Columbia Records was a little late to the Rock N' Roll party. They'd made their money, and reputation, on M.O.R. pop, Broadway musicals and Classical music. Columbia totally missed '50's Rock and didn't seem to care. The British invasion, months earlier, may have sparked some interest but the label was slow to act. But now, in the mid-60s, they were trying to catch up. There was money to be made from those pimply kids and their Rock N' Roll music.
The label signed Paul Revere & The Raiders and that was followed by landing the Byrds. Even though the Byrds were performing nightly at Ciro's, a club in L.A., Columbia didn't trust them with making a record. They hired session musicians, including Leon Russell, to help make the Byrds first album. The group was not pleased and soon won the right to record their own records.
The Byrds are best remembered as interpreters of Dylan and other Folk songwriters. They smoothed out the rough edges, enhanced the melodies, added vocal harmonies, provided a backbeat and set songs in motion with Roger McGuinn's jangling twelve string guitar. They brought Dylan's music to the mainstream and influenced him to go "electric." As the first real U.S. response to the British invasion the Byrds were momentary heroes. But time and material were running short. There were only so many Dylan songs that could make the transition to Folk Rock and the Byrds themselves were inconsistent songwriters.
Also, the Byrds' window of opportunity was relatively brief, even for the '60s. The Byrds played sharp yet soothing songs that were perfect for a time of transition and uncertainty, namely '65 - '66. Their songs often were heard in T.V. shows and films as a code for a change about to happen (think Wonder Years). By '67, the overblown San Francisco scene (Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother & The Holding Co.) and psychedelic music was taking hold. In the Byrds' own L.A. backyard, the Doors were taking a dark trip and the audience was following. Even in England, Cream and Jimi Hendrix were blasting out wild sounds. The Byrds seemed quaint by comparison. The world was going crazy and they were too sane for their own good. The Byrds, like many of their contemporaries, tried to keep up but soon realized the futility of it and moved to Country Rock where they kept a lower profile.
Just as the Byrds made Dylan accessible, the Eagles built on the Byrds' Country/Rock and took it to the bank. Ironic, don't you think?
Through the '70s and beyond the Byrds and ex-members, with the exception of Gram Parsons who died in '73, continued to perform in various combinations. Of course, David Crosby found a gig as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young.
The Byrds did a little better job living up to their potential than say, Buffalo Springfield. Still, internal disputes and what not (drugs) kept the band from really pulling it off. A down and dirty (cheap) way to catch the founders of Folk Rock is to get "Byrds Greatest Hits." This has all the early songs the band is rightfully remembered for. Digging deeper, pick up their debut "Mr. Tambourine Man." It has the title track hit and an ethereal freshness.
The Byrds foray into Country Rock is best represented by "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" and "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo." They're low-key, often meandering, efforts but not without charm. Featuring steel guitars, fiddles and banjos, the Byrds are more Country than their contemporaries in Nashville. From "Sweetheart" there's "You Ain't Going Nowhere," "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "I Am A Pilgrim." "Notorious" is known for "Going Back" and "Wasn't Born To Follow." Here though, they sound like they are trying to do to Country what they did to Folk. There are the unmistakable Byrds touches throughout.