It isn’t how it was set up to be (the byrds 1966 part 1)

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

WELCOME TO AN INTRODUCTION to the first in a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on the re­leased and un­re­leased recording of the Byrds in 1966. I began this se­ries in July 2013 for my first blog, Neal Umphred Dot Com. As I hadn’t written any­thing in a while (in years, ac­tu­ally), my au­tho­rial chops were rusty. Also, I knew nothing about blog­ging, so the final pieces that I posted now seem timid and embarrassing.

When I trans­ferred those posts from that blog here to Rather Rare Records, I hadn’t learned all that much and the re­sults of the “new” posts weren’t that much better. So I pulled them from ac­tive pub­li­ca­tion and changed their status to those of drafts, ef­fec­tively placing them on hold.

I had meant to re­think them and rewrite them into some­thing more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of my abil­i­ties, but never got around to it.

Until now.

The text be­tween the two hor­i­zontal lines below (fol­lowing the fab­u­lous car­i­ca­ture by Anita Kunz) is both a teaser and a bone to pla­cate those readers who found one of the ear­lier posts on the in­ternet and clicked on the link and found them­selves on a 404 error page.

My apolo­gies for that, and fur­ther apolo­gies for this: but this is now my main project and I will com­plete it in due time, with each of the Byrds’ four re­leased records from 1966 being given the at­ten­tion they deserve.


The Byrds in 1966 Part 1: caricature of the Byrds by Anita Kunz.


THE YEAR 1966 WAS PIVOTAL to rock & roll and pop music: it was the year where the rock and pop musicians—and yes, many of our revered rock artists thought of them­selves as pop mu­si­cians in the day—began taking them­selves se­ri­ously as being ‘cre­ative.’ They also began thinking of their music as ‘art’ and of the LP as the medium for that art.

I have long ar­gued that 1966 was the year in which rock-and-roll-music-any-old-way-you-choose-it be­came Rock-with-a-capital-R music. There had been hints of the shape of things to come in 1965, as many 45s had ex­hib­ited an earnest se­ri­ous­ness that few rock or pop records had shown be­fore then.

There were huge leaps for­ward in the song­writing, mu­si­cian­ship, arrange­ments, and pro­duc­tion in records from the British groups all the way to the West Coast groups, from the depth of Southern soul to the froth Mo­town’s mar­riage of rhythm & blues with rock and pop, and even straight-ahead pop music!


Hey Mister Tam­bourine Man, take me for a trip upon your magic swirling ship, and in the jingle-jangle morning, I’ll come fol­lowing you.


And it wasn’t just the music that was changing: in 1965, many rock mu­si­cians had changed their ap­pear­ance, drop­ping their ‘show biz’ out­fits and adopting more ex­pres­sive at­tire. The Bea­tles re­ceived at­ten­tion simply by not wearing matching suits!

For the cor­po­rate media, the BIG issue was hair: boys in bands were growing their hair long! It is dif­fi­cult to imagine the so­cial and fa­milial tu­mult this simple ac­tion caused in the Western na­tions: in Britain, Eu­rope, Aus­tralia, Canada, and in America. Fa­thers dis­owned their sons over a few inches of hair on the back of their col­lars, for Grom­mett’s sakes! 

In Eng­land, long hair was seen to be cham­pi­oned by the Stones, but the real leaders were the Pretty Things (an ironic band name) and those kinky Davies brothers.

But that was nothing com­pared to what was hap­pening in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, where vir­tu­ally every­thing held sacro­sanct by the Ward and June Cleavers of America was being challenged!

But that’s an­other story.

But in the long run, it was the sounds that were a-changing that mat­ters and things got no­tice­able heavier in ’65. And no one was heavier than the Byrds.


The Byrds in 1966 Part 1: advertisement for the Byrds' single EIGHT MILES HIGH / WHY from Billboard magazine in March 1966.

This full-page ad­ver­tise­ment for Eight Miles High ap­peared in the music busi­ness trades like Bill­board and Cash Box. How sur­prised could Co­lumbia have been by the neg­a­tive feed­back to the song’s per­ceived drug con­no­ta­tions when they were boosting it by asking “How high the Byrds?”

Eight Miles High

In March 1966, Co­lumbia re­leased the Byrds’ fifth single, Eight Miles High / Why, with both trep­i­da­tion and fan­fare. Ar­guably the most ad­vanced rock/pop record yet, the A-side com­bined po­etic lyrics that were both elu­sive and al­lu­sive with an in­stru­mental tracks that re­flected the group’s growing in­terest in the jazz of John Coltrane and the clas­sical raga of Ravi Shankar.

To many people in the recording and radio in­dustry (sta­tion man­agers, pro­gram­mers, disc-jockeys, critics, etc.), this com­bi­na­tion meant one thing: drugs. And not just the good old drugs of the past (co­caine and mar­i­juana had both been ex­tolled for decades), but a rel­a­tively new drug that was the talk of the town at the time: LSD.

Eight Miles High stormed up the charts and then, sud­denly (poof!), its mo­mentum came to a halt. A record that many people thought was going to go to top the charts peaked at #12 on Cash Box and then quickly fell of those charts.

To this day, opinion is di­vided over whether the record was un­of­fi­cially “banned” within the in­dustry, and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously pulled from AM radio sta­tion playlists around the country.

Ap­par­ently, the group had planned to follow their chart-topping hit Eight Miles High with an album of the same name. As that single was deemed a failure of sorts, the album was put aside as the group worked on their next single.


The Byrds in 1966 Part 1: whte label promotional pressing of the Byrds' single 5D (FIFTH DIMENSION).

For the Byrds’ sixth single  the type­set­ters for the la­bels of the sin­gles spelled the song “5 D” with a full space be­tween the number and the letter. To avoid con­fu­sion, most writers ei­ther elim­i­nate the space (“5D”) or sub­sti­tute a hy­phen (“5-D”).

5D (Fifth Dimension)

The ra­tional move at this point would have been to re­lease a non-controversial single, per­haps an­other Dylan song. That is the exact op­po­site of what the five young mu­si­cians did: due to ei­ther a sur­plus of courage or an ig­no­rance of hubris, the Byrds fol­lowed their “banned drug song” with yet an­other single that ap­peared to an­nounce their sup­port of LSD.

In June, Co­lumbia re­leased the new Byrds single, 5D (Fifth Di­men­sion) / Cap­tain Soul. While the flip-side was a dis­pos­able soul-based in­stru­mental, the A-side was a gor­geous if slightly omi­nous ballad re­put­edly based on an old sea chantey—except Jim McGuinn was not singing about the sea, but about some­thing they called “sci­en­tific delirium madness.”

Un­like the pre­vious single, no one thought this as going to be a #1 record: it met with im­me­diate re­sis­tance from AM radio pro­gram­mers, who simply re­fused to add it to their playlists. I cer­tainly never heard it played on WARM AM-590 in my part of the country. After a mere five weeks on the charts, 5D peaked at #39 on Cash Box and then disappeared.

In terms of keeping the Byrds in the good graces of Co­lumbia and radio sta­tion man­agers, this had not been a good ca­reer move.


The Byrds in 1966 Part 1: picture sleeve of the promotional open-end interview for the Byrds' FIFTH DIMENSION album from July 1966.

Still be­lieving in the Byrds, Co­lumbia shipped a 7-inch, 33 rpm, open-end in­ter­view record to pro­mote the FIFTH DIMENSION album in July. The record in­cluded a sheet with ques­tions that local disc-jockeys who could ask and then play an an­swer by David Crosby or Jim McGuinn. The record in­cluded the black & white pic­ture sleeve above.

Fifth Dimension

De­spite the ab­solute failure of 5D, the Byrds owed Co­lumbia an album. Due to per­sonal fric­tion, the band parted with their pro­ducer Terry Melcher, the man who had guided the band through two #1 hits and two best-selling al­bums. Columbia’s West Coast vice pres­i­dent Allen Stanton stepped in to head the sessions.

The album that fol­lowed FIFTH DIMENSION—named after the part of the non-hit sin­gle’s title that was in parenthesis—was not met with the warmth and en­thu­siasm of the pre­vious album, even by diehard fans such as my­self. The ma­te­rial was all over the prover­bial map, ranging from trite (an ad­jec­tive no one could level against any of their ear­lier Co­lumbia sides) to laugh­able to brilliant.

And the sound that Stanton got was weird, murky, sounding un­like any­thing that most of us had ever heard be­fore. I want to say it sounded like Stanton didn’t know how to record, but he had al­ready had suc­cess pro­ducing fine-sounding records for pop artists like the New Christy Min­strels and Doris Day.

In hind­sight, the weird sound and feel of the album tends to high­light the overall sense of in­tel­li­gence and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that is also a part of the album. And there is the fact that this album was one a prog­en­itor of the full-blown psy­che­delia that would soon follow.


The Byrds in 1966 Part 1: picture sleeve for the Byrds' single MR. SPACEMAN from West Germany in October 1966.

For un­known rea­sons, Co­lumbia didn’t issue pic­ture sleeves with most of the Byrds sin­gles. Given the money that the group made the com­pany, they could have sprang for spending a frac­tion of a penny per record to boost sales a bit. But CBS did issue spe­cial sleeves in other coun­tries, like this at­trac­tive sleeve from West Germany.

Mr. Spaceman

Fi­nally, the Byrds caved: in Sep­tember, they ei­ther will­ingly pulled Mr. Spaceman from their album as a new single, or ac­qui­esced when Co­lumbia did it for them. The track was a charming, if harm­less, ditty about noc­turnal vis­i­ta­tions from strangers whose “saucer-shaped lights put people up­tight [and] leave blue-green foot­prints that glow in the dark.” And, like E.T. in the fu­ture, the Byrds hope they get home alright!

Al­though Mr. Spaceman re­turned the Byrds to the Top 40 (if barely) and hinted at the coun­tri­fied di­rec­tion that their music would take, it was still a step back­ward for any group looking for re­spect in the heady field of rock & roll and pop music in 1966, a field that only a few months ear­lier looked likely to fea­ture the Byrds promi­nently as leaders.


The Byrds in 1966 Part 1: publicity photo of the five Byrds from late 1965.

David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Jim McGuinn, Michael Clarke, and Gene Clark looking cool in 1965 and un­like al­most any other pop stars with stature. As a frame of ref­er­ence, the Bea­tles were filming Help! at the time and were rather conventional-looking in comparison. 

It’s all just a game

The Byrds would con­tinue to make great music and both fur­ther the cause of psy­che­delia and be­come prog­en­i­tors of the country-rock genre, but few ever saw them as “leaders” again. Top 40 radio greeted their new sin­gles with only modest en­thu­siasm, and they never caught on with in a big way in the emerging album market.

As a force to be reck­oned with in the pop music field of the ’60s, their heyday had passed . . .



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