Long loved and often revisited, today in the rock room spins a mono version of the diverse ‘Byrds’ 1967 LP, Younger Than Yesterday. The record is a wonderful document of the post-Gene Clark group, showcasing Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman’s blossoming songwriting and composing skills. The four piece band would soon fracture due to their increasingly divergent styles and personalities but in the case of this featured recording, the tincture of blended talents equate to a multifarious and spectral slice of mid 1960’s psychedelic, jazz and sonic experimentation.
The record opens cinematically with the famous ‘So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star’ the, luscious mono mix popping with Hillman’s plump and excited bass lines. Jazz star Hugh Masekela blows horn over the undulating percussion driven groove. Hillman’s maturation as a songwriter and bass player has now equaled his fellow Byrds by this point in their respective careers, taking into account his output on this record. Groovy horns, artificial screams, and driving instrumentation make up this famed Byrds track and sly dig at the then current state of the music scene.
The chunky and Hillman penned “Have You See Her Face’ follows and spotlights a full Byrds spectral vocal blend. Special notice to McGuinn’s fearless and distorted guitar quote, a departure from his usual tone and injecting a crunchy melody that makes the song. The tone is mouthwatering. This song sways with an absolutely stellar groove and offers the finest contributions from the entire band. Michael Clark pounds the skins with a Rand B fervor that tightens down the bolts. The mono mix of the song is of note, as it is full of groovy details and close mic’d vocal nuance.
‘C.T.A.-102’ develops clandestinely and appears as an extra terrestrial number born from Roger McGuinn’s interest in outer space and futuristic technologies. By the end of the tune the aliens have made contact and the song is transmitted to a distant quasar to which alternate life is perplexed by the earthling’s sonic offering. The tune’s most endearing quality is its mixing of traditional verse construction with far-out electronic manipulations. This album was released in Feburary 1967, so its experiments with sound manipulations spearheaded by producer Gary Usher, were contemporary and cutting edge. Hillman plays with authority once again, disseminating experimental lines that defy the gravity being created in the oscillating waves of found sound.
‘Renaissance Fair’ follows and in my humble opinion is the band’s finest moment on this LP. McGuinn’s circular and ringing picking signals the tune, Crosby then slashes the starry veil with thick strums, while Hillman struts up and down the fret board in a flowery and glorious syncopation. Clarke snaps the snare and the Byrds velvet blend begins its walk into the dreamy summer season of verses. This song streams, a regal flag that illustrates and distills the essence of the 1960’s into a two minute song eliciting hopefulness and a simplistic flamboyance.
Hillman takes lead vocal duties on ‘Time Between’ another one of his numbers that hold up as some of the strongest in the Byrds catalog. Future Byrd guitarist, Hillman friend and guitar master Clarence White takes a stringy series of sweet ‘B-Bending’quotes under and on top of the verses. Country rock? This is it. One of the first examples of the juxtaposition of the genres in Pop, if that is your thing. This song is so god damn catchy it makes you wonder why it wasn’t all over the FM airwaves. Probably because it was located a bit too far down the overgrown back roads for the mainstream public.
Quintessential Crosby, ‘Everybody Has Been Burned’ closes out the first side with bluesy and dramatic psychedelia. Only David Crosby could compose the idiosyncratic changes and content of a song such as this. It drifts like smoke… transparent yet tangible, only coming into focus when passing in front of light. The song rotates with its eyes closed on McGuinn’s spinning top picking. Hillman swells with a simple but effective statement, over it all Crosby pours warm honey with his tranquil vocal delivery. McGuinn later takes a minimalist solo that scratches every itch through singular chorused Rickenbacker plucks.
The flip side of the record becomes more experimental and slowly reveals its sonic secrets like an aural black light poster. The second side begins with the Chris Hillman penned song and total contrast to ‘Time Between’,Thoughts and Words’. The ethnic purple paisley sounding verses elicit George Harrison through the vocals and by the chorus turns a groovy garage funk. Backwards guitars leave day-glo paint streaks through the tension filled changes. When the verses again return the vocals are then embraced with alternating and echoed vocal lines. Ace classic rock goods to be enjoyed here.
‘Mind Gardens’ follows and is the exact type of song that got Crosby removed from the Byrds. Too weird for some of the band members, this is the kind of tune that Crosby fans loves him for. It is written that McGuinn DID NOT want this song on the LP. Over shimmering 12 string guitar Crosby creates vocal melody lines that drone, soar and dissipate into themselves above a constantly shifting river of rhythms and reversed studio created sound. Formless but glowing with color, ‘Mind Garden’s isn’t a song to grace a single, it’s a forward thinking musical creation born of following the muse.
The only Dylan song to be featured on the LP, ‘My Back Pages’ allows the perfect and recognizable triad of Byrds vocals to pyramid from the speakers. The title of the record influenced from the lyrics of this song. As was often their wont the Byrds take Dylan’s poignant declaration and form it into an electrified three part harmony attack. The internal conflicts of the band are illustrated here through a track listing. Crosby’s expansive drug fueled flip outs versus the reliance on the Dylan warhorses to please the masses.
Hillman is given another lead vocal on his own ‘The Girl with No Name’, in my opinion slightly inferior to ‘Time Between’, but nonetheless a solid song well deserving of its position of the LP. Chewing on straw the song slyly gets a country kiss on its rock and roll cheek. Hillman shows off his ability to swindle up a memorable melody line with the best of em.
Crosby’s song ‘Why’ closes the album in a move often questioned because of its inclusion as a ‘B’ side on the previously released ‘Eight Mikes High’ single. Regardless of the motivation, the version featured here contains a quivering ‘raga’ solo by McGuinn during the middle of the song and hula hoop bass licks by Hillman throughout. Crosby is draped in his perfect early career voice that soothes even when crooning aggressively.
With that, the LP reaches its conclusion, a solitary thirty minute volume in the turbulent history of the ‘Byrds’. A fine record by any account, it reveals a group with willingness to experiment and ability to cross pollinate genres while exhibiting a tangible growth as musical artists. The album itself plays beautifully and contains instrumental personality as well as sonic clarity. The mono mix is highly recommended. Enjoyed front to back, the ‘Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday can take the willing listener on a trip through the past, into the present and the thoughtful, onward toward the future.