The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #25, “Gunga Din”

As promised, today we begin our weekly series counting down the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs (in my humble opinion).

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“Gunga Din” (3:03)
Written by Gene Parsons
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Ballad of Easy Rider,” Columbia, November 10, 1969

After the poor showing of their previous album, “Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde” (March 1969), the Byrds got a boost by having three songs included on the soundtrack of the popular counter-culture film, “Easy Rider.” Roger McGuinn, guitar, and his three hired hands – Clarence White, guitar, John York, bass, and Gene Parsons, drums – shamelessly exploited their connection to the movie by naming their next album, “Ballad of Easy Rider.” The band’s original producer, Terry Melcher, was enlisted in hopes of repeating some of that “Mr. Tambourine Man”/”Turn! Turn! Turn!” success. Columbia’s advertising execs hailed the album as the band’s rebirth, but it was largely a collection of cover tunes and unremarkable musicstry.

Most fans would follow the undiscerning crowd and select “Ballad of Easy Rider” or “Jesus is Just Alright,” the two singles, as the album’s best songs, but I’m partial to the deep cut, “Gunga Din,” written by Parsons and arguably the finest composition of his career. The song has a nice melody paced by multi-instrumentalist Parsons’ rollicking acoustic guitar fingerpicking, York’s lilting bass-line, and a catchy chorus. Parsons isn’t the greatest vocalist in the world (notice the enhanced double-track), but his plaintive singing style fits this tune perfectly. The lyrics have Parsons recalling the band’s disappointing tour stop in rainy New York City while traveling back to sunny L.A. aboard a DC-8. Parsons refers to two incidents: 1) a concert in Central Park in which another act, Chuck Berry, “Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll,” failed to show, which infuriated the crowd, and 2) bassist, John York’s foiled attempt to have breakfast with his mother at the Gramercy Park Hotel where the Byrds regularly stayed when in town. The dining room maître d’ refused York a table because of his scandalous black leather jacket attire. After the disappointing tour stop, the listener can’t wait to get back, with Parsons, to sunny L.A.

Amateur Byrds fans continue to perpetuate the mistaken notion over the internet that “Gunga Din” was Parsons’ nickname for York, however, Parsons has stated that he “threw in the nonsensical ‘Gunga Din’ part to make up the rhyme.”* Legendary keyboardist, Glen D. Hardin, plays organ on the cut although his contribution is somewhat buried in the mix.

Enjoy!

*Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Volume 1, p. 528.

26 thoughts on “The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #25, “Gunga Din”

    1. Thanks a lot, David! I don’t anticipate a lot of comments for this series so I appreciate the support and encouragement! I already have #24 and #23 in the bag and it’s been fun. I’m purposely trying to limit these posts to 300 words because I know we Byrds nerds can get long-winded!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, I think Parsons was having some fun by throwing in “Gunga Din” to contrast with the song’s overall theme of disappointment.

      So, when you used to wear your leather jacket to the Gramercy Park Hotel dining room did they also throw you out or did you have an “in” with the maître d’?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, I see what you did there!

        Back to the Gunga Din thing … I mean, finding a rhyme for the word “in” … there were tons of other words he could have used. Why in the world Gunga Din. Oh well, that’s the fun of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Glad you caught my bad humor!

        I used to lay on my bed with the record player blasting in the background and reading the song lyrics off the back of the album covers like they were such profound wisdom when the songwriters didn’t know any more than I did or were often just goofing around

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Going to read this shortly Tom! With regards to your comment on my blog: For the agenda of today I’l be going over a book with a couple with my wife later this afternoon on the topic of the Son of God; its a biblical theology book so I”m excited for that discussion.
    Afterwards I plan to read a lot more today and get working on couple’s meeting Bible study!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Listened to the song twice. It does have a nice melody. Love the theme of flying on a plane though DC8 sounds like it being so small it be shaky for a flight over the whole US! I admit, I do love flying..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yup, good melody. I had the same image of the DC-8 being a WWII prop plane. I googled it and the DC-3, 4, and 5 were props used as transports in WWII. The DC-8 was a jetliner that Wiki says was manufactured from 1958 until 1972 and seated up to 250.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Tom. Very enjoyable to read. Nice song. Easy listening.
    Looking forward to the next one.
    ( I didn’t realise that Mr Tambourine man” was a Byrd’s song. )
    Thank you Tom. “Keep ‘em coming “ 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Crissy!
      The Byrds appealed to me exactly because their sound tended more towards folsky/easy listening than towards more hardcore rock. I looked over my list and I think I could safely classify 18 of the 25 songs as easy listening.

      Liked by 1 person

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