🎼 History of the Byrds

Our ” The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs” countdown series ran from September 29, 2021 until March 23rd of this year and over that six-month span we had a lot of fun delving into the music of the Byrds and some of the history of the band (see the index here). Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a YouTube video compilation that ties in nicely with our previous Byrds series.

Musicologist, Matt Williamson, maintains a YouTube channel, “Pop Goes the 60s,” in which he examines the history of 1960s rock ‘n’ roll. Williamson usually devotes one or possibly two videos to the history of a particular 60s band, but he recently released four videos that document the history of the very influential Byrds, from the band’s founding in 1965 to its demise in 1973.

I enjoyed this series quite a bit. Each video is 26-27 minutes long. Williamson did his homework and presents a lot of information, and while he doesn’t get all of the facts 100% correct, I give him an A for effort. Enjoy!

History of the Byrds – Part One
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx-B9VWBzXg

History of the Byrds – Part Two
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmmrIOWOZWc

History of the Byrds – Part Three
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmBSRwbaeIc

History of the Byrds – Part Four
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN5U_M4v0J4

The Flying Burrito Brothers’ excellent final studio album

I’ve already reviewed two of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ albums and continue the four-part project with this review of…

The Flying Burrito Bros
The Flying Burrito Brothers
Produced by Jim Dickson, A&M Records, Released June 1971, Length 36:15

5 Stars

Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman left the legendary Byrds in 1968 to form the pioneering country-rock band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The FBBs’ first album, “The Gilded Palace of Sin” (1969), is still beloved as one of the seminal, pioneering country-rock records (see my review here). As Parsons stumbled deeper and deeper into drug and alcohol addiction, the quality of the band’s music suffered. The FBBs’ second LP, “Burrito Deluxe” (1970), had its moments, but couldn’t compare with the band’s debut.

Hillman reluctantly fired the increasingly unreliable Parsons, replacing him with talented 21-year-old singer and songwriter, Rick Roberts (rhythm guitar). Along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel guitar, Bernie Leadon (future Eagle) on lead guitar, and Michael Clarke on drums, Hillman (bass) and the FBBs recorded their third album, the eponymous “The Flying Burrito Bros,” affectionately dubbed “the blue album” by FBBs fans.

This album is one of my all-time favorites, but rock ‘n’ roll audiences still weren’t hip to country rock. The Eagles would change that with their debut album the following year in 1972.

Let’s take a look at the excellent “The Flying Burrito Bros” album, track by track:

  • “White Line Fever” (Merle Haggard) – 3:16 – Hillman sings Haggard’s 1969 hit about the truckin’ life. Lots of tasty licks from Sneaky Pete.
  • “Colorado” (Rick Roberts) – 4:52 – I heard Roberts sing this great tune in concert in 1974 when he was backing a solo Stephen Stills. Video below.
  • “Hand to Mouth” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:44 – A nice Roberts-Hillman collaboration with rollicking piano from guest Earl P. Ball. Folk legend, Bob Gibson, lends some twelve-string acoustic guitar.
  • “Tried So Hard” (Gene Clark) – 3:08 – Hillman and Co. do an excellent cover of this 1967 Gene Clark tune.
  • “Just Can’t Be” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 4:58 – Another nice and easy Roberts-Hillman composition. Leadon provides some tasty licks on lead guitar.
  • “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) – 3:40 – Hillman continues the Byrds’ legacy of paying tribute to Dylan with this cover. Guest guitarist Mike Deasy contributes the fuzz. Hillman still wasn’t confident in his lead vocals at this point and producer Jim Dickson took extraordinary measures to coax a pleasing performance from the band leader.
  • “Four Days of Rain” (Rick Roberts) – 3:39 – Roberts’ very enjoyable brand of country-rock lite portends his future stint with Firefall. Gotta love Sneaky Pete’s tasteful pedal steel fills here.
  • “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 2:23 – The band pulls out all the stops on this rockin’ tune.
  • “All Alone” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:33 – A slow, sad number with a very catchy chorus.
  • “Why Are You Crying” (Rick Roberts) – 3:02 – An excellent song by Roberts. I love Leadon’s banjo. Listen here.

Some critics of this album complain that the songs are slow and on the understated side, but I appreciate the easy-going feel of this excellent LP. There’s simply not one dog on the entire disc. Rick Roberts was not a country music player when Hillman hired him, so the FBBs had to accommodate Roberts’ more poppish style just as he had to bend to the FBBs’ country-rock style. The result was a more commercial album than the band’s two previous LPs. The problem was few people bought it. I can understand why Hillman disbanded the FBBs in frustration after the anemic sales for the blue album. Said Hillman, “I hold this one high, way over ‘Burrito Deluxe.’ But it didn’t sell. We were done then. There was nothing we could do” (“Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers,” p. 249). The Flying Burritos Brothers and this LP, “The Flying Burrito Bros,” were ahead of their time. Make no mistake, Glenn Frey and Don Henley were watching and listening intently and taking notes. They subsequently took the country-rock baton from the FBBs and ran with it.

One more album was released under the FBBs banner to fulfill the band’s contractual obligations with A&M, the excellent live LP, “Last of the Red Hot Burritos” (see my review here). Chris Hillman would continue his music career for another 46 years, most notably as leader of the Desert Rose Band from 1987 to 1993. Rick Roberts and Michael Clarke went on to form Firefall with Jock Bartley. Roberts wrote and sang lead vocals on Firefall’s three big hits, “You Are The Woman,” “Just Remember I Love You,” and “Strange Way.” Bernie Leadon co-founded the Eagle’s with Frey and Henley as the band’s lead guitarist. He was replaced by Joe Walsh in 1975. Sneaky Pete Kleinow would participate in the various ersatz-FBBs reincarnations that followed.

Someday soon, I’ll review the FBBs’ semi-disappointing second album.

Above from left to right: Bernie Leadon, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke.

The Byrds: The Ultimate Music Guide

Yup, last week we certainly did finish up our six-month-long Wednesdays series on the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs, and I actually didn’t have a post scheduled for today, until this gem showed up at our local Barnes and Noble.

The Byrds: The Ultimate Music Guide
John Robinson, Editor
NME Networks, February 2022, 146 pp.

5 Stars

I periodically scan the internet for news of the Byrds and in early-February I saw that Uncut/NME Networks out of the U.K. had published an “Ultimate Music Guide” special edition magazine devoted to the Byrds. I asked the person who coordinates the periodical section at our local Barnes and Noble when they would be getting the magazine. Disappointingly, she said had no clue and no way to find out. I visited the store every week for two months and was delighted to finally find the guide on display when I visited on my way home from work this past Sunday.

The magazine includes two-page reviews of each the Byrds’ twelve albums interspersed with articles from the NME archives as well as new material. The articles are listed below, using my own brief descriptions:

  • The fledgling Byrds tour England – August 2-19, 1965 – with disappointing results
  • The daring experimentation of “Eight Miles High”
  • Gene Clark quits the Byrds
  • Gene Clark solo discography
  • David Crosby is fired from the Byrds
  • David Crosby solo discography
  • Gram Parsons, the early years
  • The Byrds go to Nashville and pioneer country-rock
  • Thoughts on the McGuinn-White Byrds
  • More thoughts on the McGuinn-White Byrds
  • Final thoughts on the McGuinn-White Byrds
  • Roger McGuinn solo discography
  • Thoughts on Gram Parsons
  • More thoughts on Gram Parsons
  • Gram Parsons non-Byrds discography
  • Chris Hillman selected discography
  • The uncertain futures of Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman prior to the formation of McGuinn, Clark, and Hillman
  • Clarence White selected discography
  • Spotlight on Clarence White
  • Byrds compilations and live albums
  • The Byrds’ 20 Greatest Tracks*
  • Miscellany, including very brief hat-tips to mynah birds, er, I mean minor Byrds, Michael Clarke, Kevin Kelley, Skip Battin, Gene Parsons, and John York

NME did a great job on this well-designed, special-edition magazine devoted to the Byrds. There are 100 photographs and many additional colorful graphics (e.g., album covers, concert bills, etc.). This isn’t a chronological history of the band. For that, fans should check out “Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 1” (2011) by Johnny Rogan. This guide is rather a collection of “snapshot” vignettes of the Byrds as the band progressed and ultimately dissolved. The only drawback is the flowery/hipster prose of the U.K. music press, especially articles written in the 1960s.


*I thought it might be interesting for readers to compare Uncut/NME’s somewhat misguided selection of the Byrds’ top 20 tunes with my ranking (see here). Songs that made my list are in bold type with my ranking # in parentheses. Any Byrds’ songs ranking that has the novelty tune, “Mr. Spaceman,” at #9 and the disastrous “Lady Friend” at #12 can’t be taken seriously. The maudlin and hook-less “Hickory Wind” is on their list at #6 because of the alt-country fawning over mythological hero, Gram Parsons.

20. Ballad of Easy Rider
19. If You’re Gone (16)
18. Wild Mountain Thyme
17. Why
16. Dolphin’s Smile
15. Everybody’s Been Burned (9)
14. Triad
13. Tribal Gathering (8)
12. Lady Friend
11. Wasn’t Born to Follow
10. My Back Pages (15)
9. Mr. Spaceman
8. Draft Morning
7. I’ll Feel A Whole lot Better (12)
6. Hickory Wind
5. 5D (Fifth Dimension) (7)
4. So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star (2)
3. Turn! Turn! Turn! (3)
2. Mr. Tambourine Man (4)
1. Eight Miles High (1)

Books for Byrds Nyrds

Last week, we finished counting down the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs, but we’re not completely done with this series. A couple of more Byrds-related posts came to mind, including this listing of books about the Byrds below. Most people play a music album (via streaming, CD, or vinyl) and just listen and enjoy. But some people, such as Byrds nyrds like myself, have to turn it into rocket science. Below are some print resources for serious Byrds aficionados.

Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 1
By Johnny Rogan
Rogan House, 2011, 1216 pp.

5 Stars

Nope, that’s not a typo folks. This formidable tome actually contains 1216 pages. British music writer extraordinaire, Johnny Rogan, covers the entire history of the Byrds, from the origins of the band in 1964 to its dissolution in 1973, and the subsequent exploits of the eleven former members until 2011. The book is full of information and data culled from personal interviews with the primaries and the secondaries. Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 1 is an essential for every serious Byrds fan.

Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 2
By Johnny Rogan
Rogan House, 2017, 1248 pp.

4 Stars

Rogan got the notion of following up his excellent general history of the Byrds (Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 1) with this same-sized complementary tome in which he scrupulously examines the lives of all of the deceased former band members: Clarence White (d. 1973), Gram Parsons (1973), Gene Clark (1991), Michael Clarke (1993), Kevin Kelley (2002), and Skip Battin (2003). This book is strictly for the extremely serious Byrds nyrd. I’m assuming that Rogan also had in mind a third volume, detailing the lives of the surviving members – Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Parsons, and John York – but ran out of time. Rogan died in 2021 at the age of 67.

So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star: The Byrds Day-by-Day, 1965-1973
By Christopher Hjort
Jawbone Press, 2008, 336 pp.

5 Stars

If you thought the first two offerings might be tedious reading, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. In dry-as-a-bone encyclopedic fashion, British author, Chris Hjort examines every Byrds recording session and concert from 1965 to 1973 (along with preliminary information from 1960-1964). This is definitely a “must have” for serious Byrds fans, but a casual fan wouldn’t make it past the first chapter. Besides being a rock historian, Hjort is a graphic designer and this is a handsomely constructed volume with plenty of graphics. It’s puzzling that Hjort put such great care into designing this book, but opted for an annoyingly small font size.

Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds’ Gene Clark
By John Einarson
Backbeat, 2005, 352 pp.

5 Stars

This book tells the fascinatingly sad story of Gene Clark, one of the founding members of the Byrds and the band’s most prolific early-songwriter. Clark quit the group in early-1966, but never achieved the solo success people expected. Most of his career (and personal) problems stemmed from mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse.

Time Between: My Life as a Byrd, Burrito Brother, and Beyond
By Chris Hillman
BMG, 2021, 238 pp.

4 Stars

I enjoyed bassist Chris Hillman’s recent autobiography, but he’s so guarded about what he’s willing to divulge that he brings very little new information about the Byrds to the table. Somewhat vapid. A missed opportunity. Read Rogan’s “Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 1” instead.

In the Wings: My Life with Roger McGuinn and The Byrds
By Ianthe McGuinn
New Haven Publishing, 2017, 236 pp.

3 Stars

Ianthe and Roger McGuinn met in 1964, before the Byrds achieved success with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” They were married from 1966 until their divorce in 1971. Ianthe seeks to capitalize on that relationship with this tell-all book. There’s some interesting insights into McGuinn and the band not found elsewhere, but the author also resorts to a few salacious tales. We read that McGuinn was so wrapped up in the hedonistic rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that he predictably had little energy left for being a husband or a father. Following their 1971 divorce, alimony and child-support weren’t forthcoming as McGuinn’s career steadily declined following the breakup of the Byrds. Ianthe is clearly still bitter after all of these years. The most interesting passage in the book describes how Ianthe confronted Roger about why he voluntarily subordinated his signature 12-string Rickenbacker to Clarence White and his B-bender Telecaster after the latter was hired into the band in 1968.

The Byrds: The Ultimate Music Guide
John Robinson, Editor
NME Networks, February 2022, 146 pp.

5 Stars

A well-designed special-edition magazine commemorating the Byrds via NME archived articles and new material. Great graphics and 100 photos.

The Byrds
By Bud Scoppa
Scholastic Book Services, 1971, 175 pp.

2 Stars

This book was written in 1971, but is still available via Kindle. It was written for middle school and high school rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts, so the information is very basic. Not recommended. Strictly for Byrds completists.


David Crosby provided only scant information about his tenure in the Byrds in his 1988 pseudo-autobiography, “Long Time Gone.” He was still coming to terms with being fired by McGuinn and Hillman 20-years after the fact. Most of the material in this book was culled word-for-word from interviews with Crosby’s former and then-current associates rather than being written by himself.


Byrds fans would love to see an autobiography from Roger McGuinn. One was once in the works, alternately titled “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” and “A Byrd’s Eye View,” but McGuinn regrettably gave up on it.


Watch for a coffee table photo book, “The Byrds: 1964-1967,” scheduled to be released by BMG Publishing in October.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #1, “Eight Miles High”

The Byrds recorded many outstanding tunes in their nine-year history (1965-1973) as we’ve witnessed each week in our countdown of the Byrd’s Top 25 Songs, but only one song sits atop them all at #1, and that song is…

[drumroll]

“Eight Miles High” (3:34)
Written by Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, and David Crosby
Produced by Allen Stanton
From “Fifth Dimension,” Columbia Records, July 18, 1966. Previously released as a single on March 14, 1966.

Following the great success of their debut #1 single, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and the same-titled follow-up LP, the Byrds embarked on a tour of England, August 2-19, 1965. Promoters fueled unreasonable expectations by touting the band as “the American Beatles.” Skeptical British audiences were taken aback by the Byrds’ standoffishly-cool stage persona and unpolished performances and they responded coldly in turn. The British music press reviews were downright scathing.

Back in the States several months later, the Byrds opened for the Rolling Stones on a few tour dates in November, 1965. Hanging out with Brian Jones in a Pittsburgh hotel room between gigs, Gene Clark recalled the Byrds’ disastrous trip to England and wrote the basic structure of “Eight Miles High.” The tune takes some veiled shots at the unappreciative Brits, although a listener would have to know the backstory to decipher the cryptic lyrics.

I mentioned in my review of song #11, “What’s Happening?!?!” (see here), that David Crosby was at that time inundating his fellow Byrds with the music of John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar as the band traveled cross-country as part of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars. Lead guitarist, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, took Clark’s very basic acoustic draft and added electric guitar riffs that uncannily mimicked Coltrane’s frenetic saxophone notes and Shankar’s sitar drones. McGuinn even “borrowed” the four-note signature bridge from “India” from Coltrane’s “Impressions” album. The result: an otherworldly gumbo of jazz-rock and raga-rock. What sounds like backward guitar (a popular studio technique later used by many bands) is actually McGuinn’s heavily-compressed Rickenbacker 12-string.

“Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, and from Chris Hillman’s ominous opening bassline (borrowed from Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”) to the ending, AM radio audiences were stunned. Even fellow rock musicians were flabbergasted. No one had ever heard a rock ‘n’ roll song like THAT before (the Beatles’ avante garde “Revolver” LP was still five months away). The song quickly climbed to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, but fell just as quickly after a radio industry watchdog accused the song of promoting drug use. It was subsequently banned by many AM stations. The Byrds denied the accusations, but the word “high” in the title and lyrics was problematic. The ban was a crippling blow to the Byrds’ status in the competitive recording industry. The band never again had a single that reached the Top 20.

“Eight Miles High” is credited as being the very first psychedelic song, but McGuinn insists to this day that the song was not a drug tune and that the “eight miles high” referred only to the band’s transatlantic journey to London aboard a jetliner. Clark had originally penned the lyrics as “six miles high,” the standard altitude of commercial transcontinental flying routes, but eventually changed it to “eight” because of its more phonetically-appealing sound.

It’s my pleasure to present song #1 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Eight Miles High.”


Wow! Time is fleeting. We began this Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown way back in September. Thanks for reading, listening, and for commenting over the last six months! I’ll be following-up the next couple of Wednesdays with some final Byrds-related posts.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #2, “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star”

Well, here we are, down to the final two songs in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown. Song #2 was a hastily-written, cynical retort to rock ‘n’ roll phoniness and has become a much-appreciated classic.

“So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (2:05)
Written by Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman
Produced by Gary Usher
From “Younger Than Yesterday,”* Columbia Records, February 6, 1967. Also released as a single, January 9, 1967

The Byrds had scored two #1 singles in 1965 with “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” but as the band shifted away from folk-rock to explore other musical forms, their popularity declined. “The Monkees,” a television comedy show about a fictional rock band, debuted on NBC in September 1966, and took the teenager audience demographic by storm. A best-selling single (“Last Train to Clarksville”) and album quickly followed even though the faux band was strictly the figment of some Hollywood producer’s imagination. The ersatz Monkees had done none of the grinding work (write, practice, play – repeat), but were being recognized and rewarded as if they were an actual band. The road-weary Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds noted the meteoric success of the “pre-fab four” Monkees and penned “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” in response, a cynical and sarcastic look at the calculated, business side of rock ‘n’ roll.**

Bandmates, David Crosby and Hillman, had previously been invited to sit in on a recording session featuring South African jazz artists, Letta Mbula and Hugh Masekela. With African jazz rhythms still swirling in his head, Hillman weaved them into the melody for “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.” McGuinn recalled a ditty he had once worked on with South African singer, Miriam Makeba, during his pre-Byrds days that he developed into the song’s bridge. Hillman later recalled that he and McGuinn amazingly finished writing the song in only 30-40 minutes (Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, p. 313).

This is a thoroughly delightful tune. The lively melody contrasts with the cynically biting lyrics. That’s previously-mentioned Masekela on trumpet, the first time brass was used on a Byrds recording. Percussionist, Danny “Big Black” Rey, is also credited as a guest artist and I assume he’s providing the distinctive scratching sound playing the güiro. The bobby-soxer screams were recorded at an actual Byrds concert during the band’s otherwise disappointing tour of England in August, 1965. The song inexplicably peaked at only #29 on the singles charts at the time, but has been covered by many, many appreciative artists and bands over the years.

It’s my pleasure to present song #2 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star.”

*I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that five of the tunes in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown are from the excellent “Younger Than Yesterday” album, the most from any of the band’s 12 LPs.

**The Byrds were not without their own “manufactured” aspects. Michael Clarke was chosen to be the drummer of the band based solely on his looks. He had no previous experience sitting behind a drum kit. Also, except for lead guitarist, Jim McGuinn, the Byrds were not allowed to play their instruments on the band’s first single, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”


I toyed with writing a version of this song for aspiring Steven Furtick-wanna-be, hipster, mega-church pastors, but could only come up with a single line:

🎼 …Just get a swag hairdoo, some skinny jeans, and a Jesus tattoo.


Next week, after six months of anticipation, we’ll finally reveal song #1 in our countdown of the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs.

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #3, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

As we approach the end of our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, we encounter the crème de la crème of the band’s recordings. Last week we reviewed one of the Byrds’ two signature tunes, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and this week we’ll review the other.

“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” (3:49)
Adapted from the Book of Ecclesiastes by Pete Seeger
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Columbia Records, December 6, 1965. Previously released as a single on October 1, 1965

Several months following the phenomenal success of their same-titled first single and album, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Byrds began making preparations for their next single and second LP. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, had previously arranged folk singer, Judy Collins’ third album, “Judy Collins 3” (March 1964), which included a lovely rendition of folk singer Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” an adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 composed in 1959 and meant to serve as a protest song against violence and military aggression.

“…a time for love, a time for hate,
a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

McGuinn’s wife, Dolores (later Ianthe), suggested to her husband that the Byrds record the tune as their next single. With the war in Vietnam ramping up, McGuinn felt the song was an appropriate choice. However, the band’s manager, Jim Dickson, adamantly opposed the tune, feeling it wasn’t cool for a rock ‘n’ roll band to sing “preachy” Bible verses. Thankfully, McGuinn, his bandmates, and producer, Terry Melcher, overruled Dickson.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” is such a joy to listen to, even fifty-seven years later. McGuinn gives a virtuoso performance on his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, using his banjo-style, multi-finger picking. David Crosby came up with the distinctive, off-beat opening (Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless, Vol.1, p. 202). Byrds biographer, Johnny Rogan, reports that despite the pro-peace theme of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” the recording sessions for the single and same-titled album were particularly fractious, with bickering and fistfights galore. It took the band 78 takes over 5 days in the studio before everyone was satisfied with the final version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” was released as a single on October 1, 1965 and reached #1 on the U.S. singles charts on November 30th. The song is still one of the Byrds’ two most recognizable and cherished tunes, along with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Any documentary about the tumultuous 1960s is bound to include “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in the soundtrack.

Folk singer, Pete Seeger, had been a card-carrying member of the American Communist Party. In adapting Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the atheist was rubbing American Christians’ (nominal and genuine) noses in their own good book in the cause for “peace.” Although he severed ties with the ACP in 1950, Seeger never forthrightly condemned the violent aggression of the Soviet Union. Many non-believers “leverage” the Bible for their own purposes, but they’re missing the Bible’s main point: man’s depravity and eternal judgement for sin and yet the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. I like to believe that “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was another marker on Roger McGuinn’s journey to accepting Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977. What most people “get” out of this song is its observations on the “cycles of life,” and the pining for an eventual era of peace, but text without context is pretext and the writer of Ecclesiastes brought it all together at the end of the book with its focus on God. There is no peace in this fallen world, as we’re currently seeing in Ukraine. However, Jesus Christ offers salvation and spiritual peace and one day He will rule the world in perfect peace.

The Lord works in strange ways. The Byrds meant for “Turn! Turn! Turn!” to be a protest song against the war in Vietnam, but the song also inspired many young people to open a Bible, perhaps for the first time. It had an influence on me.

It’s my distinct pleasure to present song #3 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #4, “Mr. Tambourine Man”

“Mr. Tambourine Man” (2:29)
Written by Bob Dylan
Produced by Terry Melcher
From “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Columbia Records, June 21, 1965. Previously released as a single on April 12, 1965.

After counting down the first 21 of the Byrds’ Top 25 Songs, we now get to the Final Four, the band’s crème de la crème.

In 1964, the unsophisticated “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” rock ‘n’ roll of the Beatles and the other groups of the “British Invasion” was perceived as the music of high school teeny-boppers, while folk music was the choice of college high brows. However, observing the phenomenal success of the Beatles that year, three young folk musicians – Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby – abandoned “pass the hat” folk music and joined together to form a rock ‘n’ roll band they dubbed the Byrds.* But they couldn’t shed their folk roots completely. The band’s manager had ties to Bob Dylan’s management and procured an unreleased Dylan tune called, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” McGuinn, after already having some experience as an arranger, shortened the song, changed the time signature from 2/4 folk to danceable 4/4 rock ‘n’ roll, and also created the unforgettable Bach-like intro. Because it was the fledgling band’s first recording, Columbia producer, Terry Melcher (son of singer and actress, Doris Day), only trusted McGuinn enough to play his jingly-jangly 12-string Rickenbacker electric guitar** in the studio. The rest of the instrumentation was filled out by session musicians.*** Regarding his lead vocal, McGuinn later remarked that he was aiming for a cross between Dylan and John Lennon. Crosby’s soaring high-harmony backup vocals became one of the band’s trademarks.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” took AM radio audiences by storm as it climbed to #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. Folk-rock was born and influenced many artists and bands. Both the Beatles and Dylan took note and changed their styles accordingly. The Beatles began writing songs with adult lyrics and Dylan electrified. “Intelligent” rock ‘n’ roll replaced folk music as the currency of the burgeoning counter-culture.

Some may question why I rated “Mr. Tambourine Man” at only #4 in our countdown when it’s one of the band’s two signature tunes. I had originally rated the song even lower, however, after further consideration, more reasonable thoughts prevailed. I’ve heard “Mr. Tambourine Man” so often over the years that it’s worn on me a bit, but it definitely deserves its due as a musical game-changer.

It’s my pleasure to present song #4 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”****

*The name “Byrds” was chosen in imitation of the misspelled “Beatles” and to pragmatically position forthcoming singles and albums in close alphabetical proximation to those of the Fab Four and the popular Beach Boys in the record store racks.

**McGuinn had noticed George Harrison playing the 12-string Rickenbacker in the film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” and acquired one for himself. In 1964, there weren’t any instruction books on how to be a lead guitarist in a rock ‘n’ roll band, so with his previous experience as a folk-music banjo player, McGuinn didn’t know any better and played the electric Rick in a very unique, “banjo-ish” way, using a regular pick and two finger picks. The result? McGuinn created a rolling, chiming sound with his Rick that was wonderfully distinctive.

***An as-yet-unknown Glen Campbell had been considered to play the lead guitar part.

****Who was the enigmatic Mr. Tambourine Man referred to in this song? McGuinn later said that he sang the song as a prayer to God. McGuinn would accept Jesus Christ as his Savior twelve years later in 1977. An internet search revealed that “Mr. Tambourine Man” was inspired by Bruce Langhorne, a folk musician who accompanied Dylan on many of his early recordings (see here).

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #5, “Change Is Now”

“Change Is Now” (3:21)
Written by Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn
Produced by Gary Usher
From “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” Columbia Records, January 15, 1968. Also released as the B-side of “Goin’ Back,” October 20, 1967

Bassist, Chris Hillman, contributes song #5 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Change Is Now.” With their fifth album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” the Byrds continued on a creative pinnacle that began with their previous LP, “Younger Than Yesterday.” “Change Is Now” was the opener on the B-side of the album and it’s a stunner. Hillman presents some of the same joie de vivre and carpe diem themes that he used on a different cut of his from the album, “Natural Harmony” (song #17 in our countdown, see here), as he exhorts listeners to “dance to the day when fear it is gone.”

Musically, “Change Is Now” is a blend of psychedelia and country-rock, a Byrds specialty found elsewhere on this album and other LPs. Country music virtuosos, Clarence White (future Byrd) on guitar and Orville “Red” Rhodes on pedal-steel contribute the authentic twang. David Crosby, for the first and only time in his career, plays bass, while Roger McGuinn and Hillman handle the guitars. Byrds biographer, Johnny Rogan, hypothesizes that McGuinn uses a 6-string Fender, possibly fed through a Moog synthesizer, for the secondary guitar on the raucous, psychedelic solo (“Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless,” Vol. 1, p. 407). Crosby contributes an excellent high-harmony vocal and session drummer, Hal Blaine, provides the percussion in place of the departed Michael Clarke.

I wore out this track when I used to listen to “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” album as a teenager. Of course, joie de vivre and carpe diem are hollow life philosophies, as the personal lives of Hillman, McGuinn, and Crosby attest to, but it made perfect sense in my 17YO mind. “Change Is Now” was the first song recorded at the “Notorious” sessions and the band initially envisioned it as a hit single, but that didn’t materialize. McGuinn commented in 1969, “It’s another of those guru-spiritual-mystical songs that no one understood.” This song was another marker on McGuinn’s journey to accepting Jesus Christ as Savior in 1977.

Without any further ado, I present song #5 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Change Is Now.”

The Byrds’ Top 25 Songs: #6, “Renaissance Fair”

“Renaissance Fair” (1:51)
Written by David Crosby and Jim McGuinn
Produced by Gary Usher
From “Younger Than Yesterday,” Columbia Records, February 6, 1967. Also released as the B-side of “My Back Pages” on March 13, 1967

In song #8 of our Byrds Top 25 Songs countdown, “Tribal Gathering,” David Crosby happily ruminated on a hippie “be-in” held at Elysian Park near Los Angeles on March 26, 1967. Along the same lines is song #6 in our countdown, “Renaissance Fair.”

Above: Program cover for the Renaissance Pleasure Faire & May Market, 1966.

After visiting the Renaissance Pleasure Faire and May Market staged at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, California near Los Angeles in the Spring of 1966, Crosby wrote this dreamy paean to the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a market square in Renaissance Europe.

This is one of the shortest songs ever recorded by the Byrds, but it’s an absolute delight on a thoroughly delightful album. The intro to this song is amazing. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn begins with a joyful opening jingle-jangle on his twelve-string Rickenbacker, followed by Crosby on his Gretsch Tennessean rhythm guitar, and finally Chris Hillman joins in with the first chords of another stunning, running-solo on his Guild Starfire bass. The song had originally been intended to have more of a jazzy feel, but either Crosby or producer, Gary Usher, opted to remove guest saxophonist, Jay Migliori’s contributions from the mix.

Crosby’s evocative lyrics take you on a journey to an idyllic European Renaissance market festival. Former Byrds manager, Jim Dickson, said of “Renaissance Fair” twenty-years later that it “was the first good Byrds song (Crosby) ever wrote. It’s still one of his best” (Byrds: Requiem for the Timeless: Vol. 1, p. 320).

It’s my pleasure to present song #6 in our Byrds’ Top 25 Songs countdown, “Renaissance Fair.”

*The “flower power” idealism of hippie life and communes came crashing down after the high-profile murders by the Manson Family in 1969. Following the murders, Crosby packed a loaded pistol whenever he left his home.