[Review] The Byrds: Fifth Dimension (1966)

The band’s first album without a full-time Gene Clark crosses into some spacey territory with occasionally stunning results.

Kronomyth 3.0: Four, the Byrds.

Fifth Dimension is a transitional record, and not everyone likes change. Many critics, it seemed, wanted The Byrds to continue making lush, harmonic folk/rock music and serve as Bob Dylan’s personal confectioners. But the band was still growing individually and collectively. They were dropping acid, listening to John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar and, in the case of Jim McGuinn, seeking personal enlightenment. On top of that, you had the usual musical intrigues, resulting in the departure of their producer, Terry Melcher, and their primary songwriter, Gene Clark.

“We decided to stay with four. We talked to the Beatles and they had said that they had had five guys and they liked being four better. We said if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us.” – Roger McGuinn, in a 2004 interview with Musicangle.

Despite the turbulence, The Byrds reached new heights on the single, “Eight Miles High.” Written and performed with Clark, that song helped usher in the progressive rock movement with its ambitious arrangements, particularly McGuinn’s lead guitar, which literally (if appropriately) defied space and time. Clark’s departure also created an opportunity for David Crosby to discover his cool, contributing the jazzy “I See You” (later covered by Yes on their debut album) and the sweetly succinct “What’s Happening?!?!” Not that The Byrds had ceased being a folk-rock band. Covers of “Wild Mountain Thyme” and “John Riley” (both featuring questionably tasteful orchestration from new producer Allen Stanton) and a powerful anti-war poem set to music, “I Come And Stand At Every Door,” feature slightly thinner harmonies than the past, but still impress.

While hitting some very high highs, Fifth Dimension is an uneven record. “Mr. Spaceman,” the record’s third single, is better suited to The Monkees than The Beatles, their cover of “Hey Joe” feels like the blues on amphetamines and the instrumental “Captain Soul” is an unnecessary trip. While the cool reception from critics didn’t help the record, the real undoing of Fifth Dimension may have been its association with the burgeoning drug culture. Both the title track and “Eight Miles High” were conjectured to be veiled drug references, resulting in the album’s first two singles being banned by some radio stations. (The magic carpet ride album cover probably didn’t help matters.) The closing “2-4-2 Fox Trot,” featuring plane sounds and cockpit recordings, could be a parting shot at Clark, whose fear of flying occasioned his departure, or simply the natural ending to a strange trip.

Orignal LP Version

A1. 5 D (Fifth Dimension) (Jim McGuinn) (2:32)
A2. Wild Mountain Thyme (arr. by Jim McGuinn/Chris Hillman/Michael Clarke/David Crosby)
A3. Mr. Spaceman (Jim McGuinn) (2:08)
A4. I See You (Jim McGuinn/David Crosby) (2:31)
A5. What’s Happening?!?! (David Crosby) (2:30)
A6. I Come And Stand At Every Door (Nazim Hikmet) (3:01)
B1. Eight Miles High (Gene Clark/Jim McGuinn/David Crosby) (3:35)
B2. Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go) (Chet Powers) (2:08)
B3. Captain Soul (Chris Hillman/David Crosby/Michael Clarke/Jim McGuinn) (2:35)
B4. John Riley (Bob Gibson/Ricky Neff) (2:57)
B5. 2-4-2 Fox Trot (The Lear Jet Song) (Jim McGuinn) (2:08)

CD/LP Reissue Bonus Tracks
12. Why?
13. I Know My Rider (I Know You Rider)
14. Psychodrama City (alternate mix)
15. Eight Miles High (alternate version)
16. Why (alternate version)
17. John Riley (version 1)

The Players

Michael Clarke (drums), David Crosby (rhythm guitar, vocals), Chris Hillman (electric bass, vocals), Jim McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals) with Gene Clark (vocals on B1, harmonica on B3), Van Dyke Parks (organ on A1), Allen Stanton (string arrangements on A2/B4).  Produced by Allen Stanton.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee on July 18, 1966 in the US (Columbia, CL 2549 / CS 9349), on September 22, 1966 in the UK (CBS, BPG 62652 [BPG 62783 on cover]) and in 1966 in Australia (CBS, SBP 233363); reached #24 on the US charts and #27 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on red vinyl elpee in 1967 in Taiwan (Large World, LW-200).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Columbia, CS 9349, on 1970s-ers red label).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Columbia, PC 9349, on 1970s-era red label).
  4. Re-issued on cassette in Australia (CBS, 40-32284).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on March 9, 1994 in Japan (Sony, SRCS 6384).
  6. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1996 in the US (Columbia Legacy, 64847-2) and the UK (Columbia Legacy, COL 483707 2) with 6 bonus tracks.
  7. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 1999 in the US (Sundazed, LP 5059).
  8. Re-released on expanded mono elpee in 2006 in the US (Sundazed) with 6 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on May 30, 2012 in Japan (Sony Music Japan, SICP-20374) with complete mono/stereo mixes plus bonus tracks.
  10. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2012 in Europe (Music On Vinyl, MOVLP501).

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