recorded, Crosby hated the song and declined to participate in its recording. (He knew at the time that the song was in competition with his "Triad" for a slot on the next LP.) Thus, this song can be considered the first release by the third incarnation of the Byrds: McGuinn, Hillman and Clarke, with hired gun Jim Gordon subbing for Clarke.
The song, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, had been a Top Ten hit in the UK for Dusty Springfield during the summer of 1966. It's a wistful ballad about trying to recapture the innocence of youth, a motif that would run throughout the album soon to come. Like most of the Notorious tracks, it's leavened with hints of country (the pedal steel of Red Rhodes), electronic rock (a Moog synthesizer), and Sgt. Pepper-style chamber pop (a celeste, cello and harp). What with the lush vocals, the mid-tempo beat, and the tinkling celeste, this song anticipates the MOR country-pop from which there would be no escape in a few short years. Fortunately McGuinn's trademark Rickenbacker and Hillman's sturdy bass give the song a definite Byrds sound, and the pedal steel adds a countervailing touch of rootsiness.
Unfortunately, the single version of "Goin' Back" -- a different take from the LP version -- was not a bonus track on the 1997 reissue, which means completists will have to seek out either the single or the British compilation, The Original Singles 1967-1969 (Vol. II). On the other hand, the reissue does provide an interesting earlier take of the song, featuring Crosby vocals and a celeste part not unlike the ones found on various Velvet Underground songs.
The flipside, "Change Is Now," features the second version of the Byrds, McGuinn, Crosby, Hillman, and Clarke, plus future Byrd Clarence White on pull-string guitar. A McGuinn/Hillman collaboration, "Change Is Now" is another amalgam of pop, country and electronic music. After the ethereal harmonies and gentle guitar-picking of the first two verses, Clarence White's guitar signals the countrified chorus, which in turn segues into an other-worldly guitar duet. Regrettably, the Byrds never attempted this style of guitar again on record, but Neil Young, Richard Thompson and Tom Verlaine would all explore similar techniques throughout their careers. Also notable are the evocative effects on the guitars, which prefigure the work of Brian Eno in the '70s and his disciples Daniel Lanois and Flood in the '80s and '90s. The reissue includes an early version of this track, too: the instrumental demo titled "Universal Mind Decoder." McGuinn's wild guitar work here makes the demo a real find.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers

The Notorious Byrd Brothers was finally released on January 3, 1968, its title evoking the old West. The band was in disarray during the recording of the LP in the summer and fall of 1967: first Crosby departed, then Gene Clark rejoined for a three week stint (though he would not take part in any sessions); and finally, session drummer Jim Gordon substituted for Mike Clarke on about half the tracks. A listen to the angry session chatter appended to the 1997 reissue gives a vivid picture of the tensions in the group at the time, and explains why Gordon was brought in to supplement Clarke as well.
Despite these upheavals, and the slighting of some strong work by Crosby, the album that emerged was cohesive, consistently challenging, and thematically unified. On past albums, the band would do a pop number, then a countryish number, then an electronic-rock experiment. But on Notorious, almost every song combined two or more of these elements, along with the orchestration and studio gimmickry (supplied mostly by producer Gary Usher) that became almost obligatory after Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heats Club Band (Capitol, 1967). The Crosby songs are immediately identifiable, but Hillman and McGuinn have woven together his work, and their own, almost seamlessly.
The lyrical themes are a roster of hippie shibboleths: harmony, togetherness, youthful innocence, tolerance, non-conformity, the immorality of war, the beauty of nature. But the band uses these motifs throughout the album so ingenuously (and ingeniously) that the result isn't a relic of the wide-eyed past -- it's a wistful reminder of the shared values that briefly unified many of the young throughout much of the Western world. And it's not all peace and love: through the LP are acknowledgements of the darker elements that had already begun to erode that youth movement from within, including violence and drug abuse.
In fact, the album leads off with "Artifical Energy," about the trouble with amphetamines. A Hillman/McGuinn/Clarke song, this is the last Byrds track Clarke would play on until the 1973 reunion. As in "Eight Miles High," substance abuse is linked with air travel, this time explicitly. But here the result isn't just disorientation and alienation, it's murder, hard time and a heavy sense of doom. The strident horn work dates the song somewhat (it's reminiscent of the theme from the cult TV show "The Prisoner"), as does the processing on the horn parts, but Hillman's bass work is exemplary. (Crosby was gone by the time this song was recorded.)
After the album version of "Goin' Back" comes another post-Crosby song by Chris Hillman, "Natural Harmony," sort of a sequel to "Thoughts and Words," Hillman's earlier foray into psychedelia. The song shows that Crosby was not the only Byrd with an interest in jazz. Hillman imitates the vocal style of Crosby, who may have been the intended lead vocalist given the high tenor part. McGuinn's expensive toy Moog squeals along with the lead vocal, and phasers and other electronic processing fade in and out.
That song segues smoothly into "Draft Morning," one of Crosby's best songs. Unfortunately, Crosby himself does not sing on the song, although he probably plays guitar on it. McGuinn and Hillman recorded the vocals after Crosby's departure, altering the lyrics (much to Crosby's chagrin), and claiming co-writing credit (also much to Crosby's chagrin). Still, the final product is unassailable. Told from the point of view of a reluctant draftee, the song lays out the dilemma of the young men who were called up, and does so with more empathy than was common among many in the anti-war movement in the late '60s. McGuinn's arpeggiated picking and Hillman's sensitive bass work complement the lyrics, which suggest that being forced to kill may be worse than death. The elegiac feel of the song is heightened by a droning harmony vocal of the sort not used since "If You're Gone" on Turn! Turn! Turn!. Unlike the slightly gratuitous brass on "Artificial Energy," the horns here advance the story, as do the gunfire sound effects, provided by comedy troupe the Firesign Theater. (An unreleased version of the song with no gunshots and a longer ending is a bonus track on the 1997 reissue.)
One possible solution to the dilemma of that draftee was suggested by the next song, "Wasn't Born to Follow." Another Goffin/King song, it chronicled the desire to escape convention and hit the road. Despite its Brill Building origins, the song, at least the Byrds' version of it, had enough street credibility to be featured prominently on the soundtrack of Easy Rider in 1969.
As on "Goin' Back," Clarence White provides some terrific country-style picking. As with "Old John Robertson," a radically different bridge interrupts the light country arrangement, here a somewhat raga guitar solo and some phasing.
Side One wraps up with a more optimistic look at aviation, the Hillman/McGuinn song "Get to You" (which also dates from after Crosby's departure). It's a country waltz with string section -- violins, not fiddles. The vocal on the hook ("Ah, that's a little better") is nearly incomprehensible, having been processed through the whirling cones of Lesly Speakers (another studio gimmick borrowed from the Beatle handbook).
Side Two opens with "Change is Now" and the LP version of "Old John Robertson," both of which contain Crosby's harmony vocals. Compared with the 45 version of "John Robertson" (now a bonus track on the reissue of Younger Than Yesterday), the LP version is marred by the addition of obnoxious phaser effects, but improved by a fiddle part that complements White's guitar work perfectly.
Two Crosby compositions follow. The first, "Tribal Gathering," co-written by Hillman, is a sort of sequel to "Renaissance Fair." Like that song, this one is based on an actual event -- a large counter-cultural happening and free concert known as "The Human Be-In -- A Gathering of Tribes," which filled the Polo Grounds of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on January 12, 1967. Like "Renaissance Fair," this song is not particularly tuneful, but contains some nice jazzy guitar work by McGuinn. The most interesting feature of the song is the heavy guitar riff that presumably signifies the sinister Hell's Angels, who attended the event in question. It's difficult to tell whether McGuinn or Crosby is playing that riff, although it anticipates the heavier sound of several songs on the post-Crosby LP Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, not to mention the sound of heavy metal and even punk.
The next Crosby number, "Dolphin's Smile," is the first of many songs Crosby would eventually write celebrating the freedom of the open seas he enjoyed so much. McGuinn imitates the cry of a dolphin on his guitar, pioneering a gimmick that would one day be a great career move for guitar-Doolittle Adrian Belew.
The final track, McGuinn and Hippard's "Space Odyssey," is based on Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Sentinel," which also provided the basis of the Kubrick film Space Odyssey. McGuinn's lyrics actually explain the Clarke story with considerably more clarity than Kubrick's movie would. Fittingly for a story about aliens who interfere in Earth's ancient history, the song juxtaposes the modal melody and deliberate, funereal pacing of ancient Scottish folk ballads with fuzzed guitar and Moog noodling that must have sounded futuristic in 1968. (Those futuristic sounds now seem quaint and vaguely comical, like the giant dials and whirring tape reels on the set of the original Starship Enterprise.)
The Notorious Byrd Brothers was an ambitious, experimental work. Some of those experiments were unsuccessful, like the phaser on "Old John Robertson." Certain aspects of the LP have not aged well, like the brass on "Artificial Energy." But these are mere quibbles. From their own and David Crosby's music, McGuinn and Hillman fashioned a beautiful and musically coherent work that explored many of the themes of the counter-culture movement.
Most importantly, they advanced their synthetic method to a higher level. Notorious was the first (and ultimately, the only) album on which the band juxtaposed three or more radically different stylistic elements in almost every song.
Yet, despite its virtues, the album represents a missed opportunity. If Crosby, McGuinn and Hillman had managed to set aside their differences and their egos and complete the album together, the second version of the band might have been captured at its creative peak, at a time when Crosby was coming up with some of the best material of his career. The result might have been an album that included "Lady Friend," "Triad," Crosby's intended version of "Draft Morning," perhaps some of the songs that eventually ended up on Crosby, Stills & Nash (Atlantic, 1969), and of course, Crosby's pure tenor voice on the remaining songs. Byrds fans can take some comfort in the notion that if Crosby had not been sacked in 1967, they might never have heard the wonderful album that followed The Notorious Byrd Brothers.

Notorious Outtakes

Along with the wonderful single "Lady Friend," one memorable Crosby number was omitted from Notorious: "Triad." That song finally appeared on Never Before and The Byrds Boxed Set. With the same solo, torchy vocal style and moody, jazz-based changes that made "Everybody's Been Burned" a classic, "Triad" is another spooky, delicate standout. The earlier song might have been, as Crosby says, suited to Peggy Lee. But the subject matter of "Triad" -- ménage à trois, with the blunt suggestion that quatre, cinq and six were not out of the question -- ensured that only the most adventurous singers would consider adding the song to their repertoire. Crosby ultimately gave the track to his pals the Jefferson Airplane, who included it on their LP Crown of Creation (RCA, 1968). Crosby's own version of "Triad" later emerged on the live CSNY LP, Four Way Street (Atlantic, 1971).
Four additional outtakes from the Notorious sessions, all instrumentals, surfaced in recent years. "Flight 713 (Song No. 2)" appeared in 1989, on the CD release of Never Before. It's an appealing throwback to the more straightforward folk of the early albums, except that Chris Hillman's bass carries the melody line and the Rickenbacker serves as part of the rhythm section. The other three instrumentals appear on the 1997 reissue. As noted above, "Universal Mind Decoder" is a demo of "Change Is Now." "Bound to Fall" is a song written by Mike Brewer, later half of Brewer and Shipley of "One Toke Over the Line" fame. Hillman must have liked this song; four years later it appeared, with lyrics, on Manassas (Atlantic, 1972).
The other instrumental on the reissue is "Moog Raga," more of McGuinn's Moog monkeyshines. On this track, the $9000 toy was cleverly employed to approximate the sound of a $200 sitar. (Wisely, this self-indulgent experiment was shelved for twenty years, when it appeared on the CD version of Never Before.) McGuinn was already thinking about exploring synthesizers and "space rock" on a few tracks on the next Byrds release. With Crosby gone, there was nothing to prevent the Byrds from heading in that direction. Or so it may have seemed.

To Sweetheart of the Rodeo...


Parsons story. Scoppa, "Burrito Deluxe" at 110 - 111.

"We could hardly remember the lyrics...." Rogan, Timeless Flight at 96.

Hillman on Crosby's vocals. Griffin, "Hillman" at 85 - 86.

Heavy metal. Morgan at 17.

[Back to top.]

Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"Artifical Energy":
Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman
& Michael Clarke
Rec. date: December 6, 1967

"Goin' Back":
Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Rec. date: October 9, 1967

"Natural Harmony":
Chris Hillman
Rec. date: November 29, 1967

"Draft Morning":
David Crosby, Chris Hillman
& Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: August 2, 1967

"Wasn't Born to Follow":
Gerry Goffin & Carole King
Rec. date: November 30, 1967

"Get to You":
Chris Hillman & Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: November 13, 1967

"Change Is Now":
Roger McGuinn & Chris Hillman
Rec. date: August 30, 1967

"Old John Robertson":
Roger McGuinn & Chris Hillman
Rec. date: June 21, 1967

"Tribal Gathering":
David Crosby & Chris Hillman
Rec. date: August 16, 1967

"Dolphin's Smile":
David Crosby, Chris Hillman,
& Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: August 16, 1967

"Space Odyssey":
Roger McGuinn & Bob Hippard
Rec. date: October 23, 1967
1997 Bonus Tracks:
"Moog Raga":
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: November 1, 1967

"Bound to Fall":
Mike Brewer
Rec. date: November 1, 1967

David Crosby
Rec. date: August 17, 1967

"Goin' Back"
(version one):
Rec. date: September 5, 1967
Previously unreleased version
with Crosby vocals

"Draft Morning"
(alternate end):
Rec. date: August 2, 1967
Alternate longer ending

"Universal Mind Decoder": Roger McGuinn & Chris Hillman
Rec. date: July 31, 1967
Previously unreleased instrumental
demo of "Change Is Now"

Other tracks from album sessions:
"Goin' Back"
(single version):
Rec. date: September, 1967
Available only on 45 and on
British compilations

"Flight 713 (Song No. 2)":
Roger McGuinn & Chris Hillman
Rec. date: November 13, 1967
Appears on Never Before

Unreleased tracks from album sessions:

[Back to top.]

Byrds Albums | The Notorious Byrd Brothers

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Mr. Tambourine Man | Turn! Turn! Turn! | Fifth Dimension | Younger | Notorious | Sweetheart | Dr. Byrds | Ballad | (Untitled) | Byrdmaniax | Farther Along | Byrds | Beginning | Never Before | Box | NEXT CHAPTER

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