An amazing thing happened while recording Ballad Of Easy Rider and that was Roger McGuinn did not have to replace any members of the Byrds. His band mates, Clarence White, Gene Parsons, and John York, would all remain in place. His luck would run out as soon as the recording sessions were concluded as bassist York would be replaced by Skip Battin in September of 1969 just prior to the album’s release in October.
Roger McGuinn would change producers as Terry Melcher was asked to return. He had produced the Byrds first two albums and would go on to produce two more after this one. His style would enable The Byrds to create a mature and commercially successful album.
Ballad Of Easy Rider would be a laid back affair and feature the combined talents of the group’s members. All four Byrds would write a song and their voices would combine to keep the group’s signature harmonies in place. Clarence White would continue to provide Roger McGuinn with a perfect guitar partner.
The title song was a composition that Bob Dylan started but turned over to McGuinn before completion. It would turn out to be one of the best songs of his career. It was a rare positive and soothing look at the youth culture of the day and remains one of my favorite songs by the Byrds.
The other members would also author some songs. Parsons and White would pen “Oil In My Lamp” which would feature a rare and gritty White lead vocal. “Gunga Din” by Gene Parsons, who would also provide the lead vocal, is a tired and haunting song about touring and it would become a concert staple. John York’s “Fido” was not of the caliber of the aforementioned two but can be considered harmless fun. It is notable for a rare and possibly only Byrds drum solo.
Roger McGuinn continued to pick strong cover songs. “Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)” by Woody Guthrie is a conscious raising song about Mexican immigrants and is a highlight. “Tulsa Country” is emblematic of everything that was good about the Byrds as White’s guitar picking and the harmonies shine. The traditional English tune, “Jack Tarr The Sailor,” looks ahead to his solo career.
“Jesus Is Just Alright” rocks but the Doobie Brothers would make it one of their signature songs three years later. The Byrds provide an interesting and haunting version of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” but again I prefer Dylan’s 1965 version. I am less enthused by the old Louvin’ Brothers country tune, “There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn Too),” as it really never takes off and finally there is the throwaway “Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins” which closes the album.
Ballad Of Easy Rider remains a smooth listen and there is beauty to be found in many of the songs. It may not be as consistent as some of their past releases but it did prove that this 1969 incarnation of the Byrds was not only alive and well but extremely talented.
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