Byrds’ There is a Season

UnknownI am old enough to remember listening to the early Byrds singles on my transistor radio when I walked to high school from my house. I liked them better than the Beatles, but not as much as the Rolling Stones or the Jefferson Airplane or the Who. Listening to the first couple of CDs in this retrospective boxed set took me back, as in ‘I think I’m goin’ back to a more innocent time in my life and in the ongoing saga of the music industry.

I also remember playing later Byrds songs, like ‘Chestnut Mare’ and ‘Lover of the Bayou,’ when I worked at album-oriented rock radio stations in the 1970s. Even when the Music Director didn’t tell us what tracks to play, most of us gravitated to the album equivalent of hits. Alas, those albums included quite a lot of filler—completely forgettable songs! During this period, I also I regularly played and listened to solo albums from Gene Clark (No Other) and Roger Mc Guinn (Cardiff Rose) and even saw a live McGuinn, Clark and Hillman show at the Madison Theater in Albany, New York.

So I was quite enthusiastic about reviewing the preview of There is a Season when it arrived in the Green Man offices several months ago (the boxed set was scheduled for release in September 2006, so we probably received this a few weeks before that). When I say preview, I mean that we received the CDs in a plain package with the accompanying liner notes printed on regular 8 1/2 by 11-inch photocopy paper. I can’t tell you a thing about the aesthetics of the final product, but I can actually read the liner notes, which would not be very likely once they were reduced to the booklet size that would be in the boxed set. They include some nice retrospective pieces by Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Gary Louris (of the Jayhawks) and Rolling Stone’s David Fricke.

Yes, listening to these CDs brought back a lot of memories and a lot of less-specific but nonetheless powerful emotions. It was lovely to hear some of my favorites again: ‘It Won’t be Wrong,’ ‘Eight Miles High,’ ‘Renaissance Fair,’ and ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.’ At their best, the Byrds had a distinctive and very enjoyable sound, a blend of vocal harmonies and phased guitar work that few bands since have approached (well, maybe the Eagles and America, to a lesser extent). They held their own through the British Invasion of the 1960s and reinvented their sound quite a few times in response to personnel changes and perceived market demand. They played their own compositions and covered songs penned by some of the greats of the era, including Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Gerry Goffin and Carole King.

The set includes a total of 99 music tracks on four CDs plus a DVD featuring video recordings of television appearances made by the band during the late 1960s.  The sequencing follows a chronological order starting with tracks from predecessor bands (Jet Set and the Beefeaters), ending with live tracks from a 1990 McGuinn, Crosby and Hillman reunion.  I found that I enjoyed some of the band’s phases more than others. I guess we drifted in different directions over the years.

Listening to these CDs also reminded me of how short a lot of their pieces were. I suppose that was a consequence of the demands of Top 40 radio, where a lot of this stuff was initially played. They were a real challenge to disc jockeys at the album-oriented rock stations, let me tell you-we were accustomed to tracks that ran five minutes or longer, so those two to three minute pieces were really hard to manage! One of the only Byrds songs I remember well from that later period (‘Chestnut Mare’) is just over five minutes long. I have very specific, shall we say courtship memories related to that. I blushed when I listened to the lyrics again-it sounds like Roger was getting ready to mount that mare, quite literally!

Like most collections, this will appeal to fans who want pretty much everything the band ever recorded. That may be more than enough for us ordinary folks.

Columbia/Legacy, 2006)

About Donna Bird

I am a former lecturer of Sociology at the University of Southern Maine in the beautiful Portland area, where I have lived since 1992.