Oh, boy! Here we go! We’ve reviewed songs #25 through #11 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, and they were all excellent tunes, but now we’re finally getting to the Top Ten “cream of the crop” of the Byrds’ recordings. Four of the upcoming Top Ten were Billboard Top 40 commercial successes, plus a near-miss, while the other five were exceptional songs in their own right.
“Chestnut Mare” (5:08)
Written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Untitled,” Columbia Records, September 14, 1970, also released as a single, October 23, 1970
The Byrds’ leader and guitarist, Roger McGuinn, and Broadway impresario, Jacques Levy, met in 1967 and teamed up to write 26 songs intended for a musical that never materialized. Four of those songs were recorded for the Byrds’ ninth album, “Untitled,” including song #10 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Chestnut Mare.”
“Chestnut Mare” tells the whimsical story of the aforementioned musical’s protagonist, Gene Tryp, who sought to capture and tame a wild horse. It was distinct among Byrds songs in its narrative approach, with much of the vocals being spoken rather than sung. “Chestnut Mare” was clearly the best song on “Untitled.” Columbia rightly released the tune as a single a month after the album’s debut, but it inexplicably stalled at #121 on the Billboard singles chart (in contrast, the song reached #19 in the U.K.). Nevertheless, the song was a favorite of concert audiences and received extensive airplay on Top 40-indifferent FM radio. In addition to its entertaining, lyrical story, “Chestnut Mare” features some wonderful guitar interplay between McGuinn on his twelve-string Rickenbacker and Clarence White on both his Telecaster and Martin D-28 acoustic guitar.
The five albums by the 1969-1971 McGuinn-White Byrds were of uneven quality, but “Chestnut Mare” compares with the very best songs from the original, 1965-1968, McGuinn-Clark-Crosby-Hillman line-up.
It’s my pleasure to present song #10 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Chestnut Mare.”