In the past year, I accidentally picked up The Byrds' 1973 reunion album Byrds from the library.
I had never heard of it before.
After having enormous success as the kings of L.A.'s Sunset Strip rock clubs, The Byrds toured the U.S. and U.K. and topped charts on both sides of The Atlantic with hits such as 1965's Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn, Turn, Turn.
Before long, Gene Clark, at one point the group's main singer and songwriter, departed... Crosby also left (was fired, actually)... then Gram Parsons came, saw, and conquered, before leaving as well. By 1973, The Byrds had lost much of their mid-60's lustre. Crosby, of course, had struck gold doing harmonies with Crosby, Stills, Nash and sometimes Young. Gene Clark's solo career had failed to take off, despite some stellar efforts shortly before and after this reunion album.
There were high hopes for the reunion album, which featured all of the original Byrds - Roger McGuinn, Crosby, and Gene Clark on guitar and vocals, Chris Hillman on bass, vocals, and mandolin, and Michael Clarke on drums.
Yet the album apparently came and went without much notice being paid by music critics or the general public.
Listening to it for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised. It's a great album, particularly Gene Clark's four contributions - two songs he wrote, Full Circle and Changing Heart, and two Neil Young songs he brought to the project: Cowgirl in the Sand and (See The Sky) About To Rain.
How could such an album slip through the cracks? Supposedly there were a few negative reviews - people missed the Rickenbacker and Dylan songs translated into folk-rock and three- (or sometimes four-) part harmony - and a tour supporting the album's release was cancelled.
Still, I was baffled as to why such a great album wasn't appreciated at the time (or since, for that matter).
Then I found this Rolling Stone review by Jon Landau (later a producer/manager for Springsteen).
It does seem unnecessarily mean-spirited, dismissive, smarmy, and cynical, even by Landau's standards.
Remembering how influential Rolling Stone was at the time, pre-Interweb and such, I wondered if this review could have single-handedly sunk the fortunes of this fine album...
from Rolling Stone...
Of course the group is under no obligation to pick up where it left off and probably couldn't even if it wanted to. Too many changes and all of that. But the meaning of the Byrds' music was in its style, as specific and well-defined as has ever been created in American rock & roll. The depressing thing about this album is not the absence of the old form, but the absence of any form at all. Byrds is 11 songs, some good, some bad, sung in rotation by different, dislocated members of a non-existing band. It was undoubtedly made in a friendlier environment than the old records (with their rumored walkouts and punchouts) but the new environment seems to have made for a slack, undirected piece of jelly instead of a firm, rooted, moving album.
They protected us when things got too harsh and woke us up when they got too mellow. Take away the nails and the smoothness becomes slickness, entertaining as background stuff but rarely compelling as rock art. And if the original Byrds didn't create a form of rock art, then there is no such thing.