Younger Than Yesterday: An underappreciated work that would be recognized decades later

Let’s take a break from theological discussions to return to our monthly review of albums by the Byrds and the band’s fourth release, the extraordinary…

Younger Than Yesterday
The Byrds
Produced by Gary Usher, Columbia Records, Released February 6, 1967, Length 29:11

With their first two albums, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (June, 1965) and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (December, 1965), the Byrds introduced the world to a hybrid of Bob Dylan folk and Lennon & McCartney pop rock. Their following album, “Fifth Dimension” (1966), saw the Byrds continue with folk-rock, but also experiment with new musical styles including jazz-rock, Indian raga-rock, country-rock, and psychedelia. “Fifth Dimension” was a bit of a discordant mess, but proved to be a necessary step in the Byrds’ musical progression

On November 28, 1966, Jim McGuinn (lead guitar), David Crosby (rhythm guitar), Chris Hillman (bass), and Michael Clarke (drums) entered Columbia’s Hollywood studios to begin work on their fourth album, “Younger Than Yesterday.” Gary Usher was brought in as producer after working on ex-Byrd, Gene Clark’s solo debut, “Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers.” Recording sessions for the new album concluded on December 8.

“Younger Than Yesterday” explored many of the same musical styles as “Fifth Dimension,” but the songwriting and performances are much more accomplished. The album is distinguished by Crosby’s emergence as the dominant artistic force in the band. Also, Chris Hillman contributes songs for the first time, including two country-influenced numbers that presage country-rock. McGuinn, such a force on the first three albums, takes a noticeable back seat here to Crosby and Hillman. Producer Usher used several recording techniques associated with psychedelic-rock including phasing and reverse tape effects.

“Younger Than Yesterday” was released on February 6, 1967 and peaked at #24 on the LP chart. The single, “So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star”/”Everybody’s Been Burned” was released on January 9, 1967 and peaked at #29. “My Back Pages”/”Renaissance Fair” was released March 13 and peaked at #30. “Have You Seen Her Face”/”Don’t Make Waves” was released May 22 and peaked at #74.

Critical and popular reception of “Younger Than Yesterday” at the time of its release was only lukewarm. Many rock listeners still equated the Byrds with the passé folk-rock sound of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn.” But “Younger Than Yesterday” has gained increasing recognition over the years as one of the very best rock albums of the 1960s. Rolling Stone selected it as #124 on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list published in 2003. In 2007, USA Today included “Younger Than Yesterday” as one of the 20 albums that defined 1967’s “Summer of Love.”

Side One:

  • So You Want To Be A Rock `N’ Roll Star (Hillman/McGuinn) – Hillman’s lively rip on the Monkees and other manufactured bands is fabulous. Hugh Masekela’s virtuoso trumpet accompaniment is the first brass used on a Byrds song (see video below). The sounds of screaming female teeny-bopper fans were recorded at an actual Byrds concert in England in 1965.
  • Have You Seen Her Face (Hillman) – Hillman does a nice Beatles imitation. Great chorus.
  • C.T.A. – 102 (McGuinn/Hippard) – McGuinn explores the space aliens theme again. I like this novelty song, full of amusing special effects, much more than “Mr. Spaceman.”
  • Renaissance Fair (Crosby/McGuinn) – Crosby’s beautifully layered ode to a hippy happening. Exquisite. Listen here.
  • Time Between (Hillman) – Hillman steers the Byrds down a country road. Clarence White provides some extremely tasty licks. Nice little tune that Hillman would keep in his repertoire for the next 50 years. Listen here.
  • Everybody’s Been Burned (Crosby) – McGuinn criticized this tune as Crosby’s lounge song, but it’s a stunner. Crosby’s velvet voice combined with Hillman’s rambling bass and McGuinn’s solo make this one of the very best Byrds songs. Written by Crosby prior to the formation of the Byrds. Listen here.

Side Two:

  • Thoughts and Words (Hillman) – A Beatles-like tune on acid with lots of backward guitar.
  • Mind Gardens (Crosby) – Crosby goes way over the top with this melody-less, self-indulgent number. But I still like it. Lots of backward guitar. Groovy, man.
  • My Back Pages (Dylan) – Crosby fought ferociously to keep this song off the album, insisting its anti-protest lyrics were a regression. The song had the distinction of being the Byrds’ last Top-40 single. Great McGuinn Rickenbacker solo that stuck in my head for years.
  • The Girl With No Name (Hillman) – Another of Hillman’s country excursions. That’s Clarence White once again adding some wonderful guitar licks. Girl Freiberg was an actual person.
  • Why (McGuinn/Crosby) – It’s hard to understand why Crosby insisted “Why” be included on the album. A gutsier version had already been released long before as the B-side of “Eight Miles High.”

The Sony Legacy CD reissue includes seven tracks not released on the original album:

  • It Happens Each Day (Crosby) – Crosby should have fought for the inclusion of this number instead of “Why.” Has a very pronounced Jefferson Airplane feel to it, an indication of who Crosby was hanging out with at the time.
  • Don’t Make Waves (McGuinn/Hillman) – Written for the soundtrack of the Tony Curtis/Claudia Cardinale movie by the same title. Embarrassing.
  • My Back Pages (Dylan) – Alternate version.
  • Mind Gardens (Crosby) – Alternate version. Simpler, gentler take.
  • Lady Friend (Crosby) – Recorded over several sessions in the spring of 1967. Crosby kicked the other Byrds out of the studio and recorded the multiple vocal tracks all by himself. Released as a single on July 13 with “Old John Robertson.” Peaked at #82.
  • Old John Robertson (McGuinn/Hillman) – A country song with strings in the bridge. A different version would appear on “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.” Clarence White adds some tasty country licks.
  • Mind Gardens (Crosby) – Some of the guitar parts as they were originally recorded prior to the backward tracking.

 

Next month: As the band disintegrates, they continue their creative crest.

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