The Byrds “Byrds” (’73 Reunion)

The announcement of the reunion album featuring all five original Byrds raised expectations to the point where whatever emerged was almost bound to be an anticlimax. (Imagine the effect of the Beatles reforming around the same time, if you will.) Despite a general thumbs-down from the critics, fan loyalty and eager anticipation made the new long-player highly successful at the record store: in the States, the biggest-selling new-material Byrds album since Turn, Turn, Turn. Subsequent reviews expressed varying degrees of disappointment, but recent re-evaluation with almost forty years of hindsight portrays the project as fascinating historically and not without merit artistically. Interest in it has never waned and it’s been re-released on CD no fewer than four times. The Wikipedia article on it is almost a book.

The theory behind the reunion varies. According to one version, the famously unreticent David Crosby visited Roger McGuinn in mid-1972 and panned the well-loved White/Battin/Parsons Byrds lineup, saying, “you’ve done some OK stuff but you’ve also done stuff that is pretty bad. Please stop doing it under the Byrds name”. Crosby then suggested reforming the original band to record an album showing where the founder members “are at today”. Another version has the ever-opportunistic David Geffen seeing the lucrative potential of a reunion and planting the suggestion in McGuinn’s mind, noting that McGuinn himself had become dissatisfied with the long-standing lineup and replaced Gene Parsons with salaried sessioneer John Guerin. Either way, McGuinn acquiesced and the other members, all having found themselves between longterm engagements, followed.

The nature of the final work supports the first theory: the album is The Crosby Show in almost every respect. Although on the surface democracy seems to be served by each of the four principals furnishing two original compositions, two of the three accompanying covers are Neil Young songs and the third is by Joni Mitchell, both being longtime Crosby cronies (though Clark takes lead vocal on the Young ditties). It’s been suggested that the other three writers were saving their best material for their own solo projects, but though none of their offerings is a blockbuster they’re all engaging enough, especially Gene Clark’s delicate “Full Circle” and Dylanesque “Changing Heart” and McGuinn’s ersatz-traditional “Sweet Mary”. By contrast, Crosby’s “Long Live The King” is characteristically ebullient, while his “Laughing” is itself actually a cover of the original that appeared on his sublime 1971 collection If Only I Could Remember My Name. Crosby also has the sole production credit; the only tracks that show real spirit in the lead vocals are his; and in the cover photographs he’s the only one who really looks like he wants to be there. (Chris Hillman looks like he’d rather be anywhere else at all.)

The sound of the album is also heavily redolent with Crosby’s aural fingerprint. Acoustic guitars predominate, with the electrics and bass mostly mixed way back and only Hillman’s vibrant mandolin and Clark’s plaintive harmonica forefronted strongly as solo instruments. Apart from “Laughing”, all the songs have short, terse arrangements, never really catching fire. While Crosby’s lead vocals soar, Clark’s and Hillman’s are more subdued and McGuinn’s particularly sombre. The block harmonies are immaculate but display the sweetness of CS&N rather than the engaging rough edge of latterday Byrds. One is led to conclude that with this album Crosby finally achieved, albeit temporarily, belatedly and with questionable success, the domination of the Byrds that he’d craved during the classic years.

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“Full Circle”

:D CD Reissue | 2004 | Wounded Bird | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1973 | Asylum | search ebay ]

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  • Perfect timing. I’ve been on a…Byrds…rediscovery trip…& it was nice to hear your chosen offerings.
    Good stuff!

  • If it has any of the aura of “If I Could OnlyRemember..” this has to be good…

  • Always dug this album, a lot, and can’t understand why most critics killed it. Full Circle and Changing Heart are up there with classic Byrds songs, and Born to Rock and Roll, the two Neil covers are not far behind. Glad I always kept this one on vinyl, where I play it more than any other record I own.

  • Len Liechti

    In all honesty, Alejandro, this work is not artistically in the same class as If Only . . . which has to be the best album ever recorded by a Byrds alumnus, with its cast of millions and its amazing blissed-out vibe. However, the ’73 album, whilst flawed, is still a creative, professional product which, had it been recorded by a bunch of unknowns, would have drawn critical praise rather than brickbats, and which stands up well enough nowadays when the emotive aspects can be ignored and the work assessed more objectively. It really was principally the volume of expectation that damned it at the time. There’s nothing more difficult than a reunion album, even in these Postmodern times – just look at the Eagles’ patchy effort of a couple of years ago.

  • Simon S

    I once met Crosby at LAX,and he was EXTREMELY unfriendly untill i managed to mumble out something like “i just wanted to say that if i could only remember my name is one of the greatest most under-rated albums ever!” He warmed to me a bit after that,but not much!Never meet your heroes they say…Anyway, I’m also glad that the Byrds reunion album is getting a re-appraisal here,i always loved it,especially Gene clark’s and Chris Hillman’s tunes…thought Crosby’s were pretty weak aside form ‘laughing’ which in some ways i prefer to the IICORMN version,mainly because of that amazing spine-tingling harmony at the end,so its funny to hear the theory of it being his show…

  • Michael

    Ah yes, lovely to see commentary on Byrds album. And yes I ran out and bought the vinyl & I still have it. But all romanticm aside, has this fine album been remastered?…..just imagine a couple of Gene Clark outtakes done after Crosby had gone partying. Now that would make it someting real special. But seriosly , look at the re issues 0f Sweetheart and wasn’t it one of the poorest sellers at the time.

  • Michael O'

    As above…oops.

  • kc

    Crosby ran the show, McGuinn accepted a back seat and the band did it’s best CSN impersonation. Like many I was initially disappointed when I first heard this in the 80s, but always found it kind of homey and listenable – just not great Byrds music. Then again, remember this was 1973 and the jingle jangle sound of the original Byrds was not in fashion. That would not happen until REM arrived on the scene in the early 80s. Gene Clark acquits himself quite well and Hillman’s two songs are pretty good. McGuinn’s seems to be barely hear and, as noted, Crosby dominates. His “Long Live the King” is the worst, and “Laughing” shouldn’t have been remade as the original version with the Dead playing on it is better than what is presented here.

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