The Byrds’ 20 best songs

Famous fans and The Byrds themselves choose their greatest tracks

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17 WHY?
From Younger Than Yesterday (February 1967). B-side of “Eight Miles High”, March 1966. UK chart: 24. US chart: 14
Driven by Crosby’s growing fascination with the music of Ravi Shankar, and propelled by McGuinn’s sitar-like drone, this is a landmark of psychedelic raga-rock.

BOBBY GILLESPIE: There are three different versions of this song. I love the version that’s on the B-side of “Eight Miles High”. That version is raga-rock at his best, with McGuinn’s guitar sounding like pure “White Light/White Heat”. It’s a scorching solo, totally out there. I think it’s only about three chords, but it’s always been a favourite of mine. The whole sound of The Byrds is what made them special. Yes, the 12-string is incredible, but the harmonies are out of this world. Earlier today I was listening to Preflyte, which is the album of demos, and even on there the harmonies are amazing. Listen to what Crosby and Clark are doing and it’s so beautiful. You can hear what their influences are – but at the same time it’s something completely new.

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I’m a Byrds fanatic, really. I love the sound; it’s really joyous, euphoric music, and the whole attitude of the band. Everyone always goes on  about Sgt Pepper, but Notorious… destroys it. And the performances on Fifth Dimension, especially, are outstanding. It’s a very intense record, almost like The Velvet Underground with songs like “I See You” and “Eight Miles High”. It’s pretty primitive, as well.

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16 DOLPHIN’S SMILE
From The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Jan 1968)
A calm, blissed-out, hugely inventive marriage of Crosby’s timeless natural imagery and McGuinn’s modern palette of psychedelic guitar sounds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m68aXt7GZCM

NICK POWER, The Coral: “Dolphin’s Smile” sounds like music no one had ever heard before. It’s complex, I don’t even know what the timing is, but like a lot of my favourite Byrds tunes you don’t notice how it moves. It just sort of… glides. Everything they do seems effortless. You listen and think, I could do that – and you can’t! I love the imagery on this song. It’s pure. It never comes across as the bad, naff side of hippy-dom. I don’t even think it’s an idealistic thing, it just feeds your imagination. As soon as you hear that tune – or pretty much anything off the Notorious Byrd Brothers album – it conjures up so many colours and images. It’s just unbelievable, and the vocals are stunning. They are still underrated, I think. Going from “Mr Tambourine Man” to Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in four years is just astonishing.

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15 EVERYBODY’S BEEN BURNED
From Younger Than Yesterday (February 1967)
B-side of “So You Want To Be A Rock’n’Roll Star”, January 1967. US chart: 29
Crosby’s jazz-scented rumination on a failed love affair actually dated from his early days on the LA folk circuit, before finally making it onto The Byrds’ fourth album in electrified form.

LOU BARLOW, Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh: I’d always known about The Byrds, but when my wife and I met they became the soundtrack for our young love. “Everybody’s Been Burned” is one of those songs that made my cry, which I can’t say about many songs. We split up for a while and she became engaged to somebody else. There was this huge upheaval and I was writing all these songs on my own, and I started playing that song because it was so important to she and I. It had a very calming effect for me, just playing it. Then, when we got back together again, I was working on a record and recorded it for that. Every single word in the song meant something to me, so I thought it was ideal. The original is so incredible musically, you can’t imitate it. It’s impossible to describe that loose sound the early Byrds had. They were just coming out of this period at the Beatlesque pop end of things and were incorporating this undercurrent of jazz into the music. I thought, “Yeah, I’m gonna butcher it, musically, because lyrically I believe in it so much.” When I was in Dinosaur Jr, J [Mascis] was always bad-mouthing The Byrds: “They’re the worst, they’re so wimpy.” But I’d be defending them: “No, they’re so beautiful!”

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