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The Byrds: Chapter 9.

Music Review: The Byrds – (Untitled)

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.

About David Bowling

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