Produced by David Crosby, Asylum Records, Released March 7, 1973, Length: 34:54
In the summer of 1971, discussions began amongst the founding members of the Byrds regarding a reunion album and possible follow-up tour. The five original members – Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke – hadn’t recorded together since January 1966. The project gained steam with the backing and encouragement of David Geffen, president of Asylum Records. Sessions began on October 16, 1972 and ended November 15 while McGuinn was still touring with the latter-day Byrds line-up. In February 1973, McGuinn finally pulled the plug on the ersatz “Columbia” Byrds.
The release of “Byrds” on March 7, 1973 had been eagerly anticipated by fans of the band. Crosby had achieved world-wide fame as a member of the hugely successful supergroup, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, while McGuinn, Hillman, and Clark were all recognized as talented singers and songwriters in their own right. “Byrds” peaked at a very respectable #20 on the album charts. Singles, “Full Circle”/”Long Live the King” was released on April 11 and reached #109 while “Cowgirl in the Sand”/”Long Live the King” was released in June but failed to chart.
I remember being overjoyed at the news of the reunion of the founding members and eagerly anticipated the album with high expectations. I rushed to Midtown Records in downtown Rochester, New York to pick up the album on the day of its release. I wasn’t the only excited fan. Copies of “Byrds” were literally plastered all over the store. I didn’t know it then, but the cover photos were taken at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles where McGuinn, Clark, and Crosby had first gotten together in 1964. The photos told quite a bit about the music inside with Crosby taking center stage and McGuinn shoved off to the side with a lost look on his face. After I played the LP a few times, I had the same reaction as critics and fans; I expected much more than this. Plans for a follow-up tour fell apart after the lukewarm and negative reviews. Years later, the Byrds gave various reasons for the albums shortcomings: not enough time, better material kept aside for solo projects, and fear of stepping on each other’s toes. It’s a bland album with only a few shining moments that relies far too heavily on covers (TWO Neil Young tunes?). McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker, a trade mark of the Byrds’ sound, is largely buried in the mix as are Clarke’s drums, but I do enjoy Hillman’s mandolin. Years later, McGuinn, who had always been credited as the “leader” of the band, complained that nominal producer Crosby had deliberately minimized his contributions to the reunion album as a “coup d’état” in retaliation for his 1967 firing.
“Byrds” is not a bad album. I would argue it’s better than any post-Sweetheart recordings from the ersatz, McGuinn-White Byrds. But outside of Clark’s two tunes it certainly did not live up to expectations. The Byrds had a great opportunity with this album but dropped the ball. Regrettably, the five would never record together as a group again. We can only imagine what this album could have been if McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman had actually taken the time to develop some good songs under the direction of a talented producer who didn’t have an axe to grind and who valued the Byrds’ legacy.
- Full Circle (Clark) – Gene Clark starts off the album with a great acoustic tune. Lot’s of Hillman mandolin.
- Sweet Mary (McGuinn/Levy) – Not one of the better McGuinn/Levy tunes. McGuinn sings about his failed marriage. Again, lots of Hillman mandolin.
- Changing Heart (Clark) – Gene’s take on his disappointing solo career. A largely acoustic tune featuring Gene’s harmonica. McGuinn’s electric Rick has some moments, but is buried too deep in the mix. Another good song.
- For Free (Mitchell) – Crosby gives a nice vocal but this cover was a poor choice for the album.
- Born to Rock ‘n’ Roll (McGuinn) – A mediocre tune. McGuinn must have thought this was a great song and tried it again on his third solo album.
- Things Will Be Better (Hillman, Taylor) – A catchy, throw-away. At least we can hear McGuinn’s Rick.
- Cowgirl in the Sand (Young) – This cover is one of the best songs on the album. Clark and the Byrds give a soaring vocal performance. Listen here.
- Long Live the King (Crosby) – One of Crosby’s weakest tunes ever. Crosby led the crusade to record this album, but his contributions are noticeably weak.
- Borrowing Time (Hillman, Lala) – Another Hillman throw-away. Years later he completely dismissed his two contributions to this album.
- Laughing (Crosby) – Why would Crosby include this song? A far superior version with Jerry Garcia shining on pedal steel guitar had previously appeared on Crosby’s spacey 1971 solo album.
- (See the Sky) About to Rain (Young) – Byrds chronicler, Johnny Rogan, believes the guitar crescendo at the end of this number is the high point of the album, but I don’t care for this song at all. Two Neil Young covers was one too many.
Fans of the Byrds were universally disappointed by this highly-anticipated reunion album. It reminds me that the things of this world can never fully satisfy. We will only find lasting satisfaction in the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Well, folks, that’s the last Byrds album and the last of my reviews. I’ll be posting a summary of all the albums with links to my reviews down the road. Thanks for accompanying me on this year-long flyte!