The Sunday Dozen: The Byrds

The Byrds were a short-lived band with a long-lasting impact. They influenced the music of many of their peers as well as later artists such as Elvis Costello, REM, Wilco, Son Volt, Michael Penn, Crowded House, and The Jayhawks to name a few. They were the OG alt-country band. The Byrds ties to Tom Petty were particularly close as you saw yesterday.

The Byrds made several attempts to reboot after a commercially failed regrouping in 1973. The reboots usually involved OG members Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman but they weren’t always called The Byrds. I may be a lapsed lawyer, but I have no interest in legal battles about naming rights. It all comes down to the music.

The Byrds were among the first folk-rock groups and country-rock groups. Their pioneering eclecticism was one of their most attractive qualities. It all comes down to the music.

I’m doing this week’s Sunday Dozen differently. Instead of focusing on lesser-known material and skipping the hits, I’m posting some of their greatest hits. It all comes down to The Byrds’ long musical tail. The hits are what influenced many of those who followed. So it goes.

As always, the post is arranged in chronological order and reflects my own personal taste. Three of the band’s best loved songs turn up as lagniappe at the end of the post.

It’s time for Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman to set the Wayback Machine:

Mr. Tambourine Man was a monster hit that firmly established the OG Byrds as the best interpreters of Bob Dylan’s music.

Turn Turn Turn was based on a biblical verse and written by Pete Seger. The Byrds assumed ownership of the song in 1965. It’s the perfect distillation of the band’s original sound.

Mr. Spaceman is a witty little ditty that Captain Senator Mark Kelly should have used as the theme song for his campaign. I sang it to myself every time I saw him on the electric teevee machine: “Hey Mr. Spaceman, won’t you please take me along, I won’t do anything wrong.”

Eight Miles High is psychedelia at its finest. I’m posting both the original studio version and a live version with the great Clarence White on lead guitar.

Everybody’s Been Burned is David Crosby’s Byrds era masterpiece. It was the Saturday Odds & Sods theme song way back in 2015.

My Back Pages is one of the band’s finest records and Dylan covers. “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

The Byrds went in a different direction after Gram Parsons joined the band. The OG hippie friend I mentioned in my Rolling Stones Dozen said Sweetheart Of The Rodeo blew his mind, man. I particularly dig Hickory Wind, man. It was co-written by Gram Parsons, man. It started the country rock revolution, man.

Pretty Boy Floyd is a Woody Guthrie song featuring one of Roger McGuinn’s finest vocals as well as some snazzy banjo picking by John Hartford. It’s my favorite outlaw song. It’s pretty, boy.

I first heard Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man as performed by Joan Baez on the Woodstock soundtrack album. The Byrds version is even better. It was written by McGuinn and Parsons. The lyrics remain sadly relevant today:

“Well, he’s got him a house on the hill
He plays country records till you’ve had your fill
He’s a fireman’s friend he’s an all night DJ
But he sure does think different from the records he plays

He’s a drug store truck drivin’ man
He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer rolls around
He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town.”

Chestnut Mare was written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy. It’s Roger’s masterpiece and one of the finest story songs of its time or any other.

Truck Stop Girl was written by Lowell George and Bill Payne. Love you guys, but I like this version better than Little Feat’s. Clarence White’s singing makes me weep tears in my beer every time I hear it.

I alluded to the commercially unsuccessful reunion album Byrds earlier in the post. I gave it a fair to middling review in my school newspaper The San Mateo Hi at the time. The best track on the album closes out The Byrds Dozen: Neil Young’s (See The Sky) About To Rain. 

What’s the Sunday Dozen without some lagniappe? I mentioned Tom Petty’s close ties to The Byrds. Here are three Pettified covers of tunes originally cut by our heroes: Feel A Whole Lot Better, So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star, and Lover Of The Bayou.

That’s it for this week. The last word goes to The Byrds circa 1970.