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Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Byrds: In The Beginning

THE BYRDS: IN THE BEGINNING (1964/1988)

1) Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away; 2) Boston; 3) The Only Girl I Adore; 4) You Won't Have To Cry; 5) I Knew I'd Want You; 6) The Airport Song; 7) The Reason Why; 8) Mr. Tambourine Man; 9) Please Let Me Love You; 10) You Movin'; 11) It Won't Be Wrong; 12) You Showed Me; 13) She Has A Way; 14) For Me Again; 15) It's No Use; 16) Here Without You; 17) Tomorrow Is A Long Ways Away (acoustic).

«The Great Lost Byrds Album». Well, maybe not that great, and not that lost, either, considering that the majority of these tracks (albeit in slightly alternate takes) were originally released in 1969 as Preflyte, an album that actually sold better than the contemporary Dr. Byrds & Mr Hyde, what with the public ready to show McGuinn what they thought of his Clark-less, Crosby-less, Hillman-less «Byrds». Still, in its expanded form, released on CD as In The Beginning in the late Eighties, this is a pretty nice little record, well worth owning to logically round out the catalog. In fact, nothing seriously prevents us from counting it as the first, «quintessentially early» Byrds album, their equivalent of a Please Please Me or a Bob Dylan, which simply hap­pened to be left on the shelf at the time.

Consisting of early recordings that the band made as The Beefeaters, The Jet Set, and, eventually, The Byrds, In The Beginning's first and biggest surprise is in how many of these early tunes (most of them, in fact) are originals: the Byrds may have been one of the few bands in history that started out cutting nothing but their own songs, only to end up doing Dylan and Pete Seeger be­cause somebody thought they were not worthy. But, actually, they were — these originals are fun, harmless, pleasant, often catchy, and occasionally innovative folk-pop.

From that very beginning, Gene Clark was the primary songwriter: seven songs are credited sole­ly to him, whereas most of McGuinn's songs are co-credited (to McGuinn/Clark or McGuinn/ Crosby). His strong debt to The Beatles and particularly The Searchers is clear, but he does his best to come up with original melodies, and sometimes makes bold decisions: ʻBostonʼ is the most striking of these, combining moody folk harmonies with the bass line of ʻMemphis Ten­nesseeʼ — pretty much an epitome of what «folk-rock» should be all about — but it's hardly the best song of the lot, just an example of what strange direction the mind of this promising young fellow could choose in the age of ʻHouse Of The Rising Sunʼ.

On the whole, the Byrds were working very strictly in the «pop» idiom, despite their fascination with Greenwich Village: all the songs are short, all the songs follow the verse/chorus/bridge structure, all the songs strive to have hooks, and the lyrical and emotional sides do not show much depth, let alone «vision». Little love songs, ranging from the way-too-cute (ʻThe Only Girl I Adoreʼ — hey, David Crosby co-wrote it! Hey, how come he never sings it live? It's so much better than ʻAlmost Cut My Hairʼ!) to the gallant serenade (ʻTomorrow Is A Long Ways Awayʼ, whose medievalistic romanticism borders on the laughable, but the harmonies are too gorgeous and elegant to laugh away). There's an early version of ʻMr. Tambourine Manʼ, all right, but no 12-string jangle yet — no chance for this particular version to change the face of the musical business. But the seeds are all there.

Some of the tunes would later end up on the band's first two albums or the accompanying B-sides, but really, with the exception of one or two really trite songs (ʻThe Only Girl I Adoreʼ even has the gall to end up with a «seductive» Beatlesque ʻoh-ohʼ flourish — ridiculous!), most of them could be tightened up to the status of semi-classics. ʻThe Airport Songʼ is actually giving us an almost mature David Crosby (at least, his starry-eyed singing style is already in place); ʻThe Reason Whyʼ and ʻFor Me Againʼ are as introspective as Clark would ever get, and so on. Per­haps the thing that we subconsciously miss the most on these songs is the Wrecking Crew — apparently, the band members are playing all their instruments here, and so the recordings lack the necessary polish. On the other hand, at least this shows that they could play their instruments as early as 1964 — not to mention write their own songs, which was not a typical ability for beginning pop bands circa 1964. And at most, this is a record that one can actually keep for en­joyment, rather than pure historical interest, so "it won't be wrong" to issue it a proper thumbs up and state that it is a definite must-own for any half-serious Byrds lover.

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