Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Byrds

  • Younger Than Yesterday [Columbia, 1967] B-
  • Ballad of Easy Rider [Columbia, 1969] B+
  • (Untitled) [Columbia, 1970] C+
  • Farther Along [Columbia, 1971] C
  • Byrdmaniax [Columbia, 1971] B-
  • The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits Volume II [Columbia, 1972] B
  • The Byrds Sing Dylan [Columbia/Legacy, 2002]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Younger Than Yesterday [Columbia, 1967]
The Byrds' Greatest Hits, a profit-taking retrospective from later in the year, sounds like a triumph of produced and programmed rock and roll, while The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which followed it in '68, are two of the most convincing arguments for artistic freedom ever to come out of American rock. But this April '67 failure suffers from two related '67 maladies: pretentiousness and self-expression. David Crosby's "Mind Garden" is a completely unlistenable acid meander, while four (three too many) innocuous folk-rock cum countryrock tunes by Chris Hillman are a familiar-sounding example of how an uninteresting self does its number. Never before did concept-master Roger (né Jim) McGuinn efface himself so disastrously on a Byrds album--and never after, either. B-

Ballad of Easy Rider [Columbia, 1969]
I'm sorry to report that this is the poorest Byrds album. It improves with listening, especially at high volume, but Roger McGuinn does seem to be returning to his roots, which unfortunately lie deep in commercial folk music. All the rock dynamics are fading, and what replaces them is thoughtful but not compelling. B+

(Untitled) [Columbia, 1970]
I'm sorry. I love them--or do I mean him?--too, but it finally seems to be ending. The new songs are unworthy except for the anomalous McGuinn showcase "Chestnut Mare," the harmonies are faint or totally absent, and the live performance that comprises half this two-record set . . . well, I'm sure you had to be there. I was, lots of times, and I guess I will be again, but mostly to demonstrate my devotion. I'm sorry. C+

Farther Along [Columbia, 1971]
On that downhill road--to Kim Fowley, to songs about Antique Sandy and Precious Kate, to the day when the agent man collects what you owe him. C

Byrdmaniax [Columbia, 1971]
Two good white gospel (a fundamentalist and a modernist) plus one good Roger McGuinn song (out of four, and he needed a collaborator) plus one good Skip Battin song (he needed a collaborator too--Kim Fowley). In sum, better than Farther Along, but if you can only tell arithmetically how much difference can it make? B-

The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits Volume II [Columbia, 1972]
If their first greatest hits was (in Paul Williams's deathless phrase) "an essay into rediscovery," this one's a product into recouping. Thing is, a good statement could have been constructed. Let Notorious and Sweetheart stand on their own (though one song apiece is acceptable anyway), leave the anachronistic "He Was a Friend of Mine" in the dustbin of history, and tell Skip Battin to make his own album. Then pick a few more cuts--"Deportee," "Old Blue," "Child of the Universe"--from Easy Rider and Dr. Byrds. Presto: Roger McGuinn's Greatest Quirks. The original space cowboy deserves a testament, not an olio. B

The Byrds Sing Dylan [Columbia/Legacy, 2002]
Back in the mythic '60s, the Byrds got rich off Bob Dylan and made him richer in the bargain: "Mr Tambourine Man" was their first hit and his second, after Peter, Paul & Mary's "Blowin' in the Wind." The Byrds's world-turning folk-rock chime added trippy texture to "All I Really Want to Do" and "My Back Pages," and on 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo they deadpanned a definitive "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." But no one has any need for Roger McGuinn's dull interpretations of "Just Like a Woman" and "Lay Lady Lay." Not for nothing is this man now plying the folk circuit. You want great Dylan covers, remember this title: Lo and Behold!, by forgotten folk-rockers Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint, from the less mythic '70s. [unknown: 3]

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