(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
Released on Feb. 6, 1967 in the U.S., Younger Than Yesterday was greeted by lukewarm reviews and sallow sales, stalling on the Billboard charts at No. 24. “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” the lead single, made it only to No. 29; and the follow-up singles of “My Back Pages” and “Have You Seen Her Face” did worse, ascending to a mere 30 and 74 during their brief chart runs.
It’s also a brief album, the 11 songs collectively clocking in a few ticks short of 30 minutes. (The 1996 CD reissue adds 6 songs and 17 minutes.) And, yet, Younger Than Yesterday is a wondrous album well worth repeated listens. The songs, save for one, are exquisite; and while it isn’t the best Byrds album, it certainly flies with them.
The set opens with the gleefully cynical “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star,” which is said to have been written by Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman in response to the meteoric success of the Monkees. It features Hugh Masekela on trumpet; the audience screams were recorded at a 1965 Byrds concert in England.
“Have You Seen Her Face,” the first of four Chris Hillman-penned tracks on the LP, follows. As noted by many a Byrd historian, Hillman’s songwriting flowered on Younger Than Yesterday – an easy observation to make given that his only prior contribution was co-writing “Captain Soul” on Fifth Dimension with the rest of the band. He also, for the first time, sings lead.
“The Girl With No Name” is another Hillman gem. One can make the case that in less than two minutes it lays the foundation for the country-rock genre as a whole.
David Crosby’s “Renaissance Fair,” co-written with McGuinn, foreshadows the fabled Summer of Love, cinnamon and spice, and everything nice…
…while “Everybody’s Been Burned” conjures his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Another Crosby contribution, “Why,” was also cowritten with McGuinn. It had previously been released as the b-side to “Eight Miles High” almost a year before; why the band chose to re-record it for Younger Than Yesterday remains a delightful mystery. I say “delightful” because it’s a great song and the perfect end to an almost perfect album.
As great as “Why” is? That’s how bad Crosby’s “Mind Gardens,” the longest song on the original album (at 3:28), is. It’s the kind of track programmable CD players were made for. If, say, the bonus track of “It Happens Each Day,” which was likely left off due to its similarity to “Everybody’s Been Burned,” had been included instead? Younger Than Yesterday would have been the greatest Byrds album of all time – well, second greatest. Nothing beats Mr. Tambourine Man.
Another highlight: the cover of Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” from which the album title comes. It was originally released on Dylan’s classic 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.
- “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”
- “Have You Seen Her Face”
- “Renaissance Fair”
- “Time Between”
- “Everybody’s Been Burned”
- “Thoughts and Words”
- “Mind Gardens”
- “My Back Pages”
- “The Girl With No Name”