The guitar of psychedelia

By Sergio Ariza

The Byrds always seemed to be one step ahead of their contemporaries, if with their first record they had created folk rock guided by Roger McGuinn’s legendary 12-string Rickenbacker, in February of ’67 they brought the ‘summer of love’ closer by a few months and delivered some of the first masterpieces of psychedelia. The band had already flirted with a genre on one of their best songs, and the last in which they relied on the collaboration of the great Gene Clark, Eight Miles High. From there we get a glimpse of the McGuinn’s Rickenbacker which was responsible for the characteristic tinny sound of the band, it was ready to take the group one step beyond.

From the first bars of So You Want to be a Rock n’ Roll Star, we see a band that’s not afraid of experimenting. The marvelous trumpet of South African Hugh Masekela is thrown in this cynical look at the pop music world, composed by McGuinn and Chris Hillman, , although it’s McGuinn’s riff on the Rickenbacker and Hillman’s bass that put the foundation to the song. Of course, while McGuinn returns as the sound architect of the band, it’s  David Crosby and Hillman who write the best songs. The bassman in particular, who breaks out composing and singing on this record, and delivers the Beatlesque Have You Seen Her Face ( with a fabulous solo courtesy of McGuinn, where he switches his Rickenbacker for a Gretsch Country Gentleman, like Crosby’s, that gives it that distinct taste from what they were used to l), teasing with LSD on Thoughts and Words and goes before their time in the Flying Burrito Brothers with Time Between and The Girl with No Name, where Clarence White and his Telecaster appear for the first time on a Byrds record, although he wasn’t yet a member officially, and without his iconic B Bender, but adding a lot of flavour to those country approaches which deepen on the mythic Sweethearts of the Rodeo.

As for Crosby, he dives deep into psychedelia with Mind Gardens and delivers one of his best songs with Everybody’s Been Burned, where McGuinn is once again outstanding on one of his most heartfelt solos, as well as co-writing with Crosby the fantastic Renaissance Fair (which Eric Burdon would use on the wonderful Monterrey) and Why  where McGuinn shines on the Rickenbacker making it sound like a sitar of Ravi Shankar himself.

Perhaps the Byrds have other more legendary records such as the first and Sweethearts of the Rodeo, where they initiated country rock, but it’s Younger Than Yesterday, one of the peak works of psychedelia, which has their best songs. Little wonder, in 2008 during course of an interview, they asked McGuinn what his favourite songs of the Byrds were, and of the 6 he named, 4 appear on this album, Renaissance Fair, Time Between, Have You Seen Her Face and So You Want to be a Rock n’ Roll Star. Above them all soars the unique stamp of the band through all of their stages, his original way of playing the guitar. A guitar which, after defining the sound of folk rock, became the guitar of psychedelia. 

(Images: ©CordonPress)