Turn! Turn! Turn!

The Byrds

Epic Records, 1965


REVIEW BY: Dan Smith


Let's put it on the line now. The Byrds, in my opinion, were the most creative and aurally pleasing American band in the mid-1960's and farmed a folk-rock sound whose influence is felt even three decades down the road in the music of groups like R.E.M. and countless others. The gorgeous, organic harmonies of singers Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby accomplished so much in the original group's short heyday--bringing Dylan to the masses with their hit single "Mr. Tambourine Man" and preaching a message of love and togetherness that serves as a fitting epitaph of the period. Roger McGuinn's chiming 12-string electric guitar was the musical trademark, a jangling sound borrowed from the Beatles that gave the group an instrumental identity. With the excellent Columbia reissues, the Byrds' records can now, for the first time, be heard in pristine clarity, augmented with outtakes and B-sides.

Turn! Turn! Turn! was the second Byrds LP, and while perhaps lacking the novelty and revolutionary quality of the first ( Mr. Tambourine Man), it represents a more complete artistic accomplishment for the group. First, this album includes songs from a wider variety of sources--whereas half the first record was composed of Dylan covers, Turn! Turn! Turn!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 includes only two, put alongside a handful of originals (most by Gene Clark) and several traditional tunes. All in all, this is one of the better pop records of its time and is a landmark accomplishment in the development of the L.A. pop scene of the mid- to late-60s.

The title track, Roger McGuinn's rearrangment of a Pete Seeger song which incorporated passages from the Book of Ecclesiastes, was a smash hit and is most likely the one song the Byrds are best known for. It's absolutely gorgeous--the powerful harmonies in the verses, McGuinn's trademark Bach-esque chime in the intro and outro, the guitar solo, the powerful and tasteful rhythm section (Chris Hillman on bass, Michael Clarke on drums) all join together to create one of the most significant American songs of the 1960s.

This is followed by a couple originals--McGuinn's thunderous "It Won't Be Wrong", which showcases the harmonies; and Clark's "Set You Free This Time", a lyrically complex work that musically conjures up a vague image of the country-rock tack the Crosby- and Clark-less Byrds would take in the late 60s. Next is a truly extraordinary cover of Bob Dylan's melancholy "Lay Down Your Weary Tune"--with Crosby's wavering voice in the middle of the harmonies giving it a layered, complex feel that seems too complicated for three voices. Follow this with McGuinn's rewrite of "He Was A Friend of Mine", a tribute to John Kennedy, and you've got a very aurally pleasing, lyrically solid side of vinyl.

Things go marginally downhill on the second side, especially the originals, but the basic heuristic remains the same--solid instrumental work based on McGuinn's 12-string under lovely vocals. "The World Turns Around Her" is perhaps the standout, followed by a fairly impressive version of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and an irresistable rocked-up version of "Oh! Susannah" that is just as surreal as it sounds.

This would suffice, but Columbia treats us to seven (!) bonus tracks--a speedfreak version of "Times" using different verses that bests the album version, in my opinion, an alternative version of "The World Turns All Around Her" and B-sides "She Don't Care About Time" and "The Day Walk (Never Before)". All are of roughly equal musical quality to the released album tracks, which shows how creative and productive the Byrds were in 1965. The treat, though, is a powerful version of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", meant to be the groups first single from Turn! Turn! Turn! before the title track was substituted. "Baby Blue" features some particularly punchy machine-gun drumming from the underrated Clarke, as well as some nice changes between the chorus and verses.

Thoroughly recommended, showing just why the Byrds were the Beatles' favorite American group. A fun listen even 35 years after the fact.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+



© 1999 Dan Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.