The Story: The Byrds

What do you get when you cross the eclectic, electric sounds of The Beatles with the hip-folk Americana of Bob Dylan?

Why, those high-flyin’, no ” i ” in Byrds, of course!

In 1964, three long-time folk singers living in Los Angeles bonded over a shared admiration of the exciting new music emanating from England. After seeing A Hard Day’s Night that summer, they eschewed the acoustics, bought the exact model instruments The Beatles played in the movie, added a bassist and a drummer, let their hair grow long, and changed their name from The Jet Set (too Rat Pack) to The Byrds (groovy, man).

The band’s manager acquired an advance copy of Bob Dylan’s unreleased “Mr. Tambourine Man” and The Byrds cut out half a dozen verses, added a chiming 12-string guitar riff, rocked it up a little, and sent that song to #1 in the spring of 1965. Later that year, they released a cover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” and scored their second #1, thereby establishing folk-rock as the biggest sound around.

The Byrds would never hit the Top 10 again. They were too busy pushing the envelope to worry about the charts, expanding the boundaries of rock and pop with elements of Indian ragas, jazz, psychedelia, country, and bluegrass. Expanding the boundaries … of your mind, man.

Like their music, their lineup never stood still after 1965. Lead singer Roger McGuinn and his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker remained the only constant as the group lost Gene Clark to a fear of flying (and, therefore, touring), David Crosby to the law firm of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Michael Clarke, Chris Hillman, and Gram Parsons to The Flying Burrito Brothers. Some fantastic musicians took their places though, and The Byrds stayed aloft into the early 70’s.

So listen now to what I say. Just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play. Here’s the least you need to know:

Mr. Tambourine Man  (1965)  The Byrds go electric! The birth of folk-rock and the establishment of the distinctive guitar and harmony sounds of McGuinn, Crosby, and Clark. Taking you on a trip upon their magic swirling ship.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo  (1969)  The Byrds go Opry! Pedal steel and tears. A country-rock classic featuring cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons.

The Essential Byrds  The band constantly experimented – which sometimes led to inconsistent albums as their reach exceeded their grasp – but their vocals and musicianship always makes it worth it. This 2-disc set cherry picks the best tracks from their entire career and aptly demonstrates why they influenced everyone from Tom Petty to Teenage Fanclub in subsequent years.

Here’s their first #1:

Gene Clark:

Their second #1:

Raga-rock, jazz-rock, and psych-rock all in one song:

Country rockin’:

Later lineup Byrds playing live:


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