From “So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star” to “Mr Tambourine Man”, here are the greatest Byrds tracks, as chosen by famous fans, and introduced by Roger McGuinn himself. Originally published in Uncut’s November 2012 issue (Take 186). Interviews: Rob Hughes, Tom Pinnock and Graeme Thomson
Roger McGuinn: “Looking back, you can see there were several main stages of Byrds music. We started out with the folky thing, mixing Dylan and Pete Seeger with The Beatles, then we dabbled in a bit of jazz fusion with “Eight Miles High”, which was misconstrued as psychedelic. It wasn’t meant to be, but it was branded that way. Then we did things that were purposefully psychedelic, like “Artificial Energy”, and then we got into country with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.
“It was always organic, it wasn’t a conscious effort at any point. The only conscious effort was to get away from the labels the press kept putting on us. Like, ‘Let’s get out of folk-rock and do something else’, which is why we got into John Coltrane. We wanted to extend our territory.
“Having said that, that early folk-rock sound is very pleasant, with the harmonies and jangling guitars. I was already a 12-string player, I’d been playing it since the late ’50s, and then we saw The Beatles with a Rickenbacker in A Hard Day’s Night. It was a different sound than you could get with an acoustic, so I had to get one of those! In the studio we put compression on it and it stretched out the sound, it made it sustain a good long time. Suddenly it really stuck out in the mix.
“It’s a good sound. I still like to listen to it, and it caught on! Many other people have used it in their work. We got a hit with ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ and we thought, ‘Why mess with success?’, but by the third album it was getting tired and we wanted to stretch out and see what else we could do. We decided to do more of our own material. It was always a little difficult politically because we could never do it quite evenly, and it was usually the producer who decided which songs ended up on the record. David Crosby always felt he was unfairly treated, that he didn’t get enough songs on the albums.
“It was hard to get an even share but the mixture worked. Crosby brought the jazz influence, Chris Hillman and later Gram Parsons brought the country, and I was coming from folk, as was Gene Clark. Michael Clarke didn’t have that much influence on the direction, though at one point he declared we should be a blues band like The Rolling Stones! Gram was the main influence on doing an entire album of country on Sweetheart…. I wanted to do some country but not all of it. I wanted to make a two-record chronology of the history of music.
“I’m grateful we decided to do the songs we did instead of bubblegum pop hits. We went for album-orientated quality. We had The Beatles as a benchmark, which made us very productive. I love all the stages of The Byrds. I can’t say I have a favourite. I love them all for different reasons.”