EDITOR’S NOTE: The first in an occasional and recurring series about the perfect soundtrack for a good day sunshine.
ALAN MCGEE: Their second album, Turn! Turn! Turn! continued to fine-tune the pop sensibility. Whenever I hear the title track it always sounds almost perversely economical, somehow too perfect. It seems to state, “This is as far as you can refine a pop song”, and “I can do this standing on my head”. It is hard to imagine a song more instantly engaging than Turn! Turn! Turn! It always rings like a bell through any background noise and conveys its sentiment intact.
Gene Clark was then ousted because he did not want to tour. The four remaining Byrds took a Stalinist approach to his departure, removing the songwriter from publicity shots. A new song, Eight Miles High (originally conceived by Gene Clark and Brian Jones) preceded Beatles-psychedelia and raga rock by months. While the album Fifth Dimension is not without doses of twee pop (Mr Spaceman), listening to it today you can still hear the musical landscape of the time crumbling to reveal new vistas of experimentation and fresh thematic possibilities. Technically, it outlined how rock musicians might respond to the seemingly boundless innovations of free jazz.
The Byrds then brought in Gary Usher, noted for surf music and his work with the Beach Boys. His involvement, which lasted for three albums, saw the Byrds making increasingly experimental and diverse records. Perhaps reacting to the ominous events that punctuated the latter years of the 60s, Notorious Byrd Brothers portrayed escape into an innocent, idyllic world. Goin’ Back recalls many of Brian Wilson’s most moving songs in its evocation of childhood simplicity and joy. The sublime Wasn’t Born to Follow reminds me of Turn! Turn! Turn! in how concentrated and effective a song it is. While Notorious Byrd Brothers is not untainted by the mania for overproduction that followed in the wake of Sgt Pepper’s, it succeeds in combining psychedelic pop, country, moog electronic and symphonic gestures into a comprehensible and compelling whole.
When David Crosby walked out and Hillman introduced Gram Parsons, the Byrds’ sound was transformed. Originally intended as a piano player, Parsons viewed the band as the ideal vehicle for his own ‘Cosmic American Music’. The resulting album Sweetheart of the Rodeo has a freshness of approach that has not dated. That a band could move so gracefully from full-blow acid-rock to this refined country-hybrid is astonishing. For me, it’s the most consistently brilliant record of their long career. Just as they had reached this artistic pinnacle, things once again began to disintegrate. While supporting the Rolling Stones in Britain, Parson went AWOL. With Gram’s departure went the final inspiration. Before long Roger McGuinn would be the only remaining original member. Though he managed a hit with Chestnut Mare and recorded the soundtrack to Easy Rider, the real Byrds magic was gone. MORE
RELATED: Alan McGee (born 29 September 1960) has been a record label owner, musician, manager, and music blogger for The Guardian. McGee is best known for co-forming and running the independent Creation Records label from 1983–1999, and then Poptones from 1999-2007. He has managed and championed successful acts such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Oasis and The Libertines. In 1983 he co-founded Creation Records (named after cult 1960s band The Creation) with Dick Green and Joe Foster. He also formed the band, Biff Bang Pow! (named after The Creation’s song), which would continue until 1991. Whilst working for British Rail he began managing a band called The Jesus and Mary Chain, who became an underground sensation when McGee issued their first single on his label in late 1984.
When The Jesus And Mary Chain moved to Warner Brothers in 1985, from McGee’s profits as their manager Creation was able to release seminal singles by acts including Primal Scream, Felt, and The Weather Prophets. While these records were not commercially successful, McGee’s enthusiasm and uncanny ability to woo the weekly music media ensured a healthy following. Following an unsuccessful attempt to run an offshoot label for Warner Brothers, McGee regrouped Creation and immersed himself in the burgeoning dance and acid house scene. The legacy of which saw him release era-defining albums from Creation mainstays Primal Scream and new arrivals like My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub.
Creation had run up considerable debt that was only held off until he sold half the company to Sony Music in 1992. At the point it seemed Creation would collapse into receivership, the recently signed Manchester band Oasis began selling albums in huge quantities, as they epitomised the cultural Britpop movement of the mid-1990s. The success of Oasis was unprecedented for an act on an independent label, and their second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? soon grew into the biggest selling British album of the decade. MORE
EDITOR’S NOTE: Two things can be learned from watching these videos. First, apparently Stephen Malkmus started out as the lead singer of the Byrds. Second, the presentation of rock music on prime time television back in the 1960s was astonishingly inept. No wonder MTV seemed so revelatory when it showed up a decade and a half later. As such Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” video was a giant step for mankind. Never thought I would ever have cause to to type those words.