The Byrds — Greatest Hits

True confessions time. This 1967 collection, which I bought well-used in 1980, is the only Byrds album I ever owned, until quite recently. Did I love this record, and play it endlessly? I did. Did I feature most of its songs on various mix tapes in the early ‘80s? I did. Do I love some jangly 12-string? I do. And yet, I never had another Byrds record.

Byrds Greatest Hits front cover
Byrds Greatest Hits front cover – shot through the bag, because whoever owned this before I did taped the bag to the jacket, and I’ve never bothered to change it.

This is one of those cases where having a lot in common with a roommate that you live with for several years can come back to bite you. Because I believe that we had some other Byrds records (I know we had Fifth Dimension, but I do not, so it must have been Danny’s)— but at a time of life when money was very limited, there were quite a few records that I never bought because Danny had them, and why would we need two? There were a lot of things that didn’t apply to — both being Beatles fanatics, we knew that when graduation day finally came, we’d both be graduating with full Beatles collections. But for some groups, and I think The Byrds fell into that category, I had some, he had some, and that was just fine. Key songs found their way onto cassettes, and so I actually thought I had more Byrds than I did.

So, just like Buffalo Springfield, I came to a fuller appreciation of The Byrds much much later than I should have. I had a brief but intense Gram Parsons period right around 1999, when the fantastic tribute album “Return of the Grievous Angel” came out. Fascinated by the songs on that collection, I picked up “GP” and “Grievous Angel” on CD as well, and, knowing his role in the post-Crosby and Clarke Byrds, became interested in the Byrds discography again, picking up several of their albums digitally.

But that would all be many years after this album was seared into my brain. This album is composed of the early Byrds hits, with that great early jingle-jangle sound that elevated “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the seemingly under-appreciated “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” the great harmonies of “All I Really Want To Do,” the cosmic weirdness of “Mr,. Spaceman”, and . . . “Eight Miles High.” What a song, what a soundscape. When the Walkman became a thing, just a year or so after I got this, and listening to music on headphones in public became a thing, “Eight Miles High” was just a revelation: an entire atmosphere in a song, a space you could occupy just by listening. And, of course, there’s the incredible “5D (Fifth Dimension),” Jim McGuinn’s attempt to out-Dylan Dylan. It works, too.

Interesting that a greatest hits album diverts from the formula a bit, though I’m glad it did. The single “All I Really Want to Do” doesn’t appear, but its B side, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” does — and it’s one of my favorite Byrds songs. The record only covers through “Younger Than Yesterday,” which also came out in 1967 — interesting that they would include two songs from a then quite-current album.

So . . . when I got this, roommate Danny and I were living in a tiny studio apartment in a building we had dubbed “The Embassy” because of its attraction for foreign students. It was a weird autumn, our first living outside campus housing (though we were literally catercorner from our last dorm). Third year of college, and, personally, a very low point . . . but have no fear, it could (and would) get lower. Despite that — perhaps because of that — I have an exceptionally strong connection to a lot of the records that I bought and listened to in our year there. That autumn was defined by The Left Banke’s “Walk Away/Pretty Ballerina,” and The Zombies’ “Odessey & Oracle,” and this, The Byrds’ “Greatest Hits.” I discovered the simple joy of really good buttered rye toast (Grossinger’s Rye, the best commercial rye bread ever, sadly missed), but was also living on a diet of peanut butter and Fluff, falafel mix cooked up in an electric frying pan, and sandwiches and pizza from The Varsity. My drinking was out of control but, in fairness to me, so was everything else in my life. These were not good times. And yet, I continue to love, love, love the albums I discovered in that time, and they have a meaning, an attachment to the autumn season, that nothing else has.

Byrds Greatest Hits back cover
Byrds Greatest Hits back cover – still in the Princeton Record Exchange bag. Please do not remove bag? I can’t, without cutting the tape, which has held the bag in place more than 40 years now, so who am I to change things?

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