Wednesday, October 26, 2011
FORGOTTEN MUSIC THURSDAY-THE BYRDS
Nothing stokes the fires of sentimentality quite as powerfully as the prospect of reuniting a rock group who had once hit dizzying creative heights. More often than not, the actual event is anticlimactic with fantasy crumbling in the face of unrealized expectation. Such was the case with a very high profile quintet of folk-rock pioneers.
The Byrds coupled great vocal harmonies with the jangling 12 string and note perfect arrangements of Roger McGuinn. They provided an exciting response to the sounds of the British Invasion in 1965. Following a short string of brilliant LPs, the original line up began to fracture. One by one, four out of the five charter members quit (or were fired) and by late 1968, McGuinn was left to carry on with the name. From this point through 1971 the band all but dropped off the commercial radar.
Flash forward to late 1972
By dint of the ever-shifting career sands that the four ex-Byrds found themselves treading at this point, the planets oddly aligned. David Geffen, who was then chief evil officer of Asylum Records, helped broker a deal to bring the old gang back together once more. Out of everyone, David Crosby had found the greatest post-Byrds success with CSN (and sometimes Y) and would wear the producer's hat for these sessions. The group blueprint used for Crosby, Stills Nash & Young was also, albeit awkwardly, applied in titling the reunion effort. Everyone was given equal billing, their names emblazoned on the front cover, with the proviso that they were free to indulge in their own musical endeavors and regroup whenever they wished for future projects.
As it stands, this would be the last time that all five entered the studio together to make an album.
Was it worth their time?
While this is not necessarily a poor collection of songs, Byrds definitely lacks the spark of their earlier work. If you come in expecting to hear McGuinn's Rickenbacker 360 12 in full cry, revisiting the sounds of '65, you will quickly be disappointed. On the other hand, if you dig acoustic guitars and laid back arrangements then this will hit the spot.
The old adage about how “you can’t go home again” is more than appropriate in this instance as it is damn near impossible to recover the past. Especially when you are up against a ticking clock. The individual “Byrds” in 1972 had been brought back together with business interests taking precedence over the joy of actually making music with each other again. Time may have softened their attitudes to a degree but it didn’t erase the intense bullshit that had drove them apart. It is to their credit that they managed to get through a month of tracking without imploding all over again. Perhaps because no one wanted to spoil the moment with critical arguments over quality control, the material that each songwriter brought to the table was taken at face value. Topping the "if only" list would be the fact that they really didn't get a chance to get together and simply play. Given the opportunity to jam and trade ideas, they may have at least rediscovered a professional rapport and written some new songs together. Very little time was allotted to this endeavor (roughly one month), so the end result feels slightly underdeveloped.
“See the Sky About to Rain” is the only truly majestic moment, due mostly to Gene Clark's immaculate delivery, which managed to outdo Neil Young's version when he finally etched it in stone for On the Beach. The Byrds had always been far more successful at interpreting the work of others and this is a shining example. McGuinn's guiding hand had to have played a large part in shaping the arrangement, as this has always been his forte.