Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Byrds (1991)

Afshin seems to get a kick out of calling everything I listen to folk-rock, but this is the band who truly made that genre relevant. Interestingly enough, just as Afshin is misguided in his categorization of bands in this realm, it's an inaccurate generalization to use that moniker to describe the various styles employed by The Byrds. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that they were among the pioneers of three separate sub-genres of rock music: folk-rock, psychedelic rock, and country-rock.

I had developed at least a mild interest in The Byrds during my years in Syracuse, and first purchased a compilation called Original Singles, Vol. 1 (1965-1967). I'm not sure what happened to this cd. I probably sold it back after I purchased the magnificent 4-disc box set that was released in 1990.

This collection brought together the best of all eras of this innovative band. They were only together for eight years, but as I said, they covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Upon reading the songwriting credits in the booklet that came with the box set, I wondered about these two different McGuinn characters who were band members at different times. I didn't at first realize there was no overlap, or that this lack of overlap wasn't just a coincidence, as I didn't know then that they were the same person...Jim McGuinn changed his name to Roger in the late 60's.

McGuinn apparently had quite the ambitious plan when he hired Gram Parsons to play keyboards in 1968. However, his idea to create a double album that would represent a history of contemporary music styles quickly gave way to Parsons' influence in turning the band in a country direction. That year, they released their best album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and as quickly as you could say "You Ain't Going Nowhere", Parsons was gone. Several reasons were given for his departure, but the obvious one was the tension between him and McGuinn over creative control of the band. Not to be discouraged, Parsons would continue his country-rock pioneering ways as a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers and a solo artist until his untimely death in 1973.

Parsons wasn't the only band member with whom McGuinn clashed over asserting a more prominent role in the band. Original member David Crosby left for similar reasons in 1967, and, although his departure was blamed on personal problems, Gene Clark's early exit seems suspicious as well. Personally, I'm convinced that Jeff Tweedy has always looked to Roger McGuinn as a role model.

Although intrigued by such songs as "The Christian Life", "One Hundred Years From Now" and "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" (which Parsons co-wrote but didn't play on), I wasn't instantly convinced that The Byrds' country-rock material was their best. I was still overcoming the anti-country bias that was typical of many young fans of rock music at the time. Years later, the remastered and expanded reissue of Sweetheart would be the only Byrds album I would purchase beyond that comprehensive box set.

The Byrds may not necessarily be the band who turned me on to country-inflected rock, but their Sweetheart-era sound certainly deserves some credit for opening my mind to the style of music that would eventually become my favorite.

1 comment:

  1. I guess we can call this pre-folk-rock....

    How does that work?