Posts Tagged ‘Chris Hillman’

(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.

The songs:

  1. “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”
  2. “Have You Seen Her Face”
  3. “C.T.A.-102″
  4. “Renaissance Fair”
  5. “Time Between”
  6. “Everybody’s Been Burned”
  7. “Thoughts and Words”
  8. “Mind Gardens”
  9. “My Back Pages”
  10. “The Girl With No Name”
  11. “Why”

(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.)

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fullsizeoutput_1353The first Flying Burrito Brothers album I purchased, on April 27, 1984, was the two-LP Close Up the Honky Tonks compilation that covered the band’s prime 1968-72 years. It collected tracks from their first two albums with Gram Parsons, b-sides and a few rarities. The fourth side featured songs from the post-Parsons era of the band – though, oddly, nothing from their first post-Parsons album. But I enjoyed that material so much that, a few days later, I picked up their self-titled third album, which was originally released in June 1971.

Music historians and critics often note that, on the eponymous set, the band continued along the country-rock path charted with Parsons on the first two LPs while smoothing out the music’s rougher edges. Aside from Rick Robert’s “Colorado,” which was covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1973 Don’t Cry Now album, the songs are said to be serviceable, little else. Allmusic.com’s Brett Hartenbach, for example, summarizes the album as “solid if unspectacular.”fullsizeoutput_1358

He, and other critics, couldn’t be more wrong.

To my mind, Chris Hillman is one of the most under-appreciated figures in the annals of rock and country-rock history. A founding member of both the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, he helped carve the grooves through which much modern rock, country-rock and country music has since flowed. Go back to his country-flavored contributions to what is arguably the Byrds’ best (or second-best) album, Younger Than Yesterday, for proof; and check out this album, too. (Though long out of print on both vinyl and CD, the songs themselves are available, in order, on the Hot Burritos! The Flying Burrito Bros. Anthology 1969-1972.) 

In some respects, the music is a forerunner of Hillman’s work with the Desert Rose Band, which had a good run in the country charts in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (Diane and I saw them twice in those years. Great shows.) Whereas Parsons injected R&B and gospel into the mix, Hillman introduced bluegrass – and, too, surprisingly plaintive vocals. Newcomer Rick Roberts, who’d go on to Firefall and “You Are the Woman,” is in fine form, as well, contributing some wonderful songs and vocals.

The album’s highlights include “Colorado,” the Gene Clark-penned “Tried So Hard,” “Just Can’t Be” and “All Alone.”

The songs:

  1. “White Line Fever” (Merle Haggard) – 3:16
  2. “Colorado” (Rick Roberts) – 4:52
  3. “Hand to Mouth” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:44
  4. “Tried So Hard” (Gene Clark) – 3:08
  5. “Just Can’t Be” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 4:58
  6. “To Ramona” (Bob Dylan) – 3:40
  7. “Four Days of Rain” (Rick Roberts) – 3:39
  8. “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 2:23
  9. “All Alone” (Rick Roberts, Chris Hillman) – 3:33
  10. “Why Are You Crying” (Rick Roberts) – 3:02