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The Byrds – Younger than Yesterday (1967)

November 24, 2016

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Unbelievable USA logo by Sarca @ caughtmegaming

USA Artists (so far): Aimee Mann, Marty Robbins, D’Angelo, The Modern Lovers, Bruce Springsteen, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, Steely Dan, Grant Lee Buffalo, 2Pac, Harry Nilsson, Linkin Park, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Randy Newman, The Monkees, Liz Phair, The Byrds

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[Album 496/1001]

“I’m not young enough to know everything.”
– J.M. Barrie, The Admirable Crichton, Act I (1903)

This is both my conundrum & my improbable solution to appreciating The Byrds: I simply need to get younger.

Because if I were younger, I’d surely know why I don’t quite flock to these Byrds as I feel I should.

On paper, it’s a group I should really dig (look at me using hip, youthfully exuberant terms like ‘dig’) but with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Mr. Tambourine Man, and now Younger than Yesterday, I’ve been left feeling somewhat unfulfilled each time.

Which is a strange thing to say about three records that I’d consider to be ‘good’ records overall.

I’ve started to think it’s a case of a band performing below my (potentially unreasonable) expectations.

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“Is it any good?”
“It’s not all I hoped for”

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The Provincial Standard

In Ontario Secondary Schools, a mark in the 70s is known as “The Provincial Standard.” Essentially, a student achieves The Provincial Standard when they complete the checklist. They do all the requirements, they do a good job, but without any ‘wow’ factor.

If a student has tremendous work ethic, asks questions, tries their hardest, and earns The Provincial Standard, awesome!

But when a student has demonstrated they can do much more & achieves the same Provincial Standard, it’s somewhat…less awesome.

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So how does this apply to The Byrds?

Younger Than Yesterday feels like a Provincial Standard record.

Which would be fine, if they hadn’t recorded a song as exceptional as My Back Pages.

Unfortunately for The Byrds (and I suppose, more so, for me), the near perfection of My Back Pages sent my expectations through the roof.

As a consequence, I have never been more impressed with a single track & subsequently more disappointed when the rest of a ‘good’ album failed to reach such 220px-youngeryesterdaycovergreat heights.

It’s possible The Byrds are giving their all each time and I’m simply overestimating their abilities.

It’s possible I’m just getting old.

I don’t know.

That’s likely the biggest lesson of teaching: the more you know, the more you realize you have left to learn.

So maybe they’ll consistently go above & beyond the Provincial Standard on one of the remaining Byrds records on the 1001 (Fifth Dimension, The Notorious Byrd Brothers).

Either that, or hopefully I’ll be young enough by then to be able to fully appreciate them!

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Verbalize the Positive

I appreciate that Ovidiu @ Tangledupinmusic takes the time each month to give a tip of the hat to a variety of blogs that he’s enjoyed reading.

I also like the variety of series that he has on-the-go (like ‘Play This More Often’ & ‘Stories Behind Classic Songs’), with writing that always goes miles beyond the Provincial Standard!

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From → 1960s

42 Comments
  1. An especially fine post this! Really enjoyed it.

  2. I’m not sure it’s age, man. But I guess there is no way to know for sure!

    I’m a “greatest hits” guy when it comes to the Byrds (who I used to confuse with the Yardbirds).

    • At the moment – I might argue the greatest hits could be sufficient. But after the next 2 albums, I may end up disagreeing with myself!

  3. fyfeopedia permalink

    I agree that ‘My Back Pages’ is the standout here, but I also really enjoy Chris Hillman’s ‘Thoughts and Words’, ‘Renaissance Fair’, and Crosby’s gentle ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’. The Byrds can be a little frustrating – with lots of band tension and record company demand for quick product, it feels like they never quite reached their potential.

    • Thanks for the comment!
      I would tend to think the same, that demands for quick product would lead to diminishing quality – but I read an interesting counter-argument recently.

      The thought being, if you’re constantly producing, you’re not ‘over-thinking’ – usually the first idea is the best idea and if you take too long between records, you end up overworking songs and they’re less effective as a result.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I would tend to think the same, that demands for quick product would lead to diminishing quality – but I read an interesting counter-argument recently.

      The thought being, if you’re constantly producing, you’re not ‘over-thinking’ becuase you don’t have time to do so. Usually the first idea is the best idea and if you take too long between records, you end up constantly second-guessing & overworking songs. As a result, the end product is less effective.

      Both theories make sense, so at different times, I imagine both are likely true!

      • fyfeopedia permalink

        It feels like the Byrds had some complex power dynamics as well – Roger McGuinn was the leader, but arguably a less talented writer than Gene Clark, Crosby, or Hillman. And they always did lots of covers as well. I think with lots of band politics, sometimes they made some weird song choices – ‘Lady Friend’, an unsuccessful standalone single, would have made Younger Than Yesterday stronger.

      • It’s always strange hearing those songs that get relegated to b-sides/unreleased/non-album singles, and they end up being stronger than the ones that made the cut!

    • fyfeopedia permalink

      One of my favourite Byrds’ songs is ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ – it got dropped off their second album Turn! Turn! Turn!, but it’s one of Gene Clark’s best Byrds songs, and McGuinn plays an awesome solo which he borrowed from Bach.

  4. Love ‘The Admirable Crichton’ quote.
    Part of me wants to gently chide you, Geoff, for being a hard man to please – I find ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ almost perfect – but another part of me knows exactly what you mean. I didn’t know them at the time (bit too young) and had to work backwards. I still find the country-rock stuff a bit irrelevant to my muse. So I’ll amble down from the distancing high moral ground and simply suggest this: come back to YTY every year or so and see what happens. I doubt you’ll find you’ve been burned.

    • Consider me gently chided Bruce!

      I shall take your advice to revisit annually – it worked with Steely Dan for me (very different artist of course but a VC-approved band if there ever was one) and I anticipate this one could keep climbing for me.

      I’m curious if some albums might work the other way – ones I loved the first couple times through, could they lose some lustre with annual revisits?

      • I think the reverse can be true, Geoff. Though for me that is often due to a lack of depth (or perhaps even innovation/complexity in some albums). And I think, too, that as we expand the area of our enjoyment via genres or even individual bands, some styles hold less interest (especially more mainstream pop). Look forward to you presenting that thesis in graphic form. 😉

      • I hope you’ll sit on the peer review committee when I defend the thesis!

  5. I’m not a huge fan of The Byrds, but they have two albums that I consider absolute essential (one being Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, which I’d definitely recommend you revisit) and Notorious Byrd Brothers. I tend to find that their output was a bit patchy, though… a mix of absolute genius and unremarkable. None of it bad, right enough.

    • Revisit Sweetheart at the Rodeo I shall J – I think it was something like me 40th album review, so it’s been a few years. Glad to hear notorious fits in the essential category!

      • Notorious is a really great album… reckon it might tick all the boxes. Or at least a whole lot of them! I hope you enjoy it, and I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts when the time comes!

  6. They did “My Back Pages” too? I don’t know anything about music! *hangs head in shame*. The songwriter of that recently made me feel old. He had the confidence of someone who has the world at his feet when he wrote and performed that music, something young people can relate to. But, age brings you humility and the wisdom to appreciate the music for what it is, and not dismiss it as a young people’s thing.

    Btw, I appreciate you appreciating people at the end of your posts. Such a good habit to inculcate.

    • Haha, the further I get into this project Amrita, the more I realize I know next to nothing about music!
      I thought of you today when I bought a pair of Kate Bush records & when I saw that The Gilmore Girls series premiere has happened. Hope you’re enjoying it this weekend!

      • 2 out of 3 things I was looking forward to this weekend have been disappointing. I’m yet to purchase the new Kate Bush album so fingers crossed for that!

      • that’s too bad about the first 2 – third time’s the charm!

      • What were the KB albums btw?

      • Lionheart & The Whole Story!

      • Ah, “In the Warm Room” is one of my favourite tracks. Obviously love Wow and Hammer Horror. She called Don’t Push Your Foot On The HeartBreke her “Patti Smith song”. Most people dismiss Lionheart, but except for a couple of tracks, I think it’s a great collection. Collection, not album.

        One of my favourite aspects of The Whole Story is how Hounds of Love is better followed by Running Up That Hill than the other way around, as it is on the album. Tell me if you feel the same. Also, which Wuthering Heights version you prefer.

        I hope to get the new album by next week, and maybe write my first music review! Sorry for going on like this, but my enthusiasm’s no surprise I guess!

      • If you’re going to do a first music review, Kate would be a fine artist for the music review debut!
        And going on about Kate is always encouraged around here Amrita!

  7. This is an excellent post. I totally get where you’re coming from on this band.

    I have achieved the Provincial Standard!

  8. I feel the same way. 1960s? Check. 12-string Rickenbacker? Check. Great Dylan songs by someone who can actually sing well? Check. I recently read the Mojo (or was it Uncut?) special on The Byrds. Was really interesting. Will add three quotes from it to my collection. I then bought a German-only (I assume; it is by Reclam, which is a publisher known for low-budget yellow paperbacks of classics of literature like Goethe and Schiller, with the album in the same canary yellow) low-budget “greatest hits” collection.

    It starts off well. It jangles. It’s psychedelic, in a good sense. Dylan is there. Then they really lose me with the country stuff. I’m not a country fan, but country rock is done much better by, say, The Common Linnets (recently saw a great concert), or Neil Young, or The Eagles. But this isn’t really country rock, it’s country, almost in the “there’s a tear in my beer” category. The later stuff is just generic 70s soft rock. Bread were probably better. “Chestnut Mare” is supposed to be one of McGuinn’s best songs. Really? (The only clever thing was anagramming Peer Gynt to Gene Tryp.)

    So, I sympathize. I really wanted to like them. Basically, they were a one-trick pony: electrified Dylan, before Dylan was electric.

    I also note that there are no American musicians I am really fond of. Yes, Simon and Garfunkel (only in their time together) are up there. I like old Kansas albums. Some Rainbow (and related) musicians were American. Like the Byrds, I also think that the Beach Boys are over-rated. Also a one-trick pony, with the harmony-surf stuff. OK, the stuff which inspired Revolver is OK (Pet Sounds), but I vastly prefer the latter. Note how it’s always “this inspired McCartney”. Yes, it did. So did skiffle, Little Richard, Vaudeville/music hall, sea shanties, but I’m not a fan of any of them. That was the genius of the Beatles: one could hear the influences, but, no matter what style the music was, it still sounded like the Beatles.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment Phillip – I quite like that line, they electrified Dylan, before Dylan was electric.

      And agreed wholeheartedly about the Beatles always sounding different yet always sounding like the Beatles.

      I feel the blanket statement “I hate the Beatles” would be a tough one to make as even on Revolver, you’ve got every sound from Eleanor Rigby to Tomorrow Never Knows, surely there’s something in there for just about anyone!

      • I”I quite like that line, they electrified Dylan, before Dylan was electric.”

        There is no “they” in my version. It could be taken to be understood, but I actually meant “electrified” as a participial adjective, as in “the electrified Dylan”, not as past tense. But your version actually sounds a bit better, since it emphasizes the Byrds’ contribution. (Ultimately, the actual meaning is the same.)

        I saw McGuinn in a solo show (really solo, no band) in a small club in 1986. It is sobering to think that the time between then and now is more than twice as long as that between then and the breakup of the Byrds. 😐 And Catfish Rising marks the midpoint of Jethro Tull’s career.

        The last remark jibes well with the remarks above about good stuff coming when it is coming fast. The first half of Tull seems so much longer because much more happened. This might be related, though, to people having their best thoughts when they are young. There is pressure then, too, but maybe it is common cause rather than cause and effect.

        Do any bands actually get better with time? I think that one could make a case that Iron Maiden at least have not got worse.

      • Interesting question about a band improving with age – I know some of our colleagues went to see the Book of Souls Tour & had amazing experiences, so it sounds like you’re right, They’ve been remarkably consistent for decades now!

  9. “Because if I were younger, I’d surely know why I don’t quite flock to these Byrds as I feel I should.”

    All who didn’t get the pun the first time can now groan!

  10. Shit, I somehow missed this post. Thanks for the shout-out, man!

    • No worries Ovidiu – and thanks for inspiring the idea of shining a light on enjoyable blogs & bloggers!

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