As we touched on Gene Clark and The Byrds while listening to Monica Queen yesterday it felt right to sneak this alphabetically outta sync entry in here...
The Byrds 3rd album released in 1966 sees them still firmly in Folk Rock mode but branching out in places. It was recorded between January and May and significantly, somewhere around February or March, the bands main songwriter, Gene Clark, left the band. Roger McGuinn and David Crosby uppped their songwriting efforts but the album still featured a handful of cover versions and an instrumental of varying quality. It is The Byrds first album not to contain any songs by Bob Dylan.
McGuinn offers up a belter to start us off. Track 1, side 1, “5D (Fifth Dimension)”, is a perfect slice of Dylanesque folk rock. McGuinn has described the the song as being about spirituality and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity “'5D' was an ethereal trip into metaphysics, into an almost Moslem submission to an Allah, an almighty spirit, free-floating, the fifth dimension being the 'mesh' which Einstein theorised about”. It’s arguable that young Roger may have been exposed to the California Sunshine in more ways than one. The song is still an absolute peach.
Undeniably the best thing on this record is, however, touched by the hand of Gene Clark. “Eight Miles High”, co-written with McGuinn and Crosby, tells of The Byrds first trip to tour England, somewhere they felt an affinity with due to its folk music and them all being huge Beatles fans. The lyrics tell of arriving (“Eight miles high and when you touch down, You’ll find that it’s stranger than known”. Airliners usually fly at around 6-7 miles altitude but Eight scanned better and also alluded to the Fabs “Eight Days A Week”) and also a visit to Liverpool (“Rain grey town, known for its sound”). All this while McGuinn lays down a classic Byrds-ian Rickenbacker 12 string riff, every bit as wonderful as that on “Mr Tambourine Man” just not as up front (listen closely as they sing “and when you touch down”, utterly thrilling), while in the instrumental breaks he attempts to rend from that Rickenbacker a sound akin to Ravi Shankar doing John Coltrane ! It really is a stone cold classic, in many places cited as the first example of Psychedelic Rock.
The new songwriters do good things with McGuinn’s “Mr Spaceman”, which sounds vaguely Country foreshadowing a future route for the band, and Crosby’s “What's Happening? ! ? !”. Then there is “Captain Soul”…a groovy R’n’B instrumental that I defy anyone who doesn’t already know it to identify it as being by The Byrds, it sounds nothing like them. It’s one I like to play in DJ sets when I get the chance.
There are arrangements of two “traditional” Folk songs included. I encase “traditional” in quotes as, although “Wild Mountain Tyme” is based on Scottish melodies and poetry that go back to the 18th century, the song itself was put together by Belfast musician Francis McPeake and first recorded by him in 1950. It’s a song I really like (particularly a version by The Silencers) and have been known to have a go at it at Open Mic nights in the past.
The other trad tune and one of my other great Byrds favourites is “John Riley” which comes with another writing credits mystery. This records label credit the song to B. Gibson and R. Neff whereas Wikipedia (quite rightly I think) credits it as a traditional arrangement by The Byrds. I have no idea who R. Neff is but B. Gibson is Bob Gibson, an American folk singer active around the 1950’s who recorded a version of “John Riley” on his album “Live At Cornell” in 1957. But “John Riley” is a famed English folk song dating back as far as the 17th century and loosely based on Homers “Odyssey” and the idea of the disguised lover returning. Anyways, The Byrds do a superb job on it.
There are some stinkers. “I Come And Stand At Every Door” is based on a poem by Turkish writer NâzÄ±m Hikmet, a plea for peace from a 7 year old girl 10 years after she died at Hiroshima. An admirable sentiment but it’s a bit of a dirge. There’s a rotten version of “Hey Joe” taken at the breakneck speed most bands did around ‘66 before Tim Rose recorded his arrangement, slowing it down, and a certain Mr Hendrix made it famous. Finally “2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song)” is mercifully short and is the best argument I can think of why this should have been a 10 rather than an 11 track album.
The loss of a songwriter of the stature of Gene Clark must have hit hard and because of that “5th Dimension” does sound a little disjointed and confused. But it’s The Byrds, they make a glorious noise and I forgive them.
John Riley - https://youtu.be/mVTHTdTAHb4?si=6YbBhRRVBi3rxx0u