The Byrds – Turn! Turn! Turn!

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The Byrds appeared on the scene in 1965, and I guess because they were several albums behind that of the Beatles, they felt like they needed to pump out two albums a year in 1965, 1968, 1969 and 1971 without taking a single break during any of the interim years. The truth is, 5th Dimension aside (and even that one is flawed), the Byrds never released a single great album. Listening to the sophomore slump of Turn! Turn! Turn!, I can’t help but think of how much better Mr. Tambourine Man would have been if they slotted out some of that album’s weaker numbers with some of Turn! Turn! Turn!’s stronger numbers; the same goes for Notorious Byrd Brothers absorbing Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and Ballad of Easy Rider absorbing Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, and Farther Along absorbing Byrdmaniax.

What I think happened here was the band wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” and then built an album (/carrying case) around that song so that they could release it immediately while “Mr. Tambourine Man” was fresh in everyone’s heads; their follow-up single “All I Really Want to Do” only reached 40 on the U.S. Charts, after all. And “Turn! Turn! Turn!” is the main draw of the album. Love those choruses, wherein the band display everything that they’re known for and more: dig the lyrical drumming that announces the choruses and how it feels like the song has sped up (even though it hasn’t). That being said, it’s not perfect, and it’s not as good as the two best songs off Mr. Tambourine Man. The verses put too much stock in the descending melody of the “turn, turn, turn” hook (though not the Byrds’ fault; it is a cover, after all). the guitar solo is phoned in (it just plays a slight variation of the verse’s melody), and the song’s 4-minute runtime feels like an eternity when you compare it to the band’s average song length.

After that, tracks 3 through 6 are all minor successes: the melody of “Set You Free This Time,” the prominent mixing of Chris Hillman’s bass on “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” the high-speed jangle of “He Was A Friend of Mine” and the psychedelic entrance (guitars manipulated into sounding like sitars) and drumrolls throughout “The World Turns All Around Her.” But come on: it’s not nearly enough to recommend Turn! Turn! Turn! and there isn’t really anything worth noting in the rest of the songs. Elsewhere, “It Won’t Be Wrong” sounds like a Beatles cast-off, and there wasn’t much thought of doing anything special with cover “Oh! Susannah.” Broadly speaking, Turn! Turn! Turn! is an anomaly in their early discography in that this is the only album where they don’t try to do anything new at all, compared to the jangle of Mr. Tambourine Man, the psychedelic rock of 5th Dimension and the psychedelic pop of Younger Than Yesterday.

Finally, whereas the worst tracks of Mr. Tambourine Man were boring at worst, Turn! Turn! Turn! contains their first outright failure in their cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”; their worst Dylan cover until Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde’s “This Wheel’s On Fire.” The Byrds were always wimps (i.e for a seminal folk rock and country rock band, they hardly everrocked (with notable exceptions, of course)), so it’s perhaps no surprise that their cover of one of Bob Dylan’s most well-known protest songs is one without a single iota of actual protest – this couldn’t start a revolution the way a mouse with a small bladder pissing into the ocean couldn’t raise water levels. If you have the expanded edition of Turn! Turn! Turn!, I’d suggest switching it out for their cover of Bringing It All Back Home’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” where their vocal harmonies matches Dylan’s fervor better than they did on their cover of “Spanish Harlem Incident.”

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