The Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday”

If Mr. Tambourine Man, Notorious Byrd Brothers, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo are acknowledged Byrds’ masterworks, Younger Than Yesterday isn’t far behind.  There’s a few tracks that haven’t held up, Mind Gardens – Crosby’s psychedelic folk-rock opus is a bit unfocused but not as terrible as the critics make it out to be.  C.T.A. 102, a track that must’ve sounded cool when this album was released in 1967, has dated space-age sound effects.  These are interesting experiments by all means but the 9 remaining cuts were prime mid 60s Byrds.  At this point Gene Clark had been out of the group for some time, knowing this Hillman and Crosby pitched in big time with some of their best ever compositions.  Younger Than Yesterday is one of the great American rock classics, very close in sound to the Beau Brummels Triangle, Moby Grape’s self-titled debut, and Buffalo Springfield’s Again

The two hits that anchored the lp were pretty great.  So You Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star blasted out of radio speakers in 1967 sounding unlike anything else with a strong latin feel, great lyrics, and a killer groove.  The other major hit off the album was a cover of Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages.  This was one of their best Dylan covers yet and had a trademark, classic McGuinn twelve-string guitar solo.  Crosby offered up one of his best songs, Everybody’s Been Burned, a masterpiece of psychedelic folk-rock highlighted by his exquisite, crooning hippie vocals and drowsy acid guitar work.  Renaissance Fair was another Crosby psychedelic folk-rocker with strong acid imagery and shifting time signatures plus some more fine 12-string from McGuinn.  McGuinn and Crosby contributed great material to Younger Than Yesterday but for me it was Hillman’s contributions that have stood the sands of time best.  Hillman’s Have You Seen Her Face, Time Between, Thoughts and Words, and The Girl With No Name were all superb songs.  Have You Seen Her Face saw the Byrds in garage mode while Thoughts and Words was one of their best straight-up psych numbers.  Prior to Younger Than Yesterday the Byrds had flirted with a kind of proto country-rock sound on Mr. Spaceman and Satisfied Mind.  With Time Between and The Girl With No Name, that flirtation came to fruition.  Hillman had played in bluegrass bands prior to the Byrds, so the said experiments were just an extension of his roots – no gimmicks, completely genuine stuff here.  Both tracks rock pretty nicely and feature some fine guitar work by Byrd-in-waiting Clarence White.  Time Between and GIrl With No Name do not have a heavy Nashville sound but so what, this was the Byrds version of country music and probably a purer fusion than anything else they have done ever since.  Just as the Byrds had broken new ground with psychedelia a year earlier, their move into country represented an advancement of musical frontiers.  The album ended with McGuinn’s Why, a great rocker with a riveting space guitar solo.   This track had been released much earlier as the B-side to Eight Miles High in 1966. 

In the mid 90s Columbia rehauled the entire Byrds catalog, reissuing all their classic albums with plenty of extras.  The Younger Than Yesterday reissue includes two lost Crosby gems, It Happens Each Day, which is an outtake, and Lady Friend, one of their best mid 60s non-lp tracks.  Younger Than Yesterday is an important part of the Byrds evolution.  It’s a classic album that saw the group at the forefront of pop music – The Byrds were always three steps ahead of the game. 

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“The Girl With No Name”

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  • Michael

    Great record. I grew up with this but itstill sounds like one of the best albums of that period (even if Mind Gardens sucks a big one, Crosby made up for it with Everybody’s Been Burned) Your comments are spot on. But if I remember rightly, the single version of “Why” was different to the album version. It had a heavier guitar sound and was therefore more psychedelic. I am always surprised that McGuinn doesn’t get more recognition as a guitarist, since he was not only an original but had a great soulful touch. Not as flashy as Clarence White but to my ears a little more individual.
    I look at your blog pretty much every day and have downloaded many many tunes. Thanks a lot.

  • jason

    Yeah, the Why single version is different, possibly better. But the album track is good as well. Every great, early Byrds track has a fantastic McGuinn solo that seems to slip thru the cracks.

  • This was my first favorite Byrds album–if that makes any sense! I feel like it’s the best realization of the original “Byrds sound”–i.e., the 12-string-driven sound that defines the first four records. And like you say it’s due in large part to Chris Hillman. The quality of his songs on this album make me wonder “what if” whenever I hear the earlier ones. What if Crosby, Clark, McGuinn, and Hillman ALL contributed to each early album? It’s crazy to me that this band had three outstanding songwriters, yet kept an equally genius songwriter in their back pocket for three albums straight.

  • reddove108

    Subtract Mind Gardens and C.T.A. 102, add Lady Friend and you would have had an album that would rank with Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds and Forever Changes.

  • mark

    First of all, I would like to thank you, Jason, for the review. Indeed, this is one of the finest albums to emerge from the blue smoke and haze of the 1960’s! If there is a defect to this album (more on the virtues of Mind Gardens and C.T.A. 102 later), I would point to Why. Not only is it about a year old at this time – a product of the 5D period, long since past with the rapid acceleration in the Byrds music experimentation – but, alas! it is one of the more mediocre recordings of what is a remarkable piece. I will not fault it for its lack of the “raga rock” sound of sitar-esque Rickenbacker guitar (as fills out some of the out-takes); however, note its lack of further exploration. On this album, it is a filler – in part, an attempt to mask the obvious and remaining absence of Gene’s material. That said, its inclusion is not only telling, it is necessary when you take into consideration the tensions and musical explorations of the period. The fact that there is no “definitive” version of the song is a break through – the song is open, like the world around the artist, to continual interpretation and re-interpretation.

    Crosby, along with Hillman, produced some of the most remarkable songs here (as noted in Jason’s review). But something else to mention about their contributions is the critical influence and intellectual force that they brought to what had been McGuinn’s band. The album is a technical playground but also a laboratory. Crosby became a “spiritual” leader of sorts here: his interest in divers musical genres from jazz to traditional Indian musical forms had been “feeding” McGuinn and company for a couple of years. There was a great deal of cross-pollination – much of it intentional. The results are evidenced throughout this album. I believe that the eclectic nature of their search was balanced by expert craftsmanship and control (at least before the darker side of their “medications” was fully felt). This opened many doors beyond those of traditional folk that had always been an important part of their music. Essentially, any “method” or “sound” as a static work was abandoned! (Of course, the presence of a Dylan song in their midst may seem to contradict this statement).

    What emerges here is a taut album that not only demonstrates their diverging and multiplying interests, but also is the laboratory for their creative searches. Making an album becomes, itself, a creative process rather than just a documentation of songs that have been individually fashioned by live performances and practice only. C.T.A. 102 and Mind Gardens (to name the two most often criticized pieces) are critical pieces in the Byrds’ larger canon for they are active studies of technology (C.T.A. 102 is far beyond 2-4-2 Foxtrot of 5D) and language or song-writing itself. With Mind Gardens, we find Crosby looking intently at the fabric of a song and delving deeply into the history, politics, and nature of popular artistic forms: is a song possible sans rhyming? What is the role of the voice? The musical accompaniment? In a way, he is assuming the role of a mystic and a leader in the trajectory of music at the time. The pop song and the stardom that they sought throughout their formative years, has now been set aside (mostly) in favor of finding ways to speak directly to their audience, to question, and to have their search for some mystical “garden” made public.

    Regarding the Byrds “sound” (seemingly so very present on this album), I would argue that such a “sound” does not exist. By claiming that a substitution of this song for that, or the weakness of this song and the needed inclusion of what is deemed a stronger song, or the presence of this guitar or that bass or those drums or these voices, we fall victim to the mind-set of our time. We continuously “shuffle” the music that we listen to (and why not?). But this album, like their music in general, is non-objective. We are made privy to their process of creating on YTY like none of their previous albums. Their can be no Byrds “sound” now, because there never was one. They were always in flux, always cross-contaminating their music, drawing from a divers range of interests and sources, searching for new sounds, technology (“McGuinn and his toys”), new landscapes afforded by drugs, and ways to tap into the spi8rit of their times – both politically and socially.

    There, I said my piece! This is one great album! Period! Thanks!

  • dk

    I can’t pass up the opportunity to put in another pitch for The Byrds’ Untitled album. It isn’t widely held up as one of their masterpieces, but to my ears it’s every bit as good as their more heralded work.

    That said, I don’t give Younger Than Yesterday the spins it probably deserves, so thanks for yet another solid recco…

  • jason

    Thanks for the comments friends. I had read somewhere, could be mistaken, that Hillman and McGuinn intentionally left Lady Friend (a killer track) off the Younger Than Yesterday album. They had also done this during the Notorious Byrd Brother sessions with Triad. This was supposedly done to either keep Crosby’s ego in check or to push him out of the band.

    I totally agree with you DK, I love Untitled, it’s a great record, solid all the way thru – their masterpiece from the Byrds “late” era. I really like Easy Rider as well, there are some great lost tracks on that album like Gunga Din and Fido that deserve greater recognition. Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo were so good, later in the band’s career that they overshadow great records like Untitled, Easy Rider and Farther Along.

  • mark

    Obviously the tensions were running high (no pun intended) during the recording of YTY. Clearly Crosby’s more dominant presence and the increasing strength of his material (Everybody’s Been Burned predated the Byrds!) figured into his departure. And perhaps also his ego… After all, he took Gene Clark’s guitar away and left him a tambourine! I also read that Lady Friend was set aside in favor of any-other-work-except-Crosby’s – this may also be McGuinn’s struggle to maintain his position central stage. If you look at the film footage from that time period (some are included with the last Byrds box set), you will find McGuinn taking a diminutive role off to the side and Crosby becoming the spokesperson for the group.

    As for Untitled…
    What a stellar work! I am especially fond of the cd re-release as it includes a plethora of remarkable, if not excellent out-takes and alternative versions. I believe it was the live performances that fused them into a unified band – this time, not behind McGuinn (or Crosby) but together! “Whoever the Byrds are is just alright” with me!

  • sixsevenfive

    I never get tired of of C.T.A.-102 or Mind Gardens, but happily skip Everybody’s Been Burned and Renaissance Fair. I prefer my Byrds to be out there! Psychedelia is what they do best: The Notorious Byrd Brothers is their crowning achievement.

  • philspector

    Like sixsevenfive for me the greatest Byrds Lp is “The Notorious Byrd Brother” (just listen to the two great Goffin/King covers).

    But the reason i’m writing to ur blog today is to talk about one of the most underrated Lp ever (really), one who has a little connection with the Byrds (Clarence White play on this Lp).
    I’m talking about the “LA Getaway” by Joel Scott Hill, Chris Ethridge and John Barbata!!!

    It is a fantastic Lp, and Hill is an amazing (and underrated ) singer. It is really a Lp that every RisingStorm reader will love.

    Keep up the good work

    PS : can you please one day talk about one of those ?

    ZERFAS “S/T”
    ANONYMOUS “Inside The Shadow”
    or DION “Born To Be With You”

  • Mr. Tambourine Man in mp3, Please!!

  • Paul Jackson

    I have a question that maybe someone can answer, please? Inspired by reading of Roger McGuinn’s appearance at The Barbican in London this week…to be televised by the BBC on 13th February…I played my 1987 Edsel vinyl reissue version (ED277) of Younger than Yesterday. Possibly for the first time in over 20 years! And some of the tracks on Side 2 are clearly different studio takes from the original 1967 CBS vinyl album…I got that out too and played it thru’ the scratches! And I was proved right. Has any other Byrds fan noticed this? As`a matter of general interest, I have been a follower of The Byrds…the band and the individuals…since maybe 1965 when I was in school. Thru’ my student years I collected all of the studio albums…apart from Byrdmaniax. I don’t know why I missed that one out now. I was present at the Bardney Folk Festival near Lincoln, UK when the band played there in 1971. And I was in awe of Roger when he presented what amounted to a masterclass (with Sid Griffin) at Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham, UK in the 1990’s. A few years ago I was within a whisker of buying an ultra-rare vinyl copy of The Byrds set at the Boston Tea Party (1968?) but someone beat me to it. These days, it’s all available on CD or as MP3 downloads, but it ain’t as exciting!

  • mark

    paul jackson–
    I always assumed that the difference was not a matter of different studio takes but rather due to re-mixing the original takes… of course I might be wrong.

    ps. I trust that you have Byrdmaniax now… and those unreleased tracks from the Untitled session are magical!

  • chuckorama

    Lady Friend was left off Notorious Byrd Brothers, not Younger Than Yesterday (being recorded 3 months after the latter’s release date).

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