The Byrds’ 20 best songs

Famous fans and The Byrds themselves choose their greatest tracks

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14 TRIAD
From the compilation Never Before (December 1987)
“Why can’t we go on as three?” asks Crosby in this gorgeous ode to the inclusive pleasures of ’60s free love. Written in 1967 during the sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the song, amazingly, failed to make the final cut.

DAVID CROSBY: “Triad” was just a hippy dream kind of thing. The time around “Triad” was a great time to be alive. You have to remember that this was after the invention of birth control and before the onslaught of AIDS. So we were in this pocket in history where we could just ‘do it’ a lot. A situation like “Triad” was what it was. It happened and it was a great pleasure. I know a lot of people it happened to and I had it happen to me several times. Some of those relationships were almost stable, lasted quite a while and were really wonderful. I don’t think there are any rules about how you can love somebody. There are lots of possibilities. We knew it wasn’t a stable, let’s-have-kids kind of relationship, but it was fun. At that point we were starting to explore all kinds of answers. There were people living in different groups: threes, fours, tens, twenties. As time passes, stuff gets aggrandised and takes on a kind of legendary status. But those of us who were there know it for what it was.

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13 TRIBAL GATHERING
From The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Jan 1968)
Written by David Crosby and Chris Hillman, this feverish jazz-rock trip captures the communal hippy ideal at its Utopian peak.

MARK GARDENER, Ride: I’m a bit of a Byrds freak. My uncle turned me on to them when I was about nine years old. I got into the hits and then slowly I found my way into Notorious Byrd Brothers, which is my favourite album. In my darker, more tripped-out days, I remember coming home with a mate, hallucinating, and listening to that album from start to finish. “Tribal Gathering” is amazing. Where is that coming from? It’s so hard to place, it’s such a strange track. What were they on when they wrote it? How do you get a time signature like that? They were such a strong writing force, individually and collectively, and there was always something explorative about what they were doing as a unit. The Byrds were on that tightrope, they could have fallen to one side and been a bit fey, but they never did. They always kept it cool and interesting. You felt they were on the inside of the counter-culture, they were qualified to write and sing about it. Much more than The Beatles, in a way. I would definitely have enjoyed myself at some of Crosby’s parties! Hallucinogenics and lots of beautiful girls with flowers dancing around? I could definitely have had a piece of that. In fact, I think I tried to do my own version of a Tribal Gathering in my early Glastonburys… This song didn’t just influence my ears – it influenced my philosophy on life for a while. I’m a hippy at heart, and I guess that comes from their music.

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12 LADY FRIEND
Single July, 1967. US chart: 82
The only Byrds’ A-side to be written solely by Crosby, who also oversaw the lengthy recording of the song and replaced his bandmates’ backing vocals with his own.

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BRENT RADEMAKER, Beachwood Sparks: I think it’s so ahead of its time with the horns. Think of all the stuff that came after, Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears, white rock psychedelia, that uses horns. That song was all Crosby – he was fighting for that song to be big and it didn’t even make it on an album. It was on a single but it was a flop. That says a lot about a song as well, the circumstances in which it was written. Because when you’re in a band that has such different writers, if you ever thought enough of a song to fight for it knowing that you’re gonna get totally ridiculed by the other guys – not because the song’s bad, but just because of how passionate you might be about a song – that says a lot about it. My God, the original mix is crazy sounding. There’s so much reverb – it’s sounds like Flying Saucer Attack or something! It’s pretty heavy for The Byrds, too. And it’s so beautiful – the words… if you use words in a song to equate a girl or love or a feeling or emotion, but you’re using the waves of the ocean, it’s killer – but it doesn’t sound anything like what you think surf rock is. I could talk forever about this.

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