Monday, October 1, 2007

No. 171: The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Band: The Byrds
Album: The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Byrds' "summer of love" record, "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" is full of weird tape effects and spacey harmonies. Also, Roger McGuinn's exquisite 12-string guitar.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: None of the songs have a really solid pop sensibility and are therefore easily forgettable.
Best song: "Tribal Gathering" is tons of fun and "Natural Harmony" is wonderful.
Worst song: "Old John Robertson" isn't great. Thankfully, it's short.
Is it awesome?: Not really. It's good, but not great.

If you're like me, you probably don't know any songs on this album. That doesn't mean it isn't a great album; I didn't know any songs on that Dr. John record and it's pretty great. Stll, this is the Byrds and they have songs you know. Just not on this record.

The band is clearly taking risks here, but I wonder if there's some Puritan-hard-work thing going on here with album reviewer who love it.

(I guess I should explain that. There's a feeling among a lot of sports writers, at least, that hardship is simply the best thing in the world. If something is easy for someone, these people think, it can't be as good as the thing that is hard. If someone goes through suffering -- a Puritan concept -- mostly through hard work, the finished project must be great. This is partially why little white athletes -- David Eckstein, Doug Flutie, etc. -- are beloved. They had to work extra hard to be what they are.)

As such, "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" was a bitch to make. David Crosby and Michael Clarke both left the band afterwards. Crosby and Roger McGuinn fought and fought over ideas over covers, arrangements and songwriting. He was eventually kicked out of the band during the recording.

Still, the band's summer of love record sees them using more electronics, which was pretty interesting in 1967. Moog dominates part of "Space Odyssey," a song inspired by the book that inspired the movie. As it turns out, the band had wanted the song to be included in the movie, but Stanley Kubrick opted for no current music.

"Natural Harmony" is probably the record's highlight. Awash in tape effects and synth, it's a spacey journey that was clearly influenced by tons of drugs. Good times.

Similarly, the synth in "Wasn't Born to Follow" makes a pretty straightforward country rock song into something considerably more interesting. "Change Is Now" has McGuinn's classic guitar sound and the jazz quality in "Tribal Gathering" is entirely different than anything the band had done before and the distorted guitar breakdown is unexpected and awesome.

It's a fun listen, but it's hardly the band's best work. The Byrds seem to have a lot of filler on their records; Putting so many on this list is probably just boomer nostalgia.

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