Why, it seems like only yesterday [cue harp and wavy, out-of-focus visuals] when you could pore over an album's liner notes and not have to squint to garner an embarrassment of riches and a treasure trove of tidbits…
Liner notes are almost obligatory for greatest hits albums. Aimed largely at the frugal or fence-sitting non-purist who most likely doesn’t have the full set of original albums (these were the days before “bonus tracks”), they serve to offer a square-one introduction to the band and a broad, refresher-course chronicling of up-to-date recording history and musical highlights.
And, try as he or she might, the liner note writer tries not to sound stupid in the process - although I suppose it is difficult to know what will pass for timeless universality decades hence. Which slang terms or hip ‘n’ happenin’ jargon attained far-out grooviness for the kids those days with the long hair and the beads? What pop-music patois can safely be retained that will both satisfy contemporary faddists and fulfill the standards for the more discerning edification of future generations?
It’s an important consideration for the Byrds, who displayed, even early on, a staying power — in influence if not in sustaining stability as a group – that would surely sustain a legacy beyond their 1965-68 heyday of hits and musical vision.
Dave Swaney, presumably a Columbia Records copywriter, performs a pretty good generational balancing act on The Byrds' Greatest Hits from 1967, teetering between mundane corporate responsibility in prodding the record buyer to purchase the four albums from which this best-of borrowed, but dangerously tottering here and there into freak flag-osity. It might have been half-mast in '60s spirit but it wasn‘t half-hearted as Swaney seeks salutes from the early Byrds fans in “all of West Coast hippiedom” from "Big Sur camps” to Mexican communes to “Mojave anonymities.”
In one bombastic and forced non-sequitur, Swaney duly notes how the Byrds’ harmony-rich jingle-jangle folk-rock “helped turn the whole pop music scene around.” Then: “Were they conservative then? Or now?” Or what? Something’s happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.
“Whatever,” Swaney continues without missing a beat, “their thing was beautiful and heavy and will be as it is. Lasting.” Lasting. Nice touch – heavy, even.
In addition to the compulsory reference to “Mr. Tambourine Man” “for those who laughed up their sleeves and for those who dug it straight,” Swaney subtly establishes his druggy eight miles high-style counter-culture credentials further when he describes the scene as thousands show up for the Byrds appearances at Los Angeles’ Palladium “where an enormous caricature of Lawrence Welk slowly waving a giant baton greeted everyone and the rent-a-cops wondered how everyone could be so happy and have such fun on Coca-Cola and lemonade.”
Swaney leaves behind the hazy allusions and connects the dots a little better when it comes to name-dropping, especially when it comes to… oh say, perhaps… the fab four and a certain spokesman for his generation! “The Beatles were quoted as saying” — you can almost imagine the breathless onrush of emotion — “their favorite American group was The Byrds; Dylan got onstage with them at Ciro’s to blow his harp straight into the dancing melee below.” All this as David “If I Could Only Remember My Name” Crosby “smiled benignly at the whole scene.”
In a more maligning and hipper-than-thou swipe, however, the whole scene was spurred by someone – some establishment type, no doubt — “in the label department of ‘Billboard’” who came up with the term folk-rock “so that everyone would know what was going down in case they didn’t want to think about it too much.”
Because apparently the great thinkers of the world were street-fightin’ men, as Swaney inanely notes: “Off the hot streets of Los Angeles, even as other revolutions were finally gaining notice a few miles south in Watts,” McGuinn and the boys were in a darkened studio busy in the task “of reaching into millions of homes, cars, dormitories, coffee shops, bars, bordellos, prisons, camps, insane asylums – minds.
Minds. Nice touch – heavy, even.