Gorgeous - forgotten classic - overlooked - ignored like a 'remain' flyer in a British mud-puddle - the Byrds' fifth platter is the kind of album that gives the 60ts a good name. But which version of it do you buy?
In the unnervingly hot summer of July 2016 you can nail this criminally forgotten nugget in two ways – the standalone March 1997 CD reissue on Columbia/Legacy – or as Disc 5 inside the gorgeous and still reasonably priced 13-Album/15-CD Box Set from November 2011 – "The Complete Columbia Albums Collection". To locate the standalone CD on Amazon use Barcode 5099748675125 in the Search Line - or Barcode 88697873802 for the Box Set (I've also reviewed the Box Set in full - see separate review). Frankly frank - you're quids in either way. I’ll deal with the standalone issue for this review...
UK released March 1997 – "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" by THE BYRDS on Columbia/Legacy 486751 2 (Barcode 5099748675125) is an ‘Expanded Edition’ CD Remaster of the 11-track 1968 album with seven Bonus Tracks (one hidden) and plays out as follows (58:28 minutes):
1. Artificial Energy
2. Goin’ Back
3. Natural Harmony
4. Draft Morning
5. Wasn’t Born To Follow
6. Get To You
7. Change Is Now [Side 2]
8. Old John Robertson
9. Tribal Gathering
10. Dolphin’s Smile
11. Space Odyssey
Tracks 1 to 11 are the album “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” – released 3 January 1968 in the USA on Columbia CL 2775 (Mono) and Columbia CS 9575 (Stereo) and April 1968 in the UK on CBS Records BPG 63169 (Mono) and CBS Records S BPG 63169 (Stereo). The STEREO MIX is used. Produced by GARY USHER and Engineered by ROY HALEE and DON THOMPSON - it peaked at No. 47 on the US LP charts and No. 12 in the UK.
BONUS TRACKS (All Stereo):
12. Mood Raga - Previously released on the 1987 American compilation "Never Before" on Murray Hill Records
13. Bound To Fall – Previously Unissued Instrumental
14. Triad - David Crosby song previously released on 1990 4CD Box Set “The Byrds”
15. Goin’ Back – Previously Unissued Version 1
16. Draft Morning – Previously Unissued Version with an Alternate End
17. Universal Mind Decoder (Early Demo Version of “Change Is Now” – Previously Unreleased Instrumental Version)
THE BYRDS were:
The 12-page booklet is a pleasingly in-depth affair with properly knowledgeable liner notes from noted BYRDS authority JOHNNY ROGAN who authored "Timeless Flight: The Definitive Biography Of The Byrds". Amidst the black and white photos of the foursome looking all mean and moody (when the recordings started there was four - months later – Clarke left and Crosby was fired leaving only the core duo of McGuinn and Hillman) are publicity photos, a concert poster with The Doors and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band as well as repros of a few US Columbia 45s. These are sat alongside track-by-track examinations by Rogan on how such a varied and at times 'beautiful' album could have been be produced amidst the personal and musical toss 'n' tumble that surrounded the band (these notes are reproduced in the 40-page booklet inside the 'Complete' Box set - so you won't loose out on that count).
But the big news is the Audio – a remaster by BOB IRWIN and VIC ANESINI. Using the Stereo Masters (for all tracks) -these top engineers did the transfers and mixing at Sony’s Studios in New York and VIC ANESINI in particular is a name I've sung the praises of before. He’s handled very prestigious SONY catalogue – Elvis Presley, Simon & Garfunkel, The Byrds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carole King, Janis Joplin, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Nilsson, Paul Simon, Mountain, Lou Reed, Roy Orbison, Santana, Mott The Hoople and The Jayhawks to name but a few. Clean – full of presence and warmth – this thing is a joy to listen too – and when songs like "Goin' Back", "Draft Morning" and "Tribal Gathering" kick in - there's unlikely to be a dry Byrds eye in the house...
"Notorious" opens with "Artificial Energy" - a warning song about overdoing 'speed' - and I'm not talking about going fast on a Penny Farthing. It's slightly camp brass gives it a far more upbeat vibe and at 2:18 minutes is short and breathy. But that cool opener is trounced into absolute chemical submission by something so sublime that mere adjectives fail me - their truly breathtaking cover of Goffin and King's "Goin' Back". A hit penned by the mighty songwriting duo of Gerry and Carole for Dusty Springfield - The Byrds take this beautiful melody and literally make it soar - a pun I hate to use when it comes to this band of all bands - but in the case of this rendition - aptly fits. "Goin' Back" is beautiful stuff with sessionman Jim Gordon providing the drum roll at the end of the tune. Next up is Paul Beaver's Moog and Red Rhodes' Steel Guitar on Chris Hillman's equally musical "Natural Harmony" - another song with slightly drugged-up lyrics like "...head thrown back...arms open wide..." (reminds me of driving in my soft-top Porsche in Walthamstow in December).
Again another segue into a masterwork - the stunning "Draft Morning" which Rogan quiet rightly describes as 'one of the greatest and most bitter moments in the Byrds song catalogue'. Originally penned by David Crosby before he was unceremoniously chucked out of the band - both Hillman and McGuinn added more and therefore take the threesome songwriting credit (apparently its The Firesign Theatre who supply the gunshots in this anti-Vietnam winner). Another gem penned by Goffin and King - "Wasn't Born To Follow" turned up a year later as "I Wasn't Born To Follow" in January 1969 on the lone Carole King/Danny Kortchmar project LP "Now That Everything's Been Said" by THE CITY. It's also famous for its inclusion in the cult movie "Easy Rider" (The City version show sits prettiness - se separate review).
Other classics include "Get To You" where Roger McGuinn waxes lyrical about the mellowness of the English after a trip to Blighty and "Tribal Gathering" where David Crosby sings affectionately about hippies in San Francisco's Golden gate Park in January 1967 where the ensemble 'human be in' was taking all manner of trips (and not necessarily one needing a passport). I also love the clearly grumpy Crosby on 'Version 1' of "Goin' Back" in the Bonus Tracks with what sounds like a Mike Oldfield type Glockenspiel in the mix not present in the released version...and "Triad" is fantastic stuff.
The Byrds left behind a sizeable back catalogue where ridiculously shiny jewels like "Notorious" can get 'overlooked'. Remove that inner bummer and began your 'space odyssey' here. And remember kids – take a tip from a speckled Byrd and stay away from that 'Artificial Energy' speeding stuff (Red Bull, Snickers Bars and the like)...
on 5 January 2004
Running for just over 28 minutes the original LP release of this, arguably the best of the Byrds' albums justified the adage that "less is more". Side one flowed seamlessly from "Artificial Energy" to "Get To You" and was a brilliant example of just how to integrate a suite of songs into a satisfying whole. Featuring superb production from Gary Usher, faultless harmonies and (for the time) highly innovative instrumental breaks it ranks as one of the most impressive LP sides ever made. Side two continued in exactly the same vein for the first four tracks (and a full ten minutes!) before hitting a serious brick wall with the dull, ponderous and wholly incongruous "Space Odyssey", leaving the listener with the distinct impression that something had gone horribly wrong or that they had just ran out of songs.
Both conclusions were true and the bonus tracks on the remastered versions of "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" and "Younger Than Yesterday" provide the answer. Cut out "Space Odyssey" and put David Crosby's "Lady Friend" (from "Younger Than Yesterday") as the opener to side two and his "Triad" (from "The Notorious Byrd Brothers") as its closer and... bingo... everything fits, both sides work and the album is transformed into a true masterpiece.
Recorded in the same period as the other tracks on the album, both songs rank up there with the best of Crosby's compositions and were presumably rejected from it as a result of his acrimonious departure part way through its production. A serious case of group politics at its very worst, and an album that should, but alas will probably never be reissued with this track listing as evidence of just how good it should/could have been.
Was this Roger McGuinn's defining moment? Rightly or wrongly he had always given the impression that he felt he WAS the Byrds and that the others were there merely to assist. Then, part way through the work on this album, David Crosby departed, leaving only McGuinn, Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman. Clarke was not a contributor, Hillman was - quite notably on "Younger than Yesterday", the previous album - but he was easygoing and more likely to defer to McGuinn on creative decisions than Crosby and Gene Clark (who had left earlier). This left McGuinn largely in charge for the first time. Michael Clarke had also gone by the time the album was completed. Gene Clark actually rejoined for a couple of weeks before he left again.
The backdrop to this was an unofficial battle between the big white rock bands of the mid to late 1960's. "Rubber Soul" from the Beatles had started it in late 1965. The Beach Boys then upped the ante in May 1966 with "Pet Sounds", an album, so far in advance of anything the group had ever done before that it knocked out both critics and fellow artists alike. 1966 and 1967 saw further great album releases from the Beatles, the Stones and the Byrds themselves but the Beatles appeared to trump the lot with "Sgt Pepper" in the Summer of `67. McGuinn was left pondering, how did he compete with this monster, and, possibly more importantly, how did he arrest and rectify the public's increasing lack of interest in his group.
He retained producer Gary Usher, who'd done a good job on "Younger Than Yesterday", introducing new colouration such as the trumpet of Hugh Masakela which featured on "So you want to be a Rock'n'Roll Star". Usher was originally a musician himself and had worked with Brian Wilson as both co-writer and co-producer. McGuinn gave him instructions to utilise whoever or whatever was required from the LA session scene. Roger himself opened up his electronic bag of tricks to the fullest extent. We'd heard snippets from this bag earlier on "CTA102" and "Mr Spaceman". To a greater or lesser extent every track on "Notorious" benefits from Roger's electronics. He also made individual tracks fade out and segue into each other to give the impression of a single body of work, which in some respects, it was. He also started with a strong selection of material even after dropping some, but not all, of the contribution from David Crosby.
A starting observation on "Notorious.." is that it was not constructed from a strong existing single plus other tracks as all the previous albums had been, or, at least that was the appearance they gave. It's likely to be because the Byrds were without a strong single at the time. However, in addition, the Beatles, the group that McGuinn was always most conscious of, had for some time, been issuing albums which were not at all singles based; albums which stood in their own right regardless of the singles market. This time it works for the Byrds. The first impression is of a set of well crafted and well performed songs with references mainly between themselves rather than to the outside world.
The only two non-Byrds written numbers on the album were "Goin' Back" and "Wasn't born to follow", both from Gerry Goffin and Carole King who were, perhaps, surprising contributors since they very much represented the pop "establishment". To most people's ears, mine included, "Goin' Back" is one of the best tracks on the album. A very full production with prominent string section, a pedal steel (from Clarence White, a later Byrd) and hints of the "old" folk rock sound in the background. Roger gives us as warm a vocal as you're going to get from the Byrds. This one is a real beaut. The other Goffin, King number gets the full space cowboy treatment; a delicate c&w feel with the addition of electronic phasing. Anyone who's seen the movie "Easy Rider" will remember hearing this in one of more joyful sections, backing Fonda and Hopper riding their Harleys.
Chris Hillman's name crops up in all the Byrds' songs credits apart from "Space Odyssey" which was McGuinn's baby. This started as a folk song (or drone to use today's words) which gets almost beaten into submission by the bleeps and swooshes of all the fancy electronics. The sound is OK in small doses but at near 4 minutes in length, the longest track on the album, it does overstay its welcome.
All the other tracks succeed, some triumphantly. Just to take some of the highlights. "Artificial Energy" the anti-drug lead-off track, is a boisterous, bouncy, affair with full brass section - the Byrds had never sounded like this before. "Get to You" is a light, jazzy, number along with an unusual time signature. It's along the lines of "I See You" from "Fifth Dimension" but without the deliberate discordancies. The jazzy touches appear in several numbers often with other influences. A notable feature is that several songs are treated to multiple effects. An example is "Change is Now" which moves from country to a raga like drone. "Old John Robertson" is a sing-along up-tempo country number which then switches into George Martin territory when a string section comes in. Not sure if this is copying or a post-modern comment but I'm inclined to the former. You rather feel that this multiplicity of treatment shouldn't work but most of the time it does.
McGuinn didn't excise all trace of Dave Crosby on the album. His name crops upon the credits to "Draft Morning", "Dolphins Smile" and "Tribal Gathering" along with those of Hillman and McGuinn. It`s all too likely that all these are Crosby numbers to which the twosome have added bits in order to justify the credits. These all contain entirely predictable hippy sentiments for lyrics but the music, particularly for the first two, is just fine. "Draft Morning", indeed, is one of the standout tracks. The switch from an idyllic folky mood with super-sweet harmonies to sounds associated with armies and conflict is superbly done.
Just like many of the other CD's in this sequence of replicated vinyl, the extra tracks are hardly worth having. However in this instance, the Crosby authored "Triad", is very definitely of interest. Reportedly Crosby's departure from the Byrds was at least in part caused by McGuinn's refusal to have this track on the album. He was wrong. Whilst "Triad" does have highly controversial lyrics (though this was during the permissive late `60`s), musically it is well up to the standard of the other tracks on the album. Still it's good to have it now.
Superficially this album, that is the original release, does appear to be many steps removed from "Mr Tambourine Man", their first album. The distinctive 12 string sound has almost completely disappeared. However "Notorious.." does still place the emphasis on sound as opposed to lyrics which I feel had been a feature of the Byrds from the very start. With Dylan it used to be the words and voice that hit you first. With the Byrds it was the overall sound with voice, or voices, submerged into a seeming multitude of guitars and/or whatever other instruments were used, and multiple instruments was particularly the case on "Notorious..". McGuinn was "the sound man" from the beginning. He had sounds in his head which he had to get out.
Given the acrimonious goings on while this album was being recorded it's surprising that there is such an atmosphere of calm about the end result. That such arguments were taking place can be gathered from the "outro", not present on the original of course, but within the bonus tracks. Roger was evidently well able to block out such disruption from the production process.
Notwithstanding the excellent contributions from Hillman, this was undoubtedly McGuinn's masterpiece, flawed though it was in places. Whilst he would find himself fully in charge from two albums on in the sequence, he would never produce something at this level of consistency ever again. He had the belief, the vision, and the command of detail. At the time he boasted that the Byrds, by which he meant himself, would go on to produce records in the genres of jazz, folk, country and electronics; a double album was mooted. It's all too easy to make fun of Roger nee Jim McGuinn, BUT he was one of the two most important individuals (the other being Bob) in the development of folk rock, bearing in mind the adaptations of "Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn" were almost solely due to him. Also via his blending of John Coltrane plus Indian raga to a folky number from Gene Clark, he produced the revolutionary "Eight Miles High" which was the main kick starter of the psychedelic era. And, along with Chris Hillman, he introduced country rock from as early as the previous album through this one. And this was even before Gram Parsons had joined, and McGuinn had shown the bravery to produce an entire album of country. (There was even a countryish track on the second album but it was a bit half-hearted). Roger McGuinn fully deserves his place in rock history and he's produced a wealth of mighty fine music as well . And don't forget Chris Hillman. A brilliant number 2 man as Gram Parsons also found in the Burrito Brothers.
Such tender music created in such an atrocious situation. Back in 1967 the byrds recorded their masterpiece album, full of beautiful songwriting and hauting harmonies, but behind the scenes they were bickering like children. Before the album was originally released David Crosby was fired (his songwriting credits are minimal but excellent) and shortly after michael clark left also. So what are we to expect from such an album...an aimless ego-tripping bloated beast..nope a quite beautiful charming record in fact. The real beauty comes not just from the harmonies that one can only compare to the beach boys but from the way that david and roger seem to caress their guitars inot creating some of the most lovely textured guitar work I can think of. Get to you, and the fantastic dolphin's smile are highlights, but surely the albums greatest treasure is the beautful goin' back.
The outtakes show what terrible choices the byrds often made (the ommision of triad is criminal) but are probably best listened to separately from the rest of the album.
Check the hidden track at the end of the cd to hear some of the arguing that I mentioned earlier, it's excruciating.
on 2 November 2007
Notorious Byrd Brothers is perhaps best known for the internal rivalry between the band members and the sacking of David Crosby mid-recording. This is the album where individual differences found their voice and the band started to fall apart (although the seeds were sown on the previous album). Notorious seems to benefit from this fracturing of the band's spirit, it is an album of immense beauty; it is melodic and warm, yet clothed in a more wary and questioning outlook on the world. The melancholy that i argue exists in most of the band's work has come to the fore, and prevails in an album that is uneasy and moody; it's relaxing yet slightly dark, innocence ('Dolphin's smile') does battle with scepticism ('Draft Morning', sleepy melodies are punctuated by guitar feedback and moog synthesisers ('wasnt born to follow', 'Change is now', 'tribal gathering'). There is an overriding sense of trouble ahead, or conversely that the unknown awaits, and all this created a thoroughly deep and beautiful record.
The album sees a continuation of the band's sound amidst forays into psychedelia, country, Indian music and a greater sense of sonic experimentation. Their cover of Goffin and King's 'Goin' back' is one of their classic harmonies, despite Crosby's protestation that a cover be included at expense of his rather good 'Triad' (now one of the bonus tracks). Crosby also originally wrote 'Draft Morning', though reworked by the rest of the band when he was sacked, which for me is the album's highlight - a jangling masterpiece of somnolent melancholy. Crosby's presence can also be found on the psychedelic 'Tribal gathering' and the sweet 'Dolphin's smile'.
Although an overriding melodism envelops the album, the trademark jangle is not so prominent, and the album seems to travel at breakneck speed; particularly through the hypnotic and eastern tinged 'Change is now' and the country-esque 'old john robertson'. The album travels so quickly because it is so short, at 29 minutes long it is a little too concise, which is the only reservation i have.
This is my favourite Byrds album because it is very consistent, it is moody and beautiful. It is a soothing album, yet a dark undercurrent carries the album, as if knowing the band would never be the same again. The band took their original sound to new places, through different genres and subject matter; no longer pidgeon holed as just jangle pop, or folk rock; the Byrds made an album that was mature and experimental that explored the possibilities of their existing sound. This for me marks the end of the traditional Byrds sound as McGuinn and Hillman ventured into country, and they were barely a band after this. The jangle slept until 1983!
on 2 June 2010
This 1997 Sony edition of The Notorious Byrd Brothers contains additional material, tacked on to the last track (17). After a few seconds pause, we hear an attempt to record a number for which Michael Clarke either cannot or won't play what McGuinn, Crosby, and producer Gary Usher suggest would be appropriate: a jazz shuffle rhythm and relevant turns to accent different sections of the song. The crew are variously encouraging of Clarke, Usher especially, but the drummer seemingly hates the material and, perhaps, his inability to provide what's required.
At one point Crosby and McGuinn have a mild go at each over the other's ego, but, basically they seem to have a shared vision of what they want to accomplish. This studio chatter is instructive and no doubt is representative of any of that era's rock bands' toil to create something fresh in the studio.
If this is also included in the Byrds' boxed set, perhaps someone can mention it.
It would've been a nice touch if Sony had told us which tracks featured subsitute drummer Jim Gordon.
on 8 February 2016
a lot of criticism was made at the time of this release about the phasing effects ruining the album but i dont personally think so. some great classic byrds tracks on here and the harmonies as ever sublime.the cover always made me laugh with their depiction of david crosby as a horses ass.
The Byrds had become a great album-band, releasing the classic '5D' and 'Younger Than Yesterday' sets - the latter their first minus the great Gene Clark. Another exit would occur during this album, as David Crosby walked - later to resurface with Nash and Stills, as well as in a Neil Young-less Buffalo Springield and a supporting player to Joni Mitchell. Despite the drama, this album is as focused and vital as its predecessor, Beach Boys-associate Gary Usher continuing the great work he did on 'Younger...' as producer. The horse on the cover nods to Mr Crosby in case you didn't make out!!!
The 11-track album still stands up wonderfully, the Hillman-McGuinn-Clarke line-up still a potent force with that chemistry that made The Byrds the Byrds, even when most of the original band was gone. The album opens on a strong note with the Hillman-McGuinn-Clarke-penned which like 'Thoughts & Words' seems to question the chemicals of the time, that were ironically captured in songs like '5D', 'Eight Miles High' & 'Renaissance Fair.' I think this is one of the most underrated Byrds songs, a critique of hippydom sometime before Neil Young took the era to task with his 'Doom Trilogy.' The music advances on the jazz-inflected 'So You Want to Be a Rock'N'Roll Star' - I'm sure that I'm not the only person to think this sounds like Beck, almpst thirty years before Mr Hansen would appear!!! Fans of 'Odelay' should love it...
As anyone who has heard 'Turn Turn Turn' or 'Mr Tambourine Man' will attest, The Byrds were great interpreters of other people's compositions and 'The Notorious...' features two great takes on Goffin-King tracks 'Goin' Back' (almost as sublime as Dusty's version) & 'Wasn't Born to Follow' - which has that killer psych-guitar solo and featured in a key scene in 'Easy Rider.' The band were certainly on the hippy trail, which explains Hillman's utopic 'Natural Harmony', Crosby & Hillman's 'Tribal Gathering' (more 'Renaissance Fair' than Altamont), & the lovely 'Dolphin's Smile.' Now I wouldn't normally recommend a song that goes on about dolphins - Prince did an awful one, and so did Terrorvision, and I recall seeing a Crosby-Nash-Stills concert where they did a porpoise-related number...but 'Dolphin's Smile' is gorgeous and reminds me of a tale found in Heroditus' 'The Histories.' McGuinn, meanwhile was following the SF-tip previously evident on 'Mr Spaceman' and 'CTA-102', his 'Space Odyssey' preceding Kubrick and Bowie and nodding to the short-story Arthur C. Clarke wrote, 'The Sentinel.'
These are not the best moments, I've always loved 'Get To You', which seems a gorgeous overlooked song in the Byrds' canon - makes me think of the country stuff that followed and Arthur Lee at the same time. A re-recorded version of 'Old John Robertson' (found as a bonus cut on 'Younger Than Yesterday') is a joy, sort of the folk Byrds with Van Dyke Parks-Wilson-George Martin-pretentsions. The best song on the album proper remains 'Draft Morning', apparently penned by Crosby, Hillman and McGuinn - though there is some dispute. It advances on the musical climes of earlier tracks like 'Everybody's Been Burned' and 'Here Without You' and is a gorgeous elegy and reflection of the war in Vietnam. It's certainly up there with Dennis Wilson's lost classic 'Carry Me Home.'
The bonus tracks certainly aren't as great as those on 'Younger...' , three instrumentals and two alternate takes of album tracks. The only key moment being Crosby's 'Triad', which like his earlier 'Lady Friend', failed to make a Byrds album. Probably as well as it's a rather rude song that would influence the title of Big Star's 'Sister Lovers' and had more in common with Crosby's solo classic recorded with members of the New Purple Sage a year or so later. In all, another great Byrds album and one to file alongside '5D', 'Younger Than Yesterday', 'Sweetheart of the Rodeo', 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde' & 'Untitled/Unissued.'
on 2 May 2005
Is there such a word?..i`m not sure but it certainly describes this record,,the Byrds were at the height of their power on this one...contrary to previous beleif Gene Clark did contribute and should have had a writing credit for Get to You..but if you are into 60`s West Coast,psychadelia or top notch pop rock then this is an essential album
on 28 June 2001
This is the best Byrds album and if you do not like their country album Sweetheart of the Rodeo then their last album of any note. Although not officially on the album this is the last one to contain David Crosbys influence and his influence is definitely missing on later albums. If you only buy one Byrds album buy this one.