Friday, January 9, 2009

The Byrds: I Know My Rider (1966)

The Byrds were the real deal. I mean, listen to this. Recorded during the sessions for Fifth Dimension in 1966, but only released much later.

In classic Jim McGuinn fashion the record starts with an old folk song (check out this fascinating thread to see how old), and then in good early Byrds fashion they juice it up with electricity. Just like the Grateful Dead did to the same song - if you're a Deadhead at all, you'll know this song, and how glorious the Dead's arrangement was. The Byrds' version is very different, and just about beats it.

By the time of Fifth Dimension the Byrds were no longer just folkies with a backbeat: they were a real live, not to mention firebreathing, rock and roll band. This record starts with a riff that would do any garage band proud, and just gets better from there. Check out the way they raise the tension (that freight-train Michael Clarke drumbeat) with every line of the verse, then bring it all back home on the last line, with that dramatic slowdown of the rhythm underneath. Then the way the second verse introduces those groovy Beatles-like response vocals ("your window high" - the whole thing in fact sounds like a mutated, twangy gloss on "Paperback Writer").

Then we get that magnificent sitar-like guitar solo. During this period most of McGuinn's solos were heavy on the Coltrane sheets-of-sound idea, but this is different, very melodic, very simple in fact, emotionally direct. It's reprised, of course, at the end, bringing the song in for a perfect Byrds landing.

You can see why they couldn't release it in 1966. The world would have exploded from too much joy.

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