The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #17, “Natural Harmony”

“Natural Harmony” (2:11)
Written by Chris Hillman
Produced by Gary Usher
From “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” Columbia, January 15th, 1968

Most people know the Byrds for their initial, jingly-jangly, folk-rock phase marked by the iconic 1965 singles, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” But the band went on to pioneer a variety of novel musical styles including jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelic-rock, and county-rock. The band reached its creative peak with the albums, “Younger Than Yesterday” (1967) and “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” (1968). The excellence of “Notorious” is quite remarkable given that David Crosby and Michael Clarke were absent from half of the recording sessions due to having been fired and having quit the band respectively.

“Natural Harmony,” song #17 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, is a deep cut on the “Notorious” LP. Bassist, Chris Hillman, penned this ode to joie de vivre* with its evocative chorus,

Dancing through the streets side by side, head thrown back, arms open wide.

We can definitely hear Hillman’s bandmate, David Crosby’s influence in this song, with it’s laid-back, jazzy, ethereal feel. Producer Gary Usher employed several studio effects that were popular at that time to create perhaps the Byrds’ most psychedelic-sounding song. Guest keyboardist, Paul Beaver, contributes some other-worldly effects with the newly-introduced Moog Synthesizer. “Natural Harmony” was one of the earliest rock tunes to feature the Moog. Jim Gordon fills in expertly for Clarke on the drum kit.

On perhaps the Byrds’ finest album, this was one of my favorite tunes. The studio effects no doubt date this song, but it’s an excellent specimen from the psychedilia era. We’ll be revisiting “Notorious” two more times as we continue to count down the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs.

*Joie de vivre (French: “exuberant enjoyment of life”) is a fleeting mirage outside of salvation in Jesus Christ.

14 thoughts on “The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #17, “Natural Harmony”

    1. Thanks, David! It’s definitely a “period piece.”

      RE: Why Crosby was fired

      At this point Crosby was constantly at odds with McGuinn and Hillman. He refused to participate in the recording of “Goin’ Back,” a very poppish song CBS mandated the Byrds record in a desperate attempt at a Top 40 hit, while McGuinn and Hillman deemed Crosby’s songs were too radical and uncommercial for AM radio. That’s ironic because the Byrds’ next album without Crosby, “Sweetheart of the Radio, was as uncommercial as can be imagined. Crosby readily admits he was an insufferable egomaniac at that time.

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      1. Well, it looks like Crosby ended up with a pretty decent band (tongue in cheek).

        In 1984, while living in New Mexico (and still married), Crosby, Stills, and Nash came to Las Cruces for a concert in September. What I remember most about it was Crosby asking the crowd to please stay quiet so the band could focus on their “intricate” songs. After each song, he would thank us “for the quiet.”

        Being New Mexico, the crowd complied, but I couldn’t help wonder how a New York City crowd would have abided.

        Two months later, Neil Young came to town … and was terrible. Did songs off his new album, which were bad, and forsaking his classics. No “Heart of Gold” or “Alabama”!

        CSN were way better!

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      2. Crosby was a big talent just coming into his own in 1967 and McGuinn said firing him was one of the hardest things he’s ever done, but everyone was miserable and there was no other option. At the firing, McGuinn and Hillman told Crosby they’d “do better without him,” and Crosby has delighted in telling audiences that tale the last 55 years.

        I really liked most of Crosby’s tunes, Byrds and CSNY. Of the next 16 songs in the countdown, 4 are Crosby compositions.

        RE: Neil Young
        I had Young’s first six albums and enjoyed them, but “Tonight’s the Night” (1975) was self-indulgent listening torture and that was it for me. Yup, I read of several instances as you describe of Young playing just new (and sometimes weird) material at concerts, an obvious case of an artist getting way too big for his britches.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. What seems worldly back in the day seems to be the norm today. Enjoyed the song and played it twice. Though the singing was a bit low to make out what he says unless I really really pay attention

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yup, many of the rock songs of that particular time espoused the dawning of a new era of love, freedom, peace, no fear, etc., and yet the band members couldn’t even get along.

      Yeah, the lyrics are really hard to decipher, especially with all of the effects/distortions.

      Liked by 1 person

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