Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Byrds 4: Younger Than Yesterday

The biggest surprise for the Byrds’ fourth album was a welcome one. While each of the singers stepped up the quality of their songwriting, it was Chris Hillman who managed to provide the balance so needed in the band, and made Younger Than Yesterday an improvement on its predecessor.
They were still a quartet, but had begun to play with their image. McGuinn lost the granny glasses, and started experimenting with facial hair. Crosby grew the mustache he wouldn’t shave for twenty years—and only then at the behest of federal prison wardens—and began wearing hats to hide his receding hairline. And Chris stopped ironing his own hair, letting it blossom into its natural ‘fro. (These things were important at the time.)
The lead track on the album, “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star”, is a wonderful blend of the potential of the Rickenbacker 12-string with harmonies pushing a lyric that could either be taken as a swipe at the Monkees or their own image. “Have You Seen Her Face” is the first Hillman offering, a great power-pop nugget with chunky guitar. But it was still the ‘60s and McGuinn’s fascination with sci-fi led to “C.T.A.-102”, another plea for alien intervention torpedoed by a lengthy funny-voice section. Crosby’s “Renaissance Fair” is short but sweet, a nice premonition of the Summer of Love. Chris comes back with “Time Between”, another country-flavored number with future Byrd Clarence White bending his B-string all over the place. And Crosby responds with “Everybody’s Been Burned”, his best yet contribution to the band, layered in droning finger-picking and pensive lyrics.
Lest you think he was just a bumpkin, “Thoughts And Words” gives Chris a little touch of psychedelia in the way of a backwards 12-string. If you like that sound, you’ll love “Mind Gardens”, a phenomenally self-indulgent Crosby exercise in avoiding melody to sound deep. Luckily “My Back Pages” comes next, wherein the Byrds once again take a Dylan song, turn it inside out, and make it a classic. “The Girl With No Name” is a nice distillation of the other Hillman songs on the album, and this time the last word is given to a re-recording of “Why”, an alternate of the B-side from the year before.
While the progression to psychedelia wouldn’t be smooth, Younger Than Yesterday shows that the Byrds had a knack for finding a hit song in between all their experiments. Only hindsight would illuminate that their chances of keeping it together in that volatile environment were slim. The tension is only slightly hinted at in the bonuses on the upgraded CD, in the Crosby outtake “It Happens Each Day” and the pointless B-side movie theme “Don’t Make Waves”. A couple of alternates would interest collectors, but in the interest of context, we also get the criminally unappreciated “Lady Friend” and its lesser B-side “Old John Robertson”. And if you’re paying attention, you may be intrigued to hear that the closing instrumental is unlisted, but is revealed to be the backwards guitar track from “Mind Gardens” run forward.

The Byrds Younger Than Yesterday (1967)—4
1996 CD reissue: same as 1967, plus 6 extra tracks

No comments:

Post a Comment