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Music Review: The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday

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The Byrds produced their fourth straight excellent album in a row despite changing their musical direction for a third time. Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! were early excursions into folk-rock while Fifth Dimension would find the group turning toward a psychedelic sound. Younger Than Yesterday would be more diverse than their first three releases as it would feature a number of country related tracks.

The group would write or co-write ten of the eleven tracks and, except for a song or two, they would feature tight structures plus mature and thoughtful lyrics. The best harmonies this side of The Beach Boys were in place and Roger McGuinn’s signature 12 string guitar would continue to provide the foundation for their sound. The big change would be the emergence of Chris Hillman as a major contributor through his creative bass playing and songwriting abilities.

“So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” written by Hillman and McGuinn, may have been a tongue in cheek song about The Monkees but the melody and the harmonies were just about perfect. Hugh Masekela provides some stellar trumpet playing which drives the track along.

Two of Chris Hillman’s contributions were early examples of the fusion between a country and rock sound. “Have You Seen Her Face” and “Thoughts and Words” sounded like The Beatles gone country as the harmonies and guitars provided a counterpoint to the lyrics and basic song structures. At the time very few artists had explored this musical territory and few since have explored it so well. “Time Between” and “The Girl With No Name” both have a country bluegrass feel and looked ahead to his work with The Desert Rose Band.

Tensions had begun to mount in the group, which would hasten David Crosby’s departure. The problems would reach a head when Crosby insisted that several of his songs be included on the album’s final release over the objections of the other group members.  “Mind Gardens,” which is just a mess, and the older song “Why” were inferior to the rest of the tracks in terms of both lyrics and melody. “Everybody’s Been Burned” is much better and remains a reminder that he could produce quality music.

In many ways Crosby would be missed as he and McGuinn could produce wonderful songs together upon occasion as “Renaissance Fair” shows. The interaction of their guitars and vocals was almost intuitive and this moody track catches them at their best.

Roger McGuinn's “C.T.A.-102” may be one of the goofiest psychedelic tunes ever produced but somehow it works as it is catchy and memorable.

The Byrds only non original song would be a cover of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” It would rival “Mr. Tambourine Man” as their best cover track. Dylan’s original version was issued on Another Side Of Bob Dylan and was stark and acoustic. The Byrds would combine their voices and guitars to give the song a whole new feel. These personal and poetic lyrics of Bob Dylan would be changed into a song of incredible beauty.

Younger Than Yesterday remains one of the superior albums of its time and further solidified The Byrds as one of the important American bands of the 1960s. Rolling Stone Magazine would rank it at number 124 on their list of the greatest 500 albums of all time. It remains an album full of surprises and is an essential part of the Byrds catalogue of releases.   

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About David Bowling

  • The best Byrds album taken as whole album, or even as a collection of songs – the Byrds’ equivalent of the Beatles’ Revolver, as it were. The Notorious Byrds Brothers follow closely on its heels as the Sgt. Pepper equivalent.

  • Paul

    Fine album and fine review. “Mind Gardens” is dreadful musically and lyrically, and “CTA 102” is annoying. “Why” is a great song, but the single version, released a full year earlier, is much, much better. The rest of the album is amazingly awesome.

  • JC Mosquito

    Thre remix of Why on the Box Set is the bestest version, if you can afford the box.