Black Music Matters Festival

The Byrds

(Untitled)/(Unissued) – 2000 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

See it on Amazon

Back in the mid-'60's, the holy trinity of pop consisted of the three Bs: the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds. There are countless attributed stories detailing how the members of each of the bands would absorb every nuance of the others' new albums and then go into the studio and try to raise the bar. This amazingly high level of guitar-rattling gamesmanship sparked some of the greatest musical achievement of this century and made legends out of ordinary men.

By 1970, however, the creative furnace that had forged the sound of the '60'shad cooled considerably. The Beatles were a splintered band of rapidly diverging solo artists by 1968, and toward the end of the decade, Brian Wilson was a teetering mass of neuroses and excess and the Beach Boys were just barely on radar. Only The Byrds remained as a functional unit, and they had withstood a number of critical alterations themselves (the holes left by Gene Clark, David Crosby, Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman, the arrival/departure of Gram Parsons). Although The Byrds never equaled the commercial power of its fellow Bs, they were the last ones standing, if just barely. As the last of the Columbia Legacy reissues attest, The Byrds were in an odd state of grace, perfectly in harmony and yet chaotic and uncertain.

"(Untitled)" was really the Byrds' swan song, and the band (Roger McGuinn, Clarence White, Skip Battin, Gene Parsons) did it in grand style on the 1970 half live/half studio double album. Some of the original draws are still potent reminders of The Byrds' power and originality, especially their take on Dylan's "Positively 4th Street" and the 16-minute wonder of "Eight Miles High." The studio tracks are equally important, several of them from McGuinn's failed Broadway experiment with Jacques Levy, Gene Tryp, including the timeless "Chestnut Mare" and the gorgeous "All the Things." For the reissue, Columbia has unearthed a disc's worth of alternate takes, studio sessions and live recordings, which include the Byrds' spin on Lowell George's "Willin'," and cool live versions of Dylan's "My Back Pages," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "This Wheel's on Fire."