Guitars v. Conservatism – The Byrds

 

 

The Byrds were the perfect group for me – I loved all the voices in the group, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clarke, all had their amazing and individual sound. The songs were bright, short and had catchy guitar riffs, harmonies and a mix of original imagery and, often, philosophical lyrics, even anti-war lyrics later on when David Crosby could get away with it. The songs as a whole were the most complete of any of the 60’s guitar-pop groups. Nothing was lacking, from the swooping bass lines and shuffling beats to the excellent harmonies (for once NOT sounding like a run-of-the-mill folk group) to the most memorable parts, the 12-string electric guitar riffs, played with skill and originality – the guitar defines their sound as much as anything and has been the most copied style in guitar pop. Their singles were played regularly on the radio when I was growing up – Mr. Tambourine Man, All I Really Want To Do, Eight Miles High, Turn Turn Turn, Chestnut Mare, So You Want To Be A Rock n Roll Star.

In the early 1980’s, there was a budget LP out called Byrds Original Singles 1965-67. It was a life-changing record for me. I borrowed it from Beckenham Public Library and recorded it onto a C-90. It was played over and over and over on my portable cassette player in the kitchen in my flat in Penge. I fell in love with it. It had the first eight Byrds singles and the b-sides. The quality of the b-sides alone were phenomenal, Feel A Whole Lot Better, She Don’t Care About Time and Everybody’s Been Burned to name a few, all songs which any other band would give their eye teeth to have as their a-sides. By default Columbia Records had created one of the best albums ever put together. Many years before this compilation The Byrds, of course, produced some great original albums, The Notorious Byrds Brothers, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (with Gram Parsons) and Untitled are my favourites. It was a credit to McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman that they managed to carry on making quality records even without the voices and high quality songwriting of Gene Clarke and David Crosby. The huge biography, Timeless Flight (which is comprehensive enough to have survived several popular revisions) is worth a read, both for The Byrds as a unit and for Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, Gram Parsons and David Crosby in their post-Byrds releases.

Because of the wonderful sound McGuinn got, I saved up for a 12-string guitar. I bought an Ovation electro-acoustic from the famous Andy’s Guitar Workshop in Denmark St. just off The Charing Cross Road. I still have it today – one of the few posessions I’ve held onto after all these years. I started writing songs which utilised it – both songs on our second single, Where The Traffic Goes (written to Adam’s powerful lyrics) and Mr. Magic started with 12 string guitar riffs, not quite up to the McGuinn standard, but with distinctive intros nevertheless. When Wattie joined the Minks, he saved up for a Rickenbacker 12-string and that gave the group a sound which went even closer to The Byrds. His tone on Cut Me Deep is an 80’s update of that McGuinn sound and it defines The Jasmine Minks to many – our best-known song outside the Indie scene. I hired a black 12-string Rickenbacker to use on some of the songs on Another Age album, trying to keep that sound alive. Our current set of concerts where we play the Another Age album, uses Wattie’s 12-string Rickenbacker sound to the full…

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