Category Archives: The Byrds

Today’s Top 3: Monterey Pop

June 16th, 1967 was a momentous day in the world of rock ’n’ roll: the three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival kicked off.

Wikipedia provides the specifics for the now-legendary event, so I’ll skip listing each and every act that partook in the weekend. Among them, however, were such stalwarts as Simon & Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Byrds, Laura Nyro, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Buffalo Springfield, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, and the Mamas & the Papas.

(I say “stalwarts” but, of course, several of those acts wouldn’t have been described as such at the time. And no act was considered legendary. “Legendary” and “rock ‘n’ roll” weren’t believed to go together.)

In any event, D.A. Pennebacker filmed the festivities for what became the beloved Monterey Pop concert doc. Big Brother’s manager didn’t want the unknown group filmed without getting paid, so ordered the crew to turn off the cameras; Janis Joplin, their lead singer, so wowed the crowd on Saturday afternoon, however, that she and the group were talked into returning the next day and performing for the cameras.

It was also an inexpensive proposition. How much would a similar three-day fest set you back today? According to the Inflation Calculator, the top ticket ($6.50) should now cost $47.63 – but that’s before the Ticketmaster/Live Nation overlords, and unfettered greed, play their part. In reality, it’d likely set you back $150-$200 a night.

All in all, the weekend was – in a word – groovy; and in two words, really groovy. 

So, with that in mind, here’s today’s Top 3: Monterey Pop. As in, highlights from each of the three days…

1) Friday:

Eric Burdon and the Animals – “Paint It Black.” Burdon & Co. cover the Stones.

Simon & Garfunkel – “The Sound of Silence.” Why this stupendous rendition of this timeless song wasn’t included in the movie proper, who knows? (It’s now a bonus on the DVD/blu-ray release.)

2) Saturday:

The Byrds – “He Was a Friend of Mine.” David Crosby’s impromptu rap in this clip supposedly ruffled the feathers of Mssrs. McGuinn and Hillman. And the set was the last time he performed with them…

Laura Nyro – “Wedding Bell Blues/Poverty Train.” The lore surrounding Laura Nyro’s appearance is that she was booed…but it was less being booed and more being ignored for reasons that had little to do with her. No one knew who she was, as was the case for other acts, but she was backed by a band she’d rehearsed with just once – and, as a result, her delicate music became something of a sludge hammer. That said, the bonus clips on the DVD/blu-ray are well worth watching – the camera picked up the magic that the audience missed.

Jefferson Airplane – “Somebody to Love.” The Airplane was flying high this pre-summer’s night thanks to the success of this song, which soared to No. 5 on the charts this weekend.

Otis Redding – “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” Another timeless performance.

3) Sunday:

Big Brother and the Holding Company – “Ball & Chain.” Does it get any better than this? The band’s performance is raw and ragged, but backing that voice…as Mama Cass says at the end, “wow.”

Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth.” David Crosby substituted for an AWOL Neil Young in the Springfield’s set, which didn’t sit well with his fellow Byrds…

The Who – “My Generation.” So the Who and Jimi Hendrix flipped a coin to see who followed who… and the Who lost. The poor Grateful Dead were stuck between them – and made to seem all the more boring my comparison.

Jimi Hendrix – “Hey Joe.” Well…a full performance on YouTube of Hendrix’s infamous “Wild Thing,” which culminated with him lighting his guitar on fire, isn’t to be found. This incendiary rendition of “Hey Joe” is, however.

The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreamin’.” The Mamas & the Papas following Hendrix, the Dead and the Who just seems…weird in the context of what we now know. But at the time? They were the hippie kings and queens of the Monterey Pop castle to three acts few were aware of.

 

The Essentials: The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday

Released on Feb. 6, 1967 in the U.S., Younger Than Yesterday was greeted by lukewarm reviews and sallow sales, stalling on the Billboard charts at No. 24. “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” the lead single, made it only to No. 29; and the follow-up singles of “My Back Pages” and “Have You Seen Her Face” did worse, ascending to a mere 30 and 74 during their brief chart runs.

It’s also a brief album, the 11 songs collectively clocking in a few ticks short of 30 minutes. (The 1996 CD reissue adds 6 songs and 17 minutes.)  And, yet, Younger Than Yesterday is a wondrous album well worth repeated listens. The songs, save for one, are exquisite; and while it isn’t the best Byrds album, it certainly flies with them.

The set opens with the gleefully cynical “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” which is said to have been written by Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman in response to the meteoric success of the Monkees. It features Hugh Masekela on trumpet; the audience screams were recorded at a 1965 Byrds concert in England.

“Have You Seen Her Face,” the first of four Chris Hillman-penned tracks on the LP, follows. As noted by many a Byrd historian, Hillman’s songwriting flowered on Younger Than Yesterday – an easy observation to make given that his only prior contribution was co-writing “Captain Soul” on Fifth Dimension with the rest of the band. He also, for the first time, sings lead.

“The Girl With No Name” is another Hillman gem. One can make the case that in less than two minutes it lays the foundation for the country-rock genre as a whole.

David Crosby’s “Renaissance Fair,” co-written with McGuinn, foreshadows the fabled Summer of Love, cinnamon and spice, and everything nice…

…while “Everybody’s Been Burned” conjures his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Another Crosby contribution, “Why,” was also cowritten with McGuinn. It had previously been released as the b-side to “Eight Miles High” almost a year before; why the band chose to re-record it for Younger Than Yesterday remains a delightful mystery. I say “delightful” because it’s a great song and the perfect end to an almost perfect album.

As great as “Why” is? That’s how bad Crosby’s “Mind Gardens,” the longest song on the original album (at 3:28), is. It’s the kind of track programmable CD players were made for. If, say, the bonus track of “It Happens Each Day,” which was likely left off due to its similarity to “Everybody’s Been Burned,” had been included instead? Younger Than Yesterday would have been the greatest Byrds album of all time – well, second greatest. Nothing beats Mr. Tambourine Man.

Another highlight: the cover of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” from which the album title comes. It was originally released on Dylan’s classic 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

The songs:

  1. “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”
  2. “Have You Seen Her Face”
  3. “C.T.A.-102″
  4. “Renaissance Fair”
  5. “Time Between”
  6. “Everybody’s Been Burned”
  7. “Thoughts and Words”
  8. “Mind Gardens”
  9. “My Back Pages”
  10. “The Girl With No Name”
  11. “Why”

Today’s Top 5: From A to E

ByrdsGreatestHits

In today’s world, music discovery is a breeze. You hear something, maybe on the soundtrack to a favorite TV show, and odds are you can immediately sample it on YouTube, Spotify or Apple Music. Maybe you hop over to Allmusic or Wikipedia to read about the artist and, if so desired, follow the imbedded links to acts that influenced him or her and that, in turn, he or she may have inspired. And for anyone who belongs to a subscription service, which seems to be more people every month, you generally have their entire catalogs at your fingertips to explore at once – unless it’s Neil Young, the Beatles or a few other outlier acts, of course.

In the abstract, it sounds great. In practice, however, I’m not sure it’s a good thing. It seems to guarantee many artists will be written off simply because listeners aren’t ready for them. Years long ago, just as now, Act A led to acts B, C, D and E, but the process played out over a period of time. The upside: You gradually became acclimated to the stylistic differences between acts A and E through repeated playings of B, C and D. (A and E are both vowels, but they don’t sound the same. That’s my point.)

Emmylou-Harris-Elite-HotelAnyway, I mentioned two posts back that, of late, I’ve been enjoying the high-res fidelity of Emmylou Harris’ Elite Hotel. I first bought it and Emmy’s Pieces of the Sky (on a 2-for-1 cassette) on the same March day in 1985, a few weeks after picking up Ballad of Sally Rose on vinyl. It was the culmination of what, in retrospect, was a trek that began in 1980, when I was 15, with the purchase of the Byrds’ Greatest Hits LP. If the journey had been condensed into a few weeks or months, I doubt I would have been ready for Emmy’s crystalline take on country music. That first listen of Sally Rose made me want to explore her oeuvre; and after checking into her Elite Hotel, well, that was that. I’ve been a fan ever since.

The Byrds’ Greatest Hits —> the Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday, which – thanks to Chris Hillman – had several country-flavored songs —> the Byrds’ hardcore country Sweetheart of the Rodeo LP, purchased used because it was out-of-print at the time —> Gram Parsons’ G.P. and Grievous Angel, both of with feature Emmy on vocals —> Emmylou.

(It goes without saying, but I’ll say it, anyway: the Byrds’ Greatest Hits also led me to Bob Dylan and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Those are Top 5s for another day, however.)

1) The Byrds – “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

2)  The Byrds – “The Girl With No Name.”

3) The Byrds – “Hickory Wind.”

4) Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris – “That’s All It Took.”

5) Emmylou Harris – “Sweet Dreams.”