The best summary of their career

By Sergio Ariza

The Notorious Byrd Brothers is the most riotous album in The Byrds turbulent career; it also represents a good reflection of their career and is the favourite for fans of the band. Here the tremendous influence that this band had can be heard - it was at the forefront of various musical revolutions of the 60s like folk-rock, psychedelia and country-rock, besides being the first ones to use elements of indian music, jazz touches or flirtations with electronic music. The Byrds are a seminal group, from their albums styles grew as if they were sown in the earth’s most fertile fields, and The Notorious Byrd Brothers is a perfect example of that, serving as an ideal summary of their journey through various styles, many times within the same song.      

In a certain way this album is the culmination of a road that begun with Fifth Dimension and Eight Miles High, through psychedelia and experimentation. It is one step further in their search for new sounds that defy labels, but is, as said, an album in which their many influences come together in a harmonious and beautiful way, such as on the jingling folk-rock of their beginnings and their future road of country-rock that can be heard on the beautiful rendition of the Goffin-King classic Goin´Back, in which the trademark harmonies and distinctive Rickenbacker of Roger McGuinn unite with the no less marvelllous pedal steel of Red Rhodes. Or like on Wasn't born to follow, another song from the Goffin-King duo, in which one can note the country-rock path that they were going to take, but also includes touches of distorted and psychedelic guitar.

The album is full of examples of this type, but The Byrds absorb influences so well that everything flows serenely and placidly, such as the moment in which Draft Morning (a song that brings together the best of all the Byrds epochs) fades into the start of the fundamental Wasn't Born To Follow. Or how the country airs of Old John Robertson are interrupted by a fantastic and barroque string quartet. Perhaps the moment in which this is best represented is on Change Is Now, the only song on the album that brings together two eras, and the only one that combines the Gretsch of David Crosby, who they fired during the recording, and the future Byrd Clarence White, who contributes all the country flavour of his 53 Telecaster. Here, on the bridge, McGuinn delivers one of his best psychedelic solos.

Many things happen on this album - and many good things, very often -, so it seems incredible that it was recorded in the middle of innumerable disputes and ego fights among its members, mainly between the irascible Crosby and the calm McGuinn. It seems that the refuse by Crosby to recording Goin' Back, which was in ‘direct confrontation’ with one of his songs (the incredible Triad, about the pleasures of love among more than two people), and his consequent anger, finally broke McGuinn’s patience, who ended up throwing out one of the original members of the group. However, he wasn’t the only one who was experiencing their last album with the group - the drummer Michael Clarke was also fired shortly after the recording, although it is clear that his contributions were not missed as much as Crosby. It was difficult for the drummer to follow the rhythm of a basic pop song, let alone the complex compositions that Crosby was bringing. Besides the hysterical girls had disappeared from the gigs, something that contributed to his loss of interest. Neither was it too important, as on over half the album they substituted him with two of the best session drummers in history, Jim Gordon and Hal Blaine.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers
is the peak album of their career for the band’s fans, better than the perfect songs of Younger Than Yesterday, than the Bible of folk-rock that is Mr. Tambourine Man and the flowering of country-rock that would come with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. This is paradise for any lover of the Byrds, from Tom Petty to R.E.M. It is an album on which there are many sweet points to highlight, from the steamrolling start - with the wind instruments - of Artificial Energy, to the innovative and pioneering appearances of a synthesizer by the wizard Paul Beaver; from the incredible Motown bass of Chris Hillman on Natural Harmony to the anger of the garage bridge and proto/punk of Tribal Gathering; along with the mysterious sounds that open Dolphin's Smile, drawn from McGuinn’s Rickenbacker. The group still had many things ahead, but this was the peak of their most important formation (above all if we take into account the fact that Gene Clark temporarily substituted Crosby, composing Get To You, together with McGuinn, and recording some vocal harmonies).

But, with time, reconciliation arrived. 2017 saw McGuinn and Crosby bury the hatchet on Twitter with the former writing "I have made many mistakes in my life…one of them was to forget for a minute who the true leader of the Byrds was". To which McGuinn promptly responded: “I have made many mistakes in my life, and one of them was fired the best harmony singer in the world.” Amen to that.