I thought I knew The Byrds: folk-pop darlings, covered Dylan, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, drugs references in pop songs, Gram Parsons, country rock, reunion in the Seventies… But I was wrong. I had missed a critical piece of the puzzle until a good friend showed me the light.
A few years back, as I sat at my friend’s house, sipping a beer and enjoying the warm fireplace, he got up to change the record. His record collection easily surpasses my own and he often tries to stump me with his selections. This time, however, he did not expect to keep me guessing.
“You’ll probably get this one pretty quick but I should tell you that I’m breaking protocol and starting with side two,” he informed me. Listening to albums is serious business and there are rules. This move violated a key regulation but, it’s his house, and his rule to break. “I just love this side so much,” he continued, “I can’t wait.” He dropped the needle and sat down.
A brisk fade-in revealed a band going at it hard. Uptempo drums drove a blend of jangling and crunchy rock guitars with a rapid yet fluid bass line. I should have spotted the song immediately from the early telltale riffs from McGuinn but a conversation about record playing rules diverted my attention just enough that I did not. Instead, I found myself puzzling over Clarence White’s guitar solo and the subsequent bass jam from Skip Battin. I commented on the quality jamming but I could not come up with the band. My friend laughed, surprised that I didn’t know the album.
I don’t have every record. It’s not possible. But I do pride myself on having a selection of excellent jamming from all over the musical spectrum. Not knowing, much less owning, this record began to gnaw at me as I sat, listening and drinking in that pale yellow wingback chair. And then, nearly twelve minutes into the side, McGuinn jumps back in with an unmistakable riff and Rickenbacker tone.
“The Byrds? This is “Eight Miles High”? What album is this?” I asked, getting up to check out the cover.
“(Untitled),” he responded. (He did not pronounce the parentheses but I include them for accuracy.)
I was blown away by this revelation. The Byrds could jam? They took a cool song and expanded it into a tour de force, A ripping jam that veered well enough away from its source to lose a listener but steered directly back into the groove in time to fit the song neatly on an album side. I was sold and I studied the cover, adding it to my mental record-shopping wantlist.
A new love was born.