The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #15, “My Back Pages”

“My Back Pages” (3:08)
Written by Bob Dylan
Produced by Gary Usher
From “Younger Than Yesterday,” Columbia Records, February 6, 1967, also released as a 45 single, March 13, 1967

You’ve patiently stuck with me as we reviewed the first 10 songs in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown. Only 2 of those songs were released as singles and none received any significant airplay. This week we present #15 in our countdown, “My Back Pages,” a Top 40 hit that many of you baby boomers may have actually heard on AM radio way back in 1967.

The album, “Younger Than Yesterday,” saw the Byrds entering their peak creative phase with pioneering and eclectic forays into jazz-rock, raga-rock, psychedelia, and country-rock. But “My Back Pages” is a throwback to the band’s earlier folk-rock roots with an anti-protest-song twist. With this song, Bob Dylan basically disavowed all of his previous protest material.

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
Sisters fled by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

The Byrd’s lead guitarist and unofficial leader, Roger McGuinn, later stated that the song was suggested by the band’s ex-manager, Jim Dickson, when McGuinn’s and Dickson’s cars were coincidentally stopped side-by-side at an L.A. intersection. An increasingly radicalized David Crosby strongly resisted recording “My Back Pages” because he felt it was a step backwards both musically and politically.

“My Back Pages” was a very good song on an exceptional album. McGuinn’s simple-but-catchy guitar solo stayed in my head for quite a long time. As a single, “My Back Pages” reached a respectable #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the last Byrds’ single to crack the Billboard Top 40. Looking ahead, we’ll be revisiting the outstanding “Younger Than Yesterday” an unparalleled four more times (!) in our countdown to #1.

Trivia: Guest artist, Van Dyke Parks, plays organ on this tune, as he also will on song #6 in our countdown. An obscure internet article notes that the Byrds’ cover of “My Back Pages” actually reached the #3 slot on Rochester, NY’s AM radio Top 40 local chart.

17 thoughts on “The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #15, “My Back Pages”

  1. What a wonderful sound this group had. This song sounds a bit like a group that came later called “America.” I always liked their sound as well.

    I grew up in a home with a church choir director mother who had an incredible voice. In her lifetime she was asked to sing at many weddings and funerals. The church we grew up in had choirs for all ages. I loved singing from an early age and though I didn’t have quite the talent my mom had I have sung at a few weddings.

    So, most of my exposure to music in my early years was spiritual music. In 1969, at the age of 11, my mom had her choir do a cantata entitled “Love Transcending.” The younger choirs got their turns before the senior choir. I sang a duet with a girl named Betsy Corpe. We did the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I still have it on tape and have converted it to mp3.
    Then the senior choir did the cantata and at the end all of the choirs came together to sing “Let There be Peace on Earth.” I remember, as a kid, loving that ending to the service.
    I loved songs like “Beautiful Savior” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

    A teenager living in Southern California during the height of the “Jesus Movement,” I was exposed to all sorts of wonderful talent that came out of that period. Most of the groups never made any money as companies that featured “Contemporary Christian Music” came near the end of what I would call the “glory days.” Before Amy Grant and Keith Green became well known, groups like Mustard Seed Faith, Love Song, The Archers, along with Nancy Honeytree and Randy Stonehill, and so many others were traveling different areas of the country and sharing their faith. The West coast was one of the main touring areas for some of those early groups. I would travel an hour or so each weekend to hear a gospel message along with one of the many bands that were allowed to share their faith at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. I remember Darrell Mansfield first giving a testimony of how God had saved him.

    I was so into what was going on in the early contemporary Christian music that I didn’t have time to listen to popular music at the time. Of course, I heard groups like the Beach Boys and really liked their sound.

    I remember my wife and I taking a group of teenagers to see Amy Grant near San Francisco when I was teaching there in the early 1980s’. They all loved it but I had to put cotton in my ears because it was SO LOUD. And then there was the time I actually walked out of a Randy Stonehill concert in the mid-80s’ after he had formed a band whose name is long forgotten. It was so loud I couldn’t make it to the end but the tickets from my wife to the event were a sweet gift. I saw Randy years before that on a stage alone with a guitar and really enjoyed it.

    As the music became more commercialized I drifted away from it. I like some of it but it is hard to match up with Darrell Mansfield singing “Jerusalem.” I am back to listening to some of those cantatas my mom directed. And I love the old worn out hymnals at the church I was attending until the covid hit. Still, I will get out some of the old stuff occasionally and reminisce. I very much understand this walk down memory lane. As we get closer to #1, I’m sure I will recognize some of the songs.

    Thanks for taking us down memory lane and for putting up with my trip back to the early days as I knew them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the favorable comments, Chris, and for sharing your memories! Yes, I remember America very well and I liked several of their songs.

      Speaking of the Jesus Movement, I think I mentioned to you before that guitarist Al Perkins was a member of several rock groups I liked – The Flying Burrito Brothers, Manassas, and Souther, Hillman, and Furay. Al accepted Christ during the Jesus Movement and then witnessed to all of his bandmates, including Richie Furay. Furay (Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Souther, Hillman, Furay) accepted Christ, quit music, and became a pastor.
      The Byrds’ biggest hits are coming up!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I remember you mentioning Richie Furay and I remember the news that he was a Christian way back when.
        Looking forward to the remainder of the hits. I’m sure I will recognize some of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow anti-war songs were the thing it seems in the 60s. Really love that line: “Ah, but I was so much older thenI’m younger than that now” Made me think of how when I’m younger there’s things I think I knew but now not as certain; though of course there’s somethings that are more certain. But the folly of youth…also that’s super nerdy you knew this was on ROC; local charts back in the day…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, brother! Yup, I laugh about some of the things I was adamant about in my late-teens and early-twenties. I thought I was so smart.

      It’s pretty amazing that Dylan basically disavowed his protest-song past when he wrote “My Back Pages” in 1964. The anti-war counter-culture was still growing, but he turned away from it. Dylan was revered as a “prophet” by the progressive Left. It’s amazing they didn’t turn against him when he disassociated himself from protest politics.
      Ha! I enjoyed finding that obscure article which pointed out “My Back Pages” was very popular in ROC.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dylan was ahead of his time in so many ways with doing things first such as rebel spirit songs and moving away from that. I wonder too if some artist took cues from Dylan’s own career of turning to Jesus as a second attempt at career renewal…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s too bad that Dylan seems to have been a rocky ground “convert.” I think there was a lot of that in the “signs and wonders” Jesus movement.”

        I’ve read that John Lennon of the Beatles dabbled in “born-againism” in the early 70s, frequently watching Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson on TV, but eventually turned away like Dylan.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hard to say. I’m sure not everyone has a pure motive. Most of these rock stars-turned-Christian keep their “conversion” low-profile rather than all of the sudden making CCM albums. We already discussed how Vince “Alice Cooper” Furnier still trots out his Satanic character on stage, even though he alleges to be born-again. These celebrity conversions are iffy.

        Liked by 1 person

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