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The Essential Byrds

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Album Review

While the all-killer no-filler single-disc The Byrds' Greatest Hits remains the best distillation of their classic songs, The Essential Byrds is a smartly assembled double dose, including all 14 of the 1965-1967 tracks on Greatest Hits, but expanding its reach into their entire Columbia output, going as far as the early '70s. Inevitably, that means that disc two — which goes, roughly, from mid-1967 to 1971 — isn't as good as the first half, and that the last four tracks in particular are by far the least impressive, tagged on mostly so that the release spans the Byrds' entire Columbia catalog. That's a small reservation considering that the two-fer adds many first-rate songs not on Greatest Hits, from non-hit singles like "Lady Friend" and "Goin' Back" to standout album cuts like "Renaissance Fair," "Natural Harmony," "Jesus Is Just Alright," and "Chestnut Mare." There are no surprises here; even the songs that eluded inclusion on albums for many years, like the early B-side "She Don't Care About Time" and "Lady Friend," have been commonly available in the CD era. And it's true that this misses some other fine album tracks that could have stood with pride alongside those selected, like "I Knew I'd Want You," "John Riley," and "Dolphin's Smile." Within the confines of the two-CD format, though, it's a very well-chosen career overview. [The 2011 3.0 edition adds a third disc with six additional tracks: “Spanish Harlem Incident,” “I Knew I’d Want You,” “The World Turns All Around Her,” “I See You,” “Change Is Now,” and “One Hundred Years from Now.”]


Formed: 1964 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Although they only attained the huge success of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys for a short time in the mid-'60s, time has judged the Byrds to be nearly as influential as those groups in the long run. They were not solely responsible for devising folk-rock, but they were certainly more responsible than any other single act (Dylan included) for melding the innovations and energy of the British Invasion with the best lyrical and musical elements of contemporary folk music. The jangling,...
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