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Music Review: The Byrds – (Untitled)

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The Byrds received a publicity form from the Columbia Label asking for the title of their new album. Since the group had not decided upon one producer Terry Melcher simple wrote untitled and there you have it.

(Untitled) was issued September 16, 1970 and was the only double album released during the group’s lifetime. It consisted of one live and one studio disc and proved to be a commercial success.

The live disc consisted of seven tracks with four being reworked from some of their classic hits. The Byrds of the early 1970s may not have been as creative in the studio as the Hillman, Crosby, and Gram Parsons incarnations but live in concert they were probably superior.

Gene Parsons was a very good drummer but it was the guitar brilliance of Clarence White that drove the sound. His ability to compliment the playing of Roger McGuinn on his 12 string gave the Byrds a unique and dynamic sound. Rolling Stone Magazine placed White as number 41 on their list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.” Skip Battin was a competent bassist but I preferred John York whom he had replaced. Just listen to the Byrds CD release, Live At The Fillmore: February 1969 to hear him at his best.

Roger McGuinn had been working on a play with Jacques Levy based on Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Levy would go on to co-write a number of songs with Bob Dylan. While their play would never materialize, a number of their songs would appear. “Lover Of The Bayou” made its debut as a live track and gave a hint of what great music the two could produce together. Another Dylan cover, “Positively 4th Street” and a rocking country version of “Nashville West” would follow.

“So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” “Mr. Tambourine,” and “Mr. Spaceman” are all played with a harder edge while the classic harmonies remain intact. This all leads to a sixteen minute version of “Eight Miles High” which contains solos, jams, and guitar wizardry that all add up to one of the better long tracks ever to grace a live album.

The studio disc has some highlights but ultimately pales next to the live set. “Chestnut Mare,” another Levy co-written tune was a classic Byrds song and White’s vocal and guitar playing on the Little Feat tune, “Truck Stop Girl” are high quality. Skip Battin writes or co-writes four of the nine tracks but only the seven minute plus anti-war song, “Welcome Back Home” rises above the mundane. Two more Levy/McGuinn compositions appear but “Just A Season” and “All The Things” do not raise much above average.

Untitled remains listenable today due to the fine concert tracks. They present McGuinn, White, and company proving that their live material could be favorably compared to the best of what was being produced at the time.

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About David Bowling

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    This ones worth it for the live Eight Miles High alone. Lover Of the Bayou too.

    -Glen

  • kevin cramsey

    Skip Battin’s songwriting devalues all the Byrds albums of which he was a part. As one critic once wrote, “Battin simply does not write Byrds songs.” Of the dozen or so they recorded during his tenure, only “Lazy Waters” is any good. Songs like “Citizen Kane,” which somehow made it onto Byrds Greatest His Vol. II, is as un Byrdsy as any song the group ever recorded. I don’t know how McGuinn let this happen; surely he must have known that these songs did not the group’s tyle either lyrically or musically. Nonetheless, with “Chestnut Mare” and “Truck Stop Girl” we get two beautiful songs that have stood the test of time. And “Just a Season” and “All the Things” are better than the reviewer gives them credit for. I must also disagree about the live set: I believe it’s pretty routine, and there is no reason for “Eight Miles High” to take up an entire side, as I believe it does. Cheers

  • Paul

    Pretty good review. But I agree with Kevin that “Eight Miles High” is eight miles too long. Half of it is awesome, the other half fairly boring. I agree that the live disc is excellent overall, primarily due to Clarence White’s amazing guitar playing. But these “Byrds” don’t come anywhere near “the classic harmonies” – ever. And “Chestnut Mare”, “All the Things”, and “Just a Season”, as well as “Truck Stop Girl” are all excellent from the studio disc. Skip Battin should never have been allowed to write any songs for the Byrds. Overall, I would highly recommend this album, primarily for the live disc and the four studio tracks. “Skip” the weak tracks.

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