BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles

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(Columbia CL-2454 / CS-9254 / CK-9254, 1965)
Reissued: (Columbia/Legacy CK 64846, 1996)

Track Listing

Released December 6, 1965. Produced by Terry Melcher. Engineered by Ray Gerhardt. Recorded at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, June - November 1965. Cover Photo: Guy Webster.

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 "Oh! Susannah"
Jim McGuinn: add banjo

On "Set You Free This Time"
Michael Clarke: add harmonica

Singles from album sessions:
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" / "She Don't Care About Time"
Columbia 43424
Released October 1, 1965

"Set You Free This Time" / "It Won't Be Wrong"
Columbia 43501
Released January 10, 1966

Rough acetate:
The recording of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" on The Byrds Boxed Set is identical to the one on Never Before. The liner notes to the boxed set report that the song was cut on June 28th, with Lennon, McCartney, and Dylan hanging out at the studio; the liner notes to Never Before give the impression, when read with the sessionography, that the song was recorded in August. Assuming the liner notes to both these releases are correct -- that the Never Before version was indeed the version recorded with Dickson and leaked to KRLA -- the notes to the boxed set would seem to be mistaken about the June date, since Terry Melcher was present for the June 28th sessions. The Never Before version of the song available was most likely the one recorded sometime in August, and not the first attempt recorded in June. The 1996 reissue would seem to confirm this: it features a "Version 1" of "Baby Blue," recorded June 28, along with two other unused cuts recorded that same day. The original multitrack of the Never Before version was lost; it "comes from a rough mono mix, modified to make it more compatible with the rest of the album."
As for the Beatles, Dickson has no recollection of their presence at that session, but Melcher does.* We know the Beatles were not in LA in June and that they were there from August 23 to August 30.* My guess is that the Beatles and Dylan were at the August 23 sessions, not either of the "Baby Blue" sessions as has been reported by several participants. Melcher remembers the band being nervous about doing "Baby Blue" in Dylan's presence, but they did "Times" on August 23, so he may simply have his Dylan covers confused. Or perhaps "Baby Blue" was briefly attempted on August 23, and the Sessionography incorrectly omits it.

Fatalistic resignation:
Cf. these other classics of fatalistic resignation: "Percy's Song," by Bob Dylan, in his 1963 version on Biograph (Columbia, 1985) or the classic Fairport Convention version on Unhalfbricking (A&M, 1969)("Turn, turn, to the rain and the wind..."); "The World Keeps Going Round," by Ray Davies, from Kink Kontroversy (Reprise, 1965) ("You just can't stop it, the world keeps going 'round..."); and the all-time champion, Paul McCartney's the title track of Let It Be (Apple, 1970).

Jim Dickson was reluctant to record the song because of his reservations about its content. He argued that the song presented a series of false dichotomies, that it encouraged a simplistic analysis of one's alternatives that today might be called "one-bit."*

Folk standard:
By the early '60s "He Was A Friend of Mine" was well-known in folk music circles. Folksinger Eric von Schmidt adapted it from a traditional Southern prison song called "Shorty George" that he had heard on a Library of Congress archive recording of penitentiary singers. (Leadbelly also recorded "Shorty George" in 1935.) Von Schmidt remembers playing his adaptation for Dylan in the early '60s, although Dylan later stated that he adapted the song from one he had learned from a Chicago street singer named Blind Arvella Gray. In any event, Dylan claimed composer and arranger credits on "He Was A Friend of Mine" in early 1962, made the song a regular part of his folk club sets, and recorded a version for his first album, Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1961). The song was left off the LP, but appeared recently on The Bootleg Series 1961-1991 (Columbia, 1991). Dylan's version was picked up by others, such as Dave Van Ronk, who included it on his album Folksinger (Prestige, 1962). Eric von Schmidt also recorded it on his first LP, The Folk Blues of Eric von Schmidt (Prestige, 1963).*

Dylan numbers:
The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia, 1964) features Dylan's version of the title song. He recorded it on October 24, 1963, coincidentally the same day as he cut "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," which did not appear on LP until the release of Biograph (Columbia, 1965). Dylan has stated that both these songs were inspired by Scottish ballads.*

"Satisfied Mind":
The country standard "Satisfied Mind," written by Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes, was a big hit in 1955 for Red and Betty Foley. It was later covered by Jean Shepard and by traditionalist Porter Wagoner. The Byrds' manager Jim Dickson had produced an album by Bob Camp with a version of the song as well. Byrds fans may be most interested in the countrified version by Gram Parsons's pre-Byrds outfit, the International Submarine Band, on their only album, Safe at Home (LHI, 1968). More recently, Bob Dylan covered "Satisfied Mind" on Saved (Columbia, 1980) and Jonathan Richman included a version on his CD Jonathan Goes Country (Rounder, 1990).

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

After the release of "All I Really Want to Do," the band went into the studio with manager Jim Dickson producing -- regular producer Terry Melcher was out of town -- and recorded a rough acetate of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," the bitter rant with which Bob Dylan had concluded his recent watershed album, Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, 1965). The acetate was immediately released to LA top 40 radio station KRLA, who were told that "Baby Blue" would be the next single.
The song is arranged much like the other Dylan songs on the first two albums, but the sweet team choruses, so well-suited to anthems like "Chimes of Freedom," seem misplaced over these more acrimonious lyrics. The singing isn't up to par, either. McGuinn and Clark strain to hit the notes as they sing "the sky too is falling over you..." -- sounding for all the world like Alex Chilton and Paul Westerberg. That said, the number has an energy that was lacking in the version on Ballad of Easy Rider. (For a more effective overhaul of "Baby Blue," check out Van Morrison's version, which appears on the album Them Again (Parrot, 1966) and on various anthologies.)
Melcher was unhappy that an unfinished version of the song had been released, citing its poor sound quality (but perhaps also annoyed that the acetate had been leaked behind his back) and rather than polish up "Baby Blue," the band opted instead to work up another Pete Seeger song.

"Turn! Turn! Turn!" / "She Don't Care About Time"

McGuinn had arranged "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)" for Judy Collins on her 1963 album, Judy Collins #3 (Elektra, 1963), and suggested the song might fit the group. After dozens of takes, the Byrds had another classic on their hands. Hillman's bass plays a simple stairstep during the chorus, but during the verse and the bridge, he ranges ingeniously through the scale, providing perfect counterpoint to McGuinn's ringing lead and banjo-style fills. Even Clarke's drumming is unassailable. The vocals are executed perfectly and with a sincerity suited to the earnest lyrics of the song.
The words, adapted by Seeger from chapter three of the Book of Ecclesiastes, could be construed as fatalistic resignation, or criticized as a series of over-simplifications. But the Byrds' version sounded somehow hopeful, and its sentiments were relatively profound for a number one record. The song's ambiguity, and Seeger's editorial embellishment after "a time for peace," "I swear it's not too late..." allowed the listening public to conclude that the song captured the zeitgeist of late 1965.
The flip, Gene Clark's "She Don't Care About Time," is a fan favorite unjustifiably left off the second album. The original single version was finally made available in unadulterated mono as a bonus track to the 1996 reissue; previously it could only be found on The Original Singles: 1965-1967. The version on Never Before features "embellish[ments to] the instrumental tracks," according to Bob Hyde's liner notes. The Byrds Boxed Set contains a previously unreleased first recording of the song. It has a quicker tempo, a nice vocal with Gene Clark mixed out front, a harmonica solo on the bridge, and nicely dissonant guitar part (which sounds almost like a Vox organ) that emerges during the fade-out. A third version is included as a bonus track on the 1996 reissue, with Melcher adding an interesting piano part quite reminiscent of "Satisfaction." All three versions feature McGuinn's salute to Bach, a guitar solo cribbed from "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The song is one of Clark's best, with a great melody line, an irresistable hook in the chorus, and appealing lyrics.

The "Turn! Turn! Turn!" LP

Turn! Turn! Turn! was released in time for Christmas of 1965. As many musicians do after a successful first album, the Byrds blatantly attempted to duplicate almost every aspect of the earlier release. Over the years, some have cited this album as an example of sophomore slump. To this listener, that critique is misguided. The first two Byrds albums form a unified, hermetic whole. The consistency is not so surprising: the albums share the same line-up and the same producer; and all the material for both LPs was cut during a ten-month period of 1965.
That said, there are hints of things to come. The guitar break after each verse on "It Won't Be Wrong" and the droning, bagpipe-like harmony on "If You're Gone" both prefigure the raga experimentation just around the bend. The earnest folk-style cover of Porter Wagoner's classic "Satisfied Mind," and the smart-aleck goof on Stephen Foster's standard, "Oh! Susannah," both anticipate the band's later embrace of country music.
The three Clark originals are outstanding. "Set You Free This Time" and "If You're Gone" are ballads suffused with the air of melancholy that was Clark's specialty. In Clark's vocals you can hear the same quality of heartache that Gram Parsons brought to his best work. The droning harmony line through "If You're Gone" -- McGuinn's innovation -- creates an ethereal, lonesome, moan that complements Clark's lead. "The World Turns All Around Her" is, like "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better," an uptempo pop number with contrasting lyrics every bit as sorrowful as the ballads. The harmony vocals are just right, as is the guitar riff that frames the song.
In 1987, another Clark composition from this period emerged. Clark supplied the name "Never Before" for track, and it became the title track of that archival release. By the time of the boxed set, researchers had apparently discovered the master tape box with its original title, "The Day Walk." The real date of the recording also turned out to be in September of '65 rather than January of '66, as stated in the notes to Never Before. It's a dandy track, in the mode of Clark's other contributions to the first two LPs, highlighted by an irresistible walking bass hook. The Byrds Boxed Set features an improved remix, which also appears as bonus track to the 1996 reissue.
McGuinn's songwriting contributions here are a step up from the two lackluster numbers he co-wrote with Clark on the first LP. "It Won't Be Wrong," with its fine guitar work from McGuinn, is considerably improved from the World Pacific version on In the Beginning and the version that appeared on the flipside of the Elektra Beefeaters' single under the name "Don't Be Long." (Clarke's facility with time changes shows improvement over the first album's "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe.")
"He Was A Friend of Mine" is an old folk standard with new lyrics written by McGuinn on the night of JFK's assassination. This Kennedy elegy has aged better than some of the more lugubrious numbers in the same mini-genre. Its traditional folk arrangement is tasteful, although it's marred somewhat by an overly loud, out-of-time tambourine and an organ adding string-like sweetening. Both were added by producer Melcher without asking the band -- another portent of things to come. To get an idea what the original arrangement must have sounded like, check out the remake by the 1990 McGuinn/Crosby/Hillman Byrds on The Byrds Boxed Set. It's nothing but voice, guitar, and bass.
McGuinn also co-wrote "Wait and See" with David Crosby. (This was Crosby's first songwriting credit with the Byrds.) This straightforward love song isn't the strongest on the album, but the chorus is beguiling, particularly on the song's finish, and McGuinn's guitar work is fine, especially during the bridge.
A second Crosby song from this era was an outtake called "Stranger in a Strange Land." The instrumental backing track to that song is another 1996 bonus track. Judging from the title, the song refers to the science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein. That book describes a Bohemian elite who pursue higher truth and practice free love, and it seems to have made a big impression on Crosby. His line about "water brothers" makes it clear that the song "Triad" is an allusion to the book, and by all accounts, his lifestyle by 1967 was right out of that novel.
The band cut only two Dylan numbers on this album. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" is an uninspired reading of the Dylan signature tune. The band sounds enervated and listless, like they just couldn't find the right groove together. Another version of this song, recorded in June, appears as a bonus track on the 1996 reissue. It's a looser performance, but with a feel more appropriate to the song.

McGuinn and Taj Mahal discuss some harmony ideas during the recording of "Lay Down Your Weary Tune." Photo courtesy Gary Marker.
By contrast, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" ranks among the band's best Dylan covers. Chris Hillman's bass adds a second melody line. McGuinn's lead vocal has a soulfulness rarely found when he does his faux Dylan. Instead of the usual harmonic arrangement (Clark and McGuinn on the same baritone part, Crosby on tenor), "Weary Tune" has a third, low harmony part by Clark. Undoubtedly the Byrds' version of the song was advantaged by Dylan's failure to release the powerful original at the time.
Country standard "Satisfied Mind" was brought to the band by Hillman, whose background was in bluegrass music rather than straight folk. The number is arranged in folk style, though McGuinn emulates the sound of a steel on his Rickenbacker. Clearly the band was not yet ready to commit even to the rudimentary country instrumentation they would adopt on parts of Younger Than Yesterday. Crosby's more nasal, countrified falsetto here foreshadows the sound of Crosby Stills & Nash.
Like the first LP, this one ends with a novelty -- this time, a tongue-in-cheek take on Stephen Foster's "Oh! Susannah." During the verses and chorus, the band rocks out nicely. Rather than sticking with this strategy, the band halts the song for wiseguy banjo-style picking and heavy-handed martial drumming. Apparently they want to make very clear to the hipsters that there's no way they'd ever do a straight version of such square material. Thankfully, the band would adopt a more enlightened attitude toward traditional material as the influence of Chris Hillman grew.
Though the album isn't flawless, it is exceptional, arguably even a slight improvement over the wonderful debut. Together, Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn!, set the benchmark against which not only all future Byrds releases, but all folk rock music, would be measured. But to say that these are the best folk rock albums ever is to understate their importance. These two magical albums by the original aggregation of the Byrds stand with the very best albums of the era by their contemporaries -- the Beatles' Revolver (Capitol, 1966), the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966), the Rolling Stones' Aftermath (London, 1967) and the Kinks' Face to Face (Reprise, 1966) -- all albums that are as exciting today as they were almost thirty years ago, all albums with an enormous impact on the popular music that would follow.

To Fifth Dimension...


Dickson and Melcher memories. Rogan, Timeless Flight at 50 -51.

The Beatles' schedule. Lewisohn at 194 - 202.

Dickson and "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Rogan, Timeless Flight at 52.

"He Was A Friend of Mine." Bauldie at 5.

"Scottish folk ballads." Crowe at sides 2 and 4.

[Back to top.]

Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything
There Is A Season)":
Pete Seeger; lyrics adapted from
the Book of Ecclesiastes
Rec. date: September 10, 1965

"It Won't Be Wrong":
Jim McGuinn and Harvey Gerst
Rec. date: September 18, 1965

"Set You Free This Time":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: September 16, 1965

"Lay Down Your Weary Tune":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: October 22, 1965

"The World Turns All Around Her":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: August 23, 1965

"Satisfied Mind":
Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes
Rec. date: September 17, 1965

"If You're Gone":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: October 20, 1965

"The Times They Are A-Changin'":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: September 1, 1965

"Wait and See":
Jim McGuinn and David Crosby
Rec. date: October 1, 1965

"Oh! Susannah":
Stephen Foster, arranged
by Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: October 4, 1965

1996 Bonus Tracks:
"The Day Walk" aka "Never Before":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: September 14, 1965
Boxed Set version.

"She Don't Care About Time"
(Single version):
Gene Clark
Rec. date: August 23, 1965
Mono version.

"The Times They Are A-Changin'"
(first version):
Rec. date: June 28, 1965
Previously unreleased/first version

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
(version 1):
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: June 28, 1965
Previously unreleased/take 1

"She Don't Care About Time"
(version 1):
Rec. date: June 28, 1965
Previously unreleased/take 2

"The World Turns All Around Her"
(alternate mix):
Rec. date: August 23, 1965
Previously unreleased alternate
mix/"bongo version"

"Stranger in a Strange Land"
David Crosby
Rec. date: September 18, 1965
Previously unreleased instrumental
backing track/take 10

Other tracks from album sessions:
"Turn! Turn! Turn!" (long version):
Rec. date: September 10, 1965
LP version appears with longer
fadeout on The Byrds Boxed Set

"She Don't Care About Time"
(alternate version):
Rec. date: June 28, 1965
Alternate version appears on
The Byrds Boxed Set

"The World Turns All Around Her"
(bongo version):
Rec. date: August 23, 1965
Different mix of bongo version
appears on The Byrds Boxed Set
Date given as September 10, in booklet
but other than bongo track, this version
is the same as the LP version

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue":
Rec. date: August, 1965
Produced by Jim Dickson and
engineered by Tom May.
Dickson version appears on Never
and The Byrds Boxed Set

Unreleased tracks from album sessions:
"The Flower Drum Song"
"I Don't Ever Want To Spoil the Party"
"Circle of Minds"

[Back to top.]

Byrds Albums | Turn! Turn! Turn!

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