Friday, September 21, 2012

171 The Notorious Byrd Brothers

Album: The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Artist: The Byrds
Year: 1968
Genre: Folk


  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
Okay I'll try and make this as simple as possible...

When The Byrds started there were five of them but Gene Clarke left early in their career because he was afraid of flying (which in most bands is a drawback but when you're called The Byrds it's also ironically hilarious). They continued as a foursome for a while but while recording The Notoriuos Byrd Brothers they became a trio when the drummer left in a snit. Also having snits was co-founder David Crosby who became so snit-intenstive mid-way through the recording process he was out-snitted by the remaining two members who snitted him out of the group. His replacement was Gene Clarke (the non-flying one, remember him?) who came back for a bit and was joined by the drummer who got over his snit long enough to record a bit. By then the other two had realised the power of the snit-smite and kicked Clarke and the drummer out again.

Somehow in amongst that mess The Notorious Byrd Brothers was written, recorded and released. In amongst the feuding, the sacking, the rehiring and other issues they managed to gather together two sides of vinyl. The question is: should they have bothered.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers shows the Byrds experimenting with different sounds, ideas and moods. The jangly guitar has been replaced by early synthesisers, pedal steel guitars, studio effects and elaborate instrumentation. It's a progression from their origins every bit as extreme as Sergeant Peppers was for the Beatles. But it's nowhere near as good.

The Byrds strength was never their songwriting. Their finest moments are written by Dylan and others and their best originals were written by Gene Clark (with occasional moments by Crosby who would become a much better songwriter later in his career). The Notorious Byrd Brothers features no Clark compositions and a few left overs from Crosby that were recorded despite the fact that he was seething somewhere else having been thrown from the group. As an album it's an interesting experiment and a step towards the country attitudes they would later adopt, but it's not a strong enough set of songs to make it a great listen. Experimentation is fine if you have a concrete basis to experiment from but if the songs you've brought to the table wouldn't have been good enough to be considered filler on your earlier albums the listener is just left with some experimental ideas that might have been revolutionary at the time, but years later when the same experiments have been conducted successfully by others, a modern audience isn't really hearing anything revolutionary.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers marks the start of the Byrds decline but, more importantly, it's the moment that let Crosby loose to join Stills and Nash and become part of a band ten times better than the Byrds ever were or ever would be.

Highlight: The fact it removed Crosby from Byrdom
Lowlight: The country signposts towards their future direction.

Influenced by: Drugs, Dylan and Country
Influenced: Alt country.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Actually a 4.25 on the star scale but there is not that choice!"

-I love people who are that specific. The album isn't worth 4.5 stars but it's a definite 4.25.

So do you love hearing Byrds syng or not? Let me know below.


  1. I must say, that I kind of like the Byrds, but I am not a huge fan, even though in theory I should LOVE them; but the biggest problem with this album is that nothing really stands out. In other words, nothing really makes an impression to me; and you're right, it does sound like a relatively unsuccessful experiment. Yet, I still don't know; maybe it will grow on me upon further listens. What do you think? Do you think this album is a "grower"?

    1. My normal practice is to try and listen to an album again a month or two after I've posted it and see if it's grown on me in that time. I'll come back to this one in a few weeks but there was nothing there that is making me look forward to the experience. I think it's a step they had to go through and it was a revolution in it's time but hasn't dated as well as Sgt Peppers (for example) because the songwriting just isn't as strong.