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"I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" is amazing, and one of rock 'n' roll all-time greatest kiss-offs: "I'll feel a whole lot better...when you're GONE!" Don't let the door hit ya, ya worthless crumb. Its riff is prototypical folk-rock, lifted in part from "Needles And Pins," and later modified by The Beatles for "If I Needed Someone," a song which would not exist if "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" didn't first provide the elements to pilfer and inspire. This is Gene Clark's finest moment, and that's saying something.
Dylan's "Spanish Harlem Incident" allows us to catch our breath while still remaining fully engaged. "You Won't Have To Cry" nicks so blatantly from The Beatles' early clues to the new direction that you'd swear The Byrds found it by turning left at Greenland; but it's pleasant and agreeable thievery, further justifying the smile that's been widening upon your appreciative head as the album plays on.
Side One closes with the ferocious one-two gut punch of "Here Without You" and "The Bells Of Rhymney." The desperate loneliness of "Here Without You" hits you in waves of longing and regret; the mining disaster of "The Bells Of Rhymney" lifts up its mourning with the now-familiar jangle, a pure, pristine pop sound that reminds us of redemption, deliverance, in the face of horrible tragedy.
(Decades later, following a devastating personal loss, I played "Here Without You" on the birthday of a departed loved one. I sobbed to myself, inconsolable, throughout its spin.)
Another Dylan song, "All I Want To Do," kicks off Side Two with freewheelin' abandon, leading into the yearningly romantic swoon of "I Knew I'd Want You" and the cantankerous swagger of "It's No Use." Jackie DeShannon's "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe" (a life-affirming ditty best summed up as "I'm okay, you're oh, baby!") runs best-foot-first into Bob Dylan's last stand (for now), the clarion call "Chimes Of Freedom." We feel important. We feel deep. Our toes are tapping, sure, but they're tapping meaningfully. The album closes with a house call from Dr. Strangelove, as the traditional British "We'll Meet Again" stiffens our upper lip for that long day's journey into night. Let the dark armies come as they may; The Byrds have established a resistance.
|Cool 1965: David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, Michael Clarke, Jim McGuinn|
The Byrds weren't considered cool for long. The Rolling Stones--surlier, more sinister bad boys!--usurped that title in short order. Four of the five original Byrds left the nest as seasons turned, turned, turned: Gene Clark was gone in 1966, David Crosby and Michael Clarke followed in '67, and Chris Hillman departed right around the time Richard Nixon rose to the top of the charts. Jim McGuinn--later known as Roger McGuinn--was the only member to remain in all of the varying incarnations of The Byrds, and the group finally ended in '73 (following a one-off reunion album by the original quintet). For too many people, The Byrds became a mere footnote in the chronicle of Crosby's path to the more celebrated Crosby, Stills & Nash. While I like CSN, I can't forget the fact that CSN broke up three great groups--The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies--to make one good group.
I had a ticket to see McGuinn, Clark & Hillman in 1978 or '79, when this Byrdly trio visited Brockport. But I didn't like their new stuff, figured they probably wouldn't perform any Byrds songs, and sold my ticket instead. Aside from passing on a chance to see James Brown in the mid '80s, this was the stupidest missed opportunity on my concert-goin' resume.
Over time, I acquired nearly all of The Byrds' albums, via CD reissues if nothing else. I still like the early stuff the best, Mr. Tambourine Man through Younger Than Yesterday. I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now. Cyril Jordan of The Flamin' Groovies once said that no one ever released another subsequent album as great as Mr. Tambourine Man. When I interviewed Cyril for Goldmine in the early '90s, I asked him if he still thought that was true; "Still true!" was his simple response. Still true. Still jangling. And still a love at first spin.