***** THE BYRDS “The Byrds” Columbia
Ninety cuts remixed to sparkling glory, including all but one of the Byrds’ 16 Top 100 singles, plus 25 unreleased selections--old and new live cuts, four newly recorded songs, outtakes and treasures like a Gram Parsons lead vocal in place of Roger McGuinn’s on “You Don’t Miss Your Water.”
Of course, the comprehensiveness and revelations of this collection wouldn’t matter much if the music wasn’t great. In their stormy eight years, the Byrds saved American rock ‘n’ roll, brought Dylan to the masses, prodded the Beatles into new adventures and invented folk-rock, psychedelic-rock and country-rock. They gave rise to Crosby Stills & the Nash and the Eagles’ oeuvre , and their influence remains profound and vital, casting a spell on everyone from Tom Petty to R.E.M. to three out of five independent underground rock bands (accordingly, they sound amazingly contemporary).
The four CDs that compose “The Byrds” are packaged in a slim black box with a booklet that’s generous, if unwieldy--make that chaotic.
Full track data is followed by personnel rosters, a short note by McGuinn and a detailed historical essay. After six sentences from David Crosby, a family tree spans seven pages, then come personal reflections by Beatles and Byrds press agent Derek Taylor, a personal-data chart from the ‘60s (the biggest influence on Chris Hillman’s career: “The vibrations around me”), an interview with Hillman by L.A. musician Sid Griffin, the lyrics to the four new songs, a full discography, and a closing note by Petty.
The only real complaint about the song selection: Some of the formative work that was later released on the “Preflyte” album might have made the picture a bit fuller. But this is still a sterling document of a classic band’s back pages.