The Byrds’ 20 best songs

Famous fans and The Byrds themselves choose their greatest tracks

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11 WASN’T BORN TO FOLLOW
From The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Jan 1968)
The Byrds deliver Goffin & King’s transcendent hymn to wind-blown independence to the counter-culture, via an airing in Easy Rider.

SIMON NICOL, Fairport Convention: I had been an avid consumer of each new Byrds LP as it appeared, delighted by the speedy change of flavour as members dropped away and new players were absorbed. “Wasn’t Born To Follow” is a Brill Building song which in this arrangement is a perfect frozen moment of free-spirited hippy ideals. Which is why it sat so well in the soundtrack of Easy Rider. Hearing it now takes me straight back to fringed cowboy jackets, patchouli and pot hanging in the air, and headband-wearing hippy chicks in cheesecloth dresses as far as the eye could see. And when the almost-Pre-Raphaelite storm of romantic lyrics abates, we get the track phasing and swooping as the lead guitar flies free. If you wanted to know what the ’60s were like in three minutes, look no further.

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10 MY BACK PAGES
From Younger Than Yesterday (Feb 1967). Single March 1967. US chart: 30
Perhaps The Byrds’ finest Dylan cover (despite Crosby’s misgivings about it having all the life of “a four-day-old mackerel”), distinguished by McGuinn’s great Rickenbacker lines.

RICHARD HAWLEY: I first heard “My Back Pages” on The Byrds’ Original Singles, Volume 1. It’s obviously a Dylan song, but they do it in such a way that makes it theirs. I fell in love with The Byrds when I was about 16. It was the harmonies that really drew me in, then the brilliance of the songs themselves and McGuinn’s 12-string playing. That’s something I’ve gone back to on this new album of mine [Standing At The Sky’s Edge], where I’ve used the 12-string a lot. I remember convincing my nan to buy me a Baldwin Double Six for a hundred quid. And she lent me the money because of The Byrds. That instrument is the one I used on “Baby, You’re My Light” [from 2001’s Late Night Final] and I played it loads on Jarvis’ first album. I used to be a serious Byrds nerd. I’m a huge Gene Clark fan, too. People say that “Down In The Woods”, one of the tracks on the new album, was nicked from The Stooges. But it’s not. I nicked it from where Ron Asheton got it from: “Tribal Gathering” by The Byrds. Ron Asheton nicked that riff from The Byrds, while McGuinn took it from Bo Diddley, who in turn stole it from Billy Boy Arnold, who nicked it from Charley Patton. So even The Byrds go back to the birth of the blues.

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9 MR SPACEMAN
From Fifth Dimension (July 1966). Single September 1966. US chart: 36
Bluegrass by way of the Milky Way. McGuinn sends out a welcoming message to astral travellers with this piece of zippy, warm-hearted country.

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ROGER McGUINN: This wasn’t about drugs! It’s a country song, I guess one of the first rustlings of country music in The Byrds’ recordings. After listening to Ringo [Starr] doing the Buck Owens song “Act Naturally” on Help!, I thought, OK, The Beatles are doing a little 2/4 country riff here, let’s see what I can come up with. Putting a space theme to a country song seemed interesting to me, mixing things up a little bit. I had a quasi-spiritual thing with space, it’s about having a bigger picture of what’s going in the universe. On some level the song is a joke, but I knew that FM radio waves would continue into space. I thought the song would probably get played on the radio and so there was no harm in putting a message in there. It was tongue in cheek, but it was also, “Hey, if anybody’s out there take me for a ride, man!”

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