Crosby vs. McGuinn: Year 52

I’m not one to pay much attention to soap operas, but I’ve been observing this one for fifty years…

Growing up back in the 1960s, my five older sisters always had a Beatles LP spinning on the turntable. But I eventually blazed my own trail by becoming a fan of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, which led to exploring David Crosby’s back-catalog with the Byrds. I really loved the Byrds with their signature sound of Roger McGuinn’s jingly-jangly twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar complemented by Crosby’s high vocal harmonies. But I also learned there had been tremendous discord in the camp. Laid-back McGuinn was the de facto leader of the group, however, the free-spirited, outspoken Crosby constantly grated against that. As Crosby developed as a songwriter, the conflicts and tensions escalated to the point that McGuinn and Byrds’ bassist, Chris Hillman, drove to Crosby’s house one afternoon in 1967 and fired him from the band.

Crosby went on to bigger things with CS&N, but the resentment and discord never completely healed. By 1969, McGuinn was the only founding band member remaining, but he kept the ersatz Byrds going until 1973. His subsequent solo career achieved only so-so success and he spiraled into heavy drug use. In 1977, at rock-bottom, former-Roman Catholic, McGuinn, accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior! At the time, I remember thinking, “Oh, no! McGuinn has become one of those born-agains!”

McGuinn and Crosby have kept in touch – barely – over the years and participated together in a few (very) short-term projects, however McGuinn keeps a bit of a distance. He has repeatedly resisted Crosby’s MANY overtures to reunite the remaining Byrds (himself, Crosby, and Hillman) for a concert tour. On the occasion of the band’s 50th anniversary in 2015, the Byrds noticeably did not reunite because of McGuinn’s reluctance. McGuinn has explained in a couple of interviews that he declines to be yoked with unbeliever Crosby in another venture (2 Corinthians 6:14). I’m sure that McGuinn deals with many unbelievers in his ongoing solo career, but the thing about Crosby is he’s still very pushy, spews obscenities in his regular conversation, and constantly tokes marijuana.

Despite their differences, McGuinn has had nothing but kind remarks to say to, and about, his former bandmate, but Crosby’s recent documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” has reopened old wounds. Crosby, who is well-known for his frequent and blunt chatter on Twitter, recently blocked McGuinn from his account. Well, he’s undoubtedly hurt that McGuinn refuses work with him.

The McGuinn-Crosby friendship/feud has been played out in public for 52 years. Why should we even care about this on-again, off-again soap opera? Because it’s an amazing irony. Crosby still crusades for peace, love, and harmony in his songs and tours, but he’s not going to find it outside of Jesus Christ.

Note how the Tweeter below supports Crosby’s decision to block his old bandmate by scoffing at McGuinn for proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Gospel in a tweet he posted back in March:

Capture59

David Crosby Does Not Want to Read Roger McGuinn’s Tweets
https://www.spin.com/2019/12/david-crosby-roger-mcguinn-twitter-block/

Fifth Dimension: The Byrds awkwardly break out of the “folk rock” mold

Today, we’ll take a brief break from theological discussions as we revisit our monthly series reviewing all the Byrds’ albums. This time, we’ll take a look back at the group’s transitional third album…

Fifth Dimension
The Byrds
Produced by Allen Stanton, Columbia Records, Released July 18, 1966, Length 29:59

The Byrd’s first two albums, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (June, 1965) and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (December, 1965), pioneered the Los Angeles folk-rock sound and launched the Byrds to unusual success, but the band was not satisfied with resting on its laurels. The Byrd’s principal song-writing member, Gene Clark, freed the band from its “folk-rock” straight jacket with his iconic song, “Eight Miles High,” but abruptly quit the group in March of 1966. When the remaining quartet of Jim (later Roger) McGuinn (lead guitar), David Crosby (rhythm guitar), Chris Hillman (bass guitar), Michael Clarke (drums), and producer, Allen Stanton, entered Columbia’s recording studios in April, 1966, they would explore a variety of new musical styles – jazz rock, Indian raga rock (note the album cover photo with the band resting on an Oriental rug seemingly floating in space), psychedelia, and country rock – mainly at the instigation of Crosby. The resulting album, “Fifth Dimension,” was a diverse collection, confusing to both critics and fans alike who expected more of the same folk-rock genre that was the staple of the previous two albums. The absence of any Bob Dylan songs on this album was another sign the band was anxious to avoid any labels or formulas.

“Fifth Dimension” peaked at #24 on the U.S. charts. With Clark out of the picture, Crosby emerged as a creative force in the band, contributing songs and musical styles which stretched the comfort levels of his bandmates and Top 40 listeners. Clark’s absence also required Hillman to step up and contribute backing vocals for the first time. Due to its lack of cohesiveness and consistency, “Fifth Dimension” is considered by many to be the weakest of the group’s first five albums. With the exception of “Eight Miles High,” side two is definitely overpowered by the much stronger side one. But it was precisely because of their dramatic break from folk-rock to experimentation with new musical forms on “Fifth Dimension” that led to the Byrds’ finest efforts; “Younger Than Yesterday” and “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.”

Side One:

  • 5D (Fifth Dimension) – One of my favorite McGuinn-penned Byrds tunes with a couple of wonderful choral harmonies that build to a nice twelve-string and Hammond B-3 organ ( courtesy of Van Dyke Parks) crescendo. Released as a single and peaked at #44. Listen here.
  • Wild Mountain Thyme – A traditional folk tune that could have easily appeared on the first two albums. Stanton provides some very nice string arrangements which nicely complement McGuinn’s Rickenbacker.
  • Mr. Spaceman – A forgettable novelty song performed in a country style. McGuinn would go on to write several additional songs for the Byrds which contemplated space travel and alien life. Released as a single and peaked at #36.
  • I See You – A driving McGuinn/Crosby rocker with some of the same ragged Rickenbacker work used on “Eight Miles High.”
  • What’s Happening – Crosby steps out with this wonderfully innovative song with McGuinn doing a nice imitation of the sitar on his twelve-string (Crosby had inundated McGuinn with Indian sitar music by Ravi Shankar previous to these sessions). The first Byrds song written solely by Crosby. Listen here.
  • I Come And Stand At Every Door – An anti-war poem put to a traditional folk melody.

Side Two:

  • Eight Miles High – Released as a single on March 14, stalling at #14 on the Billboard chart. Gene Clark’s swan song, with contributions from McGuinn and Crosby. Credited as being the first psychedelic rock song. McGuinn does some trailblazing guitar work patterned after John Coltrane, especially from his song “India” from the “Impressions” album. Banned from many radio stations for its suspected glorification of drugs, “Eight Miles High” is considered by many rock critics to be one of the greatest singles of the 60s. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Eight Miles High” as song #151 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected “Eight Miles High” for its list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll.” Culture was changing so rapidly during this period that drugs would be openly referenced in rock songs only a year later.
  • Hey Joe – Crosby had previously explored the blues prior to the Byrds with “Jack of Diamonds” and “Brotherhood of the Blues.” The Byrds’ version pales in comparison next to Jimi Hendrix’s classic take. Crosby would later achieve success with a blues-style ballad with “Long Time Gone” on the album, “Crosby, Stills, and Nash.”
  • Captain Soul – The Byrds recorded this soul-inspired instrumental to placate drummer Clarke. Considered a throwaway by most fans. Some sources cite former-Byrd, Gene Clark, playing the harmonica while others credit Michael Clarke.
  • John Riley – Another traditional folk song that could have fit on “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Stanton added strings just as on “Wild Mountain Thyme.” An unremarkable recording.
  • 2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song) – A novelty song with sounds of a Lear jet crew preparing for takeoff mixed with a repetitious melody. Undoubtedly very cool at the time, but it doesn’t hold up at all fifty-two years later.

The Sony Legacy CD reissue includes six tracts not released on the original album:

  • Why – Released as the B-side of “Eight Miles High” with another version of the song included on the following album, “Younger Than Yesterday.” McGuinn gives a nice sitar-mimicking solo.
  • I Know My Rider – An unremarkable arrangement of a traditional blues song.
  • Psychodrama City – Crosby can’t resist a dig at the departed Clark.
  • Eight Miles High – The raw-sounding, December 1965, RCA Studios version. Thankfully, Columbia refused to release this less-polished attempt and insisted the Byrds re-record it.
  • Why – An unpolished version of the song recorded with “Eight Miles High” at RCA in 12/65.
  • John Riley – A jazzed-up instrumental of the John Riley melody.

At a time when 45 singles were still the bread and butter of the recording industry, the banning of “Eight Miles High” from radio play damaged the Byrds’ market appeal tremendously. The band certainly knew they were stirring up controversy by releasing a single with the word, “high,” in the title and lyrics, but evidently enthusiasm overrode business sense. I certainly don’t mean to glorify drug use or the rock and roll lifestyle with this or any of my other reviews of the Byrds’ albums. Four of the five original members struggled later in life with the debilitating effects of heavy substance abuse. If you stick with me, you’ll see that it all leads to a blessed ending for one of the band’s members.

Next month: The Byrds reach their creative peak as they fire on all cylinders.

 

Turn! Turn! Turn!: Folk Rock 102

We’ll take a short break from theological discussions as we take a trip back to 1965 and the release of The Byrds second album…

Turn! Turn! Turn!
The Byrds
Produced by Terry Melcher
Columbia Records, Released December 6, 1965, Length 30:24

Following the dramatic success of their debut album, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Byrds returned to Columbia’s Studio A on June 28, 1965 to begin work on their next single and sophomore album. Sessions continued on and off through November 1st. Jim (later Roger) McGuinn (lead guitar and vocals), Gene Clark (vocals), David Crosby (rhythm guitar and vocals), Chris Hillman (bass), and Michael Clarke (drums) once again teamed with Columbia staff producer, Terry Melcher.

The single, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” including B-side, Gene Clark’s “She Don’t Care About Time,” was released on October 1st and reached #1 on the national singles charts. The album, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” was released on December 6 and charted at #17. The second single, “Set You Free This Time”/”It Won’t Be Wrong” was released on January 10, 1966 and peaked at #63.

“Turn! Turn! Turn!” was a worthy follow-up to “Mr. Tambourine Man” and mirrored the folk-rock style of its predecessor to a tee. However, because subsequent albums were so radically innovative, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” has often been viewed as a slightly disappointing carbon copy of the band’s debut. In a 2004 interview, McGuinn remarked that the last four songs on the album were subpar and that “Satisfied Mind” should not have been included.

Side One:

  • Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) – The Byrds rock up Pete Seeger’s adaptation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. A lovely, gentle protest song that joins “Mr. Tambourine Man” as the Byrds’ two signature pieces. It’s extremely hard to believe but “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was not included on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list released in 2004. In her 2016 autobiography, McGuinn’s ex-wife, Ianthe/Dolores DeLeon Tickner, claimed that it was her suggestion that the band record this tune, which McGuinn had previously arranged for Judy Collins on her 1963 album, “Judy Collins 3.” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was the first song by the Byrds that had a religious connection. Many more would follow.
  • It Won’t Be Wrong – McGuinn does a nice Beatles imitation.
  • Set You Free This Time – Gene Clark’s moody and wordy love lament. Excellent. One of Gene’s best songs. Despite his basic education and his disinterest in reading, Clark was a remarkably talented lyricist.
  • Lay Down Your Weary Tune – A sleepy Dylan number.
  • He Was A Friend Of Mine – McGuinn adapted this traditional number into an ode to John F. Kennedy.

Side Two:

  • The World Turns All Around Her – Another Gene Clark breakup song. Pretty catchy. Crosby’s high vocal harmony, here and elsewhere, is remarkable.
  • Satisfied Mind – The Byrds experiment with country at a time when few rock bands were brave enough to venture into “redneck” musical territory. Chris Hillman, whose roots were in the Bakersfield country and bluegrass music scene, suggested this one. An early sign of things to come.
  • If You’re Gone – An insecure Gene Clark fears the loss of his sweetheart. Wonderful tune. The vocal drone adds something special.
  • The Times They Are A-Changing – A popular Dylan protest song. Was considered for release as a single. McGuinn later said the Byrds felt pressured during the recording of this song due to the Beatles visiting the studio session.
  • Wait And See – A weak McGuinn and Crosby rocker.
  • Oh! Susannah – Just like their first album, The Byrds close “Turn! Turn! Turn!” with this tongue-in-cheek recording of a traditional song.

The following album outtakes were included in the 1996 CD reissue:

  • The Day Walk (Never Before) – Clark’s song is only so-so.
  • She Don’t Care About Time (Single Version) – A lovely Clark number that should have been included on the album instead of “Oh! Susannah.” The B-Side of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” McGuinn was especially proud of his guitar break using Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
  • The Times They Are A-Changing (Earlier Version)
  • It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – A Dylan tune that was considered for release as a single.
  • She Don’t Care About Time (Earlier Version) – The beat is more pronounced on this version.
  • The World Turns All Around Her (Alternate Version)
  • Stranger In A Strange Land – Instrumental written by Crosby. Very catchy. Presaged Crosby’s work in “Fifth Dimension.”

Tensions were developing within the band at the time of “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” with increasing resentment over the preponderance of Gene Clark songs being recorded. Crosby was especially frustrated that the songs he was bringing to the group weren’t being considered. Disagreements over artistic direction and the discrepancy in songwriting contributions (and remuneration) fueled the original lineup’s exceptional recorded output, but ultimately led to its eventual disintegration.

 

Postscript: A rock and roll band achieving chart-topping success with a song based on a passage from the Bible? How unusual! More than a few people were jarred by this improbability. The remarkable story of the Byrds is also the story of McGuinn’s long “journey” to Jesus Christ. Join me next month as the Byrds weather their first personnel shakeup and deliberately break out of the “folk rock” category with their transitional third album, “Fifth Dimension.”

Mr. Tambourine Man: The Byrds take flyte and Dylan and the Beatles take notice

As you know, this blog deals mainly with theological issues, but I do take occasional “non-theology” breaks now and then. Last year, I reviewed all nineteen of director, Elia Kazan’s films. This year, I’m going to focus on the influential rock band, The Byrds. I’ll be writing a monthly review of one of the band’s twelve albums, beginning today with their amazing debut. But be careful, I may slip in a theological point here and there because, well, the Lord is Lord of all. P.S. Future reviews won’t include as much biographical information and will be much, much shorter.

Mr. Tambourine Man
The Byrds
Produced by Terry Melcher, Columbia Records, June 21, 1965

In 1964, folk musicians, Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby individually saw the rising tide of Beatlemania and rock and roll and concluded, “the times, they are a changin’.” The trio joined forces at the Troubador Club in Los Angeles, drawn together by their common interest in creating a synthesis of folk and pop rock; in essence, combining Bob Dylan with John Lennon. The group worked on honing their unique sound for the balance of the year at World Pacific Studios under the tutelage of Svengali manager and producer, Jim Dickson. Chris Hillman (bass) and Michael Clarke (drums) were brought in to augment McGuinn on lead guitar and Crosby on rhythm guitar. Vocals were handled by McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby. The Byrds were born. Dickson had some connections to Dylan, which resulted in the group rehearsing his yet-unreleased “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Through the efforts of Dickson and with the help of Miles Davis, the Byrds were offered a contract from Columbia Records.

The Byrds entered Columbia’s Studio A in Hollywood on January 20, 1965 to record “Mr. Tambourine Man” and B-side, “I Knew I’d Want You” (by Gene Clark). Producer Terry Melcher (son of actress, Doris Day) allowed only McGuinn to play on the two tracks, relying on the “Wrecking Crew,” veteran session musicians, to fill out the instrumental backing. The rest of the songs on the “Mr. Tambourine” album were recorded from March 8 to April 22 with the band members playing the instruments.

“Mr. Tambourine Man,” the single, was released on April 12, 1965 and by June had become the #1 charting song in the U.S. Another single, “All I Really Want To Do,” with B-Side, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” was released on June 14, but only peaked at #40 on the charts. The album was released on June 21 and peaked at #6.

Side One:

  • Mr. Tambourine Man – One of the most influential singles of the 60s; the marriage of folk and pop rock. The famous Wrecking Crew session players backed McGuinn. Rolling Stone voted the Byrds’ single version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” as song #79 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list released in 2004.
  • I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better – Gene Clark makes the best of a romantic breakup. One of his best songs. Selected as #237 on Rolling Stones’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
  • Spanish Harlem Incident – Another Bob Dylan tune. Nothing special.
  • You Won’t Have To Cry – Clark’s and McGuinn’s simple, Beatle-ish love song.
  • Here Without You – A great Gene Clark tune.
  • The Bells of Rhymney – The Byrds take a Scottish folk song, made famous by Pete Seeger, and rock it up. Fabulous! George Harrison borrowed the lead guitar riff for his “If I Needed Someone.”

Side Two:

  • All I Really Want To Do – Another Dylan tune. Sonny and Cher heard The Byrds do this one live and beat them to the punch by releasing their popular (#15 on the singles chart) version first.
  • I Knew I’d Want You – Another wonderful Gene Clark love song.
  • It’s No Use – Clark and McGuinn wrote this driving rocker which presages the Byrd’s “Fifth Dimension” album.
  • Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe – The Byrds pay homage to early supporter, Jackie DeShannon.
  • Chimes of Freedom – A Dylan protest song is transformed into a classic Byrds folk-rock tune.
  • We’ll Meet Again – The Byrds end the album with tongue in cheek with this British WWII song that was featured in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” (1964). The Byrds will continue to feature a novelty song at the end of their next several albums.

The following album outtakes were included in the 1996 CD reissue:

  • She Has A Way – A lovely Gene Clark tune. Too bad it didn’t make the original album in place of “We’ll Meet Again.”
  • I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better – Less polished, earlier version. Gene’s vocal is more pronounced.
  • It’s No Use – Earlier, alternate version.
  • You Won’t Have To Cry – Earlier, alternate version.
  • All I Really Want To Do – Single version.
  • You and Me – Funky instrumental credited to McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby.

From the beginning of 1964, American rock music listeners had wondered when a domestic band would rise to the challenge of the “British Invasion” (The Beatles, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Peter and Gordon, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Dave Clark Five, The Kinks, Herman’s Hermits, etc.). “Mr. Tambourine Man” was the first noteworthy American response to the eighteen-month British domination of the pop charts. Reaction to The Byrds was immediate. Critics labeled the innovative new sound as “folk-rock.” The chiming, jingle-jangle sound of McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker combined with the soaring choir-like harmonies of McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby became The Byrds’ trademarks. Also, the adult-oriented lyrics of The Byrds’ songs were in stark contrast to the teenybopper-themed material from the other rock and roll bands of the day, including the Beatles. At a time when rock albums were usually comprised of a hit single surrounded by weak filler, this album was solid from start to finish. “Mr. Tambourine Man” directly influenced the future work of Dylan and the Beatles and spawned a myriad of imitators. By elevating rock and roll from high schoolers’ malt shops to college dormitories, The Byrds ensured rock music would be the soundtrack of the rising youth counterculture. There are only a handful of rock albums from 1965 that are worth listening to now and “Mr. Tambourine Man” is one of them. Rolling Stone magazine voted “Mr Tambourine Man” #232 on its “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time” list released in 2003.

The Byrds recorded a total of twelve albums from 1965 to 1973 and were often at the forefront of new musical styles including jazz rock, raga rock, psychedelic rock, and country rock. Four of those albums were included in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time” list: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Younger Than Yesterday” (#124), “The Notorious Byrds Brothers” (#171), and “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” (#117). Even the compilation, “The Byrd’s Greatest Hits,” made the list at #178. No other American rock and roll band from the 1960’s approaches that level of recognition. Rolling Stone also selected The Byrds as artist #45 in its “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time” list, released in 2008. In addition, Rolling Stone chose Roger McGuinn as #95 on its 2011 list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.”

Band members dropped out (or were fired) and were replaced over the years with McGuinn being the only constant. Former Byrds went on to enjoy significant and influential careers as soloists or members of other bands, but the original Byrds will always be remembered for their pioneering accomplishments. The five founding members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 in their first year of eligibility. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also included three Byrds recordings on its “500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll”: “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Eight Miles High,” and “Hickory Wind.”

Gene Clark (d. 1991) and Michael Clarke (d. 1993) died many years ago, but the remaining founders, McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman, have not reunited in 28 years, even for the band’s 50th anniversary in 2015, because of spiritual reasons. More on that in a future review.

Postscript: In a 1997 interview, Roger McGuinn shared an amazing insight into “Mr. Tambourine Man”:  “Underneath the lyrics to ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ regardless of what Dylan meant, I was turning it into a prayer. I was singing to God and I was saying that God was the Tambourine Man and I was saying to him, ‘Hey God, take me for a trip and I’ll follow you.'” After years of living the reckless and hedonistic rock and roll lifestyle, McGuinn accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in 1977.