It’s incredible to think that 1967 saw the release of the fourth album by The Byrds.
The Fourth! How could they have been around that long? No longer known mainly as the janglifying popularizers of Bob Dylan songs, Messrs McGuinn, Crosby, Hillman, et al had expanded their palettes and musical interests for the preceding Fifth Dimension, leading to the diverse and entertaining Younger Than Yesterday, released in February 1967.
The LP opens at a gallop with the deliciously satirical “So you want to be a rock ’n’ roll star”.
So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time
And learn how to play
And with your hair swung right
And your pants too tight
It’s gonna be all right
Despite (or perhaps because of) being a pot shot at The Monkees, the single was successful. It’s an odd record; a punchy instrumental opening by the band, then Mariachi band brass and dubbed audience screaming—a little disconcerting, yet the rollicking pace and compact 2:05 length mean the song certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome.
“Have you seen her face” is one of four Chris Hillman songs—David Crosby has two plus there are four co-writes—and my favourite of his contributions. There is a Beatle-ish flavour to this terrific song; it sounds totally of its time and yet transcends it effortlessly.
Studio experimentation was compulsory in ’67 and on this album “CTA-102” is the Byrds’ entertaining contribution. It is entertaining, but not especially memorable (apart from it being one of relatively few pop songs about quasars*). But the next song, Crosby/McGuinn’s “Renaissance Fair” is unforgettable. A soaring melody, trademark harmonies, neat doubled up guitar line, an infectious lyrical hook—“I think that maybe I’m dreaming”— touching both wonder and melancholy; this is not only classic Byrds, but quintessential 1967. Worth a ticket for this 1:50 alone.
We’re in Hillman country for “Time between”. I can hear this song is a competent example of the emerging genre of Country Rock but as I’m not a fan I’ll pass swiftly over this and “The girl with no name”.
Final song on side one is Crosby’s gorgeous “Everybody’s been burned”. Reflective lyrics carried on a pure, understated vocal; McGuinn’s guitar solo is subtle and swaying—superbly complementary; it’s the complete package.
Side two opens with one of my favourite songs on the album, the mysteriously psychedelic “Thoughts and words” (Chris Hillman) where a gently insistent melodic hook receives exotic counterpoint from the backwards guitar solo. Those who dismiss psychedelia as being heavy-handed could do worse than listen to this song as part of a reappraisal.
Then comes Crosby’s “Mind gardens” which hasn’t traversed the decades quite so well, despite having even more freaky backwards guitar. Unfortunately it sounds a bit twee and quite a lot pretentious. Still, the eastern drone foundation is diverting, especially when it distracts you from David’s philosophising.
Dylan continues his song-providing role with “My back pages”, providing another solid vehicle for Roger and the boys to do their harmony driven thing. McGuinn’s guitar part is fabulous though it must be said this fine song sounds a trifle pedestrian in the context of the album.
So, as Younger Than Yesterday concludes, we find ourselves asking “Why”? The last song, another McGuinn/Crosby collaboration, has a vaguely counter-culturish lyric—big on questions, light on insight—counter-balanced by a robust arrangement, including a terrific guitar-as-sitar solo from Roger McG and harmonies as smooth as layered angel cake. It’s an uptempo and positive end to an LP that deserves its ‘classic’ status. This was my entry point for the Byrds, which might suggest a bias towards the album, yet you could do a lot worse than taking flight with Younger Than Yesterday.
The Byrds — Younger Than Yesterday Label: Columbia Released 6th February 1967 Duration: 28:27
* If you know another song about quasars, do post a link below.