The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday

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Often considered as one of The Byrds finest efforts, Younger Than Yesterday was the last LP on which all original members (sans Gene Clark) functioned as a cohesive whole. Recorded and released at a time when the band’s tapestry was at its richest and most mature, still, those same threads were beginning to unravel, with David Crosby, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman each exerting their own unique style and talent, not to mention vision.

The album was the first to feature the talents of guitarist Clarence White (as a session player, although he would later go on to become a permanent member), and the last to feature Crosby as an official part of the group (he did make significant contributions to their next album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but had departed before the LP’s release). It was also the final LP on which drummer Michael Clarke would record throughout the entire sessions. Incorporating elements of folk, pop, country, and of course psychedelic rock, Younger Than Yesterday is a record full of feeling, beauty and wonder.

We kick off with “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, a witty, often sarcastic comment on the trappings of commercial success, and the music business in general. Perhaps the stand out is Hugh Masekela’s trumpet solo, adding an extra element to The Byrds’ already impressive periodic table. Chris Hillman’s “Have You Seen Her Face” contains those trademark harmonies the group were famous for, however less enjoyable is “CTA-102” (inspired by the discovery of mysterious radio signals from deep space), whose backward vocals and studio effects seem almost embarrassing today. But then again I’m not on LSD. The Crosby/McGuinn penned “Renaissance Fair”, is one of the band’s most intuitively played numbers here, with an elegant melody that wraps around the listener’s ear, even if the lyrics are a bit on the hippy dippy side.

Hillman contributes another quality song in “Time Between”, a tune that offers a hint at The Byrds future country rock experimentations. No coincidence then that Clarence White should also play on the track. In contrast is Crosby’s haunting “Everybody’s Been Burned” (a song he apparently wrote as early as 1963), giving a gentle clue as to his own future endeavours, namely his 1971 solo LP If I Could Only Remember My Name.

“Thoughts and Words”, another Hillman composition, has a chorus clearly influenced by early Beatles, but with a few trippy studio techniques flown in. The psychedelic folk of Crosby’s “Mind Gardens” is a little vague and all over the place, yet somehow manages to hold together, despite the ‘hey man, I’m having a trip’ vibe of the whole thing. Imagine Fotheringay on magic mushrooms. Now it wouldn’t be a Byrds album without a Bob Dylan cover, in the form of a stately version of “My Back Pages”, whose lyrics would provide the inspiration for the album title, and on which the band’s superior harmony skills are on full display. “The Girl With No Name”, by Hillman, is a charming pre-country rock tune, while the McGuinn/Crosby co-write “Why” is a classy, high-energetic excursion into territory only The Byrds were capable of visiting. McGuinn’s modal influenced guitar was some of his most arresting to date, helping to push the song along at a majestic rate.

But wait, there’s more! The Columbia reissue from the 1990’s includes six bonus tracks, the most impressive of which is Crosby’s near-hypnotic “It Happens Each Day”, and “Lady Friend”, with its spacey choral harmonies. Also included is an alternate version of “Old John Robertson” that would eventually appear on their distressed follow-up The Notorious Byrd Brothers, and a far better rendition of “My Back Pages” than what was included on the original LP (the listener might also want to add a remixed “Mind Gardens” while they’re at it).

Younger Than Yesterday was a nod to the band’s past while pointing an inadvertent eye to where they would find themselves ultimately. Like many a Byrds album, Younger is all about change and reflection, two qualities The Beatles themselves encompassed. That pop groups in the mid ‘60s often made it up as they went along, defying category, not to mention record company expectations, is what makes the music from this time so inventive, and fascinating to this day.

Younger Than Yesterday is an exceptional, often brilliant mix of genres, both old and new. That The Byrds were without borders says a great deal about the era in which they lived. Sure, they may have stumbled occasionally along the course of their long journey but that is beside the point. Never had folk music and modern technology combined to such great affect. David Crosby later reflected that out of everything they had ever done, Younger was his “favourite Byrds album of all”, one full of subtle, experimental wonder, capable of engaging the listener some fifty years after its initial creation.