Record Collecting Miscellanies: Re-evaluating the Collection via the Byrds

As a vinyl collector, I find myself getting more adventurous every year. Albums I would never have purchased, even five years ago, make it into my stack more and more often. If I find a dusty ol' record that looks interesting, I will buy it without hesitation (especially if I'm paying 5 bucks or less). This is how I managed to own not only most of the Top 40 Fleetwood Mac, but also a sizable collection of prog records by Yes and Rush -- these records get played once and filed as I have still not, nor probably ever will, garner an appreciation for 25 minute songs. Give me sugary 60's pop any day.

Of all the thrift store records I own, the Byrds perhaps get the most play. When I pick through those dusty thrift store bins, brimming with Mitch Miller and Neil Diamond, I always hope to find a Byrds record I don't own. This is surprisingly easy as many people don't respect them enough. All the sappy David Crosby songs and missteps in the later years have turned people off to one of the best bands of the hippie decades. Each Byrds record, even in those later years, when the reassembled band was arguably a tighter, more cohesive group of musicians, (perhaps that's the problem) contains a bunch of gems. Their singles are undeniably impressive, but many of the minor studio tracks burst out of the speakers, as incendiary or catchy as any of their hits. Untitled is a great place to find some great tracks and ease into later Byrds, as well as containing a great live set of familiar songs in often unfamiliar arrangements. Roger McGuinn leads the group (consisting of Gene Parsons, Skip Battin, and the phenomenal Clarence White through a set of guitar and pop nirvana that might only be surpassed by live bootlegs. As a statement of intent, the LP is the perfect place to start with this lineup. Their earlier and later albums were spotty and uneven and Untitled shows how great they were as a live unit.

Preflyte is from an earlier era, consisting of embryonic demos, but even at this early stage, evidence of the band's effortless songwriting and way with a hook pops up. Most of the songs were written by the band, except for a lone Dylan tune, "Mr. Tambourine Man." (No early Byrds record was complete without one and I'm sure Zimmy still thanks them for the capital). The songs sound much different in these less produced versions. Gene Clark's songwriting shines; a seldom recognized secret weapon -- he wrote seven of the eleven tracks and co-wrote two others. Listen to "I Knew I'd Want You" to see how potent his talent was even then.

There are many more Byrdsian gems in Columbia's vaults (Most found on the box sets and later re-issues like Total Flyte), yet they always sound fresher with the crackling pops of the needle against dusty vinyl. One day I know I will collect all the Columbia releases on vinyl; then, perhaps, I will be hunting for bootlegs. But for now, I always get excited when I find a new Byrds LP amidst the dross. Mono or Stereo, line-up changes -- none of it matters. The thrill is always there.

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