Friday, 20 July 2018

The Byrds - The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968)


Released January 1968

Recorded at Columbia Studios, Hollywood

This was seen as a “psychedelic album” from The Byrds. It certainly has tinges of that, for sure, but there are some reflective, folky passages in it too. Released in 1968, it was quite adventurous, instrumentally, being one of the first albums to use a Moog synthesiser, an instrument that would come to be really popular over the next few years.


1. Artificial Energy
2. Goin' Back
3. Natural Harmony
4. Draft Morning
5. Wasn't Born To Follow
6. Get To You
7. Change Is Now
8. Old John Robertson
9. Tribal Gathering
10. Dolphin's Smile
11. Space Odyssey

The opener, “Artificial Energy” is an upbeat hippy jazz/rock number with some typically late sixties lyrics and vocals and some bright, punchy brass parts. The group’s cover of Carole King’s “Goin' Back" is beautiful and tranquil, very much in a Crosby, Stills and Nash mode. Light, melodic and airy. It was ironic that David Crosby was unceremoniously sacked during the recording of this album. He went off and produced a whole album very much like this. Relations within the band were incredibly strained, but, oddly, this cannot be detected on what sounds to be a very positive, unified album. “Natural Harmony” has hints of “Marrakesh Express” in its livelier parts and other parts have airs of The Beatles’ and The Rolling Stones’ experiments with psychedelia the year before. The slow parts sound as if they come from “Satanic Majesties”. The percussion bits on the instrumental “bridges” are thoroughly  hypnotic. “Draft Morning” is just sadly beautiful. Written at the time of the Vietnam War, it highlights a human rejection of that terrible conflict. So beautifully evocative and atmospheric. Some Beatles style brass sections and Ringo-influenced drumming accompany the “gunshot” parts. The bass is just sublime. The sound on all the album is very impressive.

“Wasn’t Born To Follow” is an energising piece of psychedelic/country/folky rock, if that is such a thing. Steel guitar, captivating percussion, weird guitar and hippy lyrics. It is one of my favourite tracks on the album. “Get To You” has more country and folk influences. “Change Is Now” has some more typical Byrds guitar and another swirling, light, harmonious Hippy-style trippy vocal. Again, though, a country style chorus breaks out featuring some steel guitar before we get a killer piece of electric guitar to remind us it is 1968. “Old John Robertson” is a lively piece of country rock that sounds like something The Band would do a year or so later. “Tribal Gathering” is very late sixties Byrds, very hippy/trippy and ethereal, man. Some searing electric guitar slices through the bliss though.

“Dolphin’s Smile” is also harmonious and beautifully sung, before once again going rock, with some powerful drums. Again, this is classic 1967-68 Byrds. So nostalgic and atmospheric. It is a bit too short, though. Some buzzsaw guitar introduces the final track, “Space Odyssey” - guitars swirl all-around the track, together with eerie Moog noises and a feeling that this was definitely inspired by some of John Lennon’s work on The Beatles’ “Revolver”.

This was definitely an album of its era, but it was not totally psychedelic. There were several other influences at work in it too.


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