The Original Singles 1965-1967 Volume 1

The Byrds

CBS Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on August 20, 1996]

Meteors can be as dangerous in the land of metaphors as they are in outer space. But the reality is, the Byrds streaked across the musical sky like a meteor, a ferocious, blazing ball of heat that consumed itself even as it shot off astonishing sparks of craftsmanship and invention. If ever there has been a band that earned the enormous musical stature and wide-ranging and enduring influence necessary to be referred to as "the American Beatles," The Byrds are it.

The founding 1965 lineup of Roger (a.k.a. Jim) McGuinn (guitar/vocals), Gene Clark (guitar/vocals), David Crosby (guitar/vocals), Chris Hillman (bass/vocals) and Michael Clarke (drums) held together for only two and a half of the four albums covered by this greatest hits package, beginning a pattern of personnel changes that would see the band's energy completely dissipated by the early ’70s. Yet the amount of monumental, ground-breaking material generated in this brief window is amazing by any standard. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The band's early material drew on outside sources ranging from the Bible ("Turn! Turn! Turn!" consists of a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes, adapted by Pete Seeger) to folk-rock deity Bob Dylan ("Mr. Tambourine Man" and "All I Really Want To Do"), while also employing the prodigious songwriting talents of the entire band, particularly Gene Clark ("I Knew I'd Want You," "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better"). Springing out of the burgeoning American folk music scene, they took the basic folk concept and grafted its literate social conscience onto the buoyant pop harmonies the Beatles had used to conquer America the year before, even as an obsessive drive to experiment carried them on into entirely uncharted musical territory.

The results, anchored by the jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar sound pioneered by Roger McGuinn and imitated since then by artists too countless to name, were magic. Vocal choruses soared, melodies veered this way and that, guitars alternately rang like bells, rumbled like thunder and twanged like Hank Williams. "Eight Miles High," a Clark-McGuinn-Crosby collaboration that virtually invented psychedelic rock, offered heretofore unheard-of spacy instrumental breaks and flourishes, not to mention a lyric that, no matter how many times the authors said it, no one seemed to believe was about something as mundane as a plane flight. And then, of course, there's the fact that all this innovation occurred before Gram Parsons joined the band in 1968 and in the space of only two brilliant albums virtually invented the entire genre of country-rock (that's a whole other story…).

No less a second-generation rock and roll luminary than Tom Petty has compared The Byrds to Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, The Who and Led Zeppelin in terms of their influence on the popular music and musicians that followed them. Listening to Petty's own jangly-guitared catalogue (which includes a masterful cover of "Feel a Whole Lot Better")—not to mention the output of bands ranging from REM to the Eagles, Simon & Garfunkel to The Kennedys—in song after song, the Byrds' influence is utterly unmistakable. Meteors may crash and burn, but they always leave a big mark.

Rating: A

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