[Review] The Byrds: Ballad of Easy Rider (1969)

The new Byrds continue to stretch their wings on their second album. Just what the doctor ordered.

Kronomyth 9.0: Borne to be mild.

At some point, I suspect, I’ll need to get off this continuing hayride of The Byrds through country rock & roll, but so far it hasn’t been nearly as bumpy as I expected. The second album from the new quartet is notable for letting the rest of the Byrds stretch their wings. John York sings a song about a dog (“Fido”), Gene Parsons sings a song about John York (“Gunga Din”) and even Clarence White gets a turn at the microphone for the old Christian hymn, “Oil In My Lamp.”

Roger McGuinn takes the lion’s share of the lead vocals, but only contributes one original, “Ballad of Easy Rider,” which included a verse written by Bob Dylan. It’s the record’s most recognizable track, remarkably mellow with a lovely string arrangement behind it. A cover of “Jesus Is Just Alright” also cracked the US Top 100 (The Doobie Brothers would have a Top 40 hit with it two years later).

The rest of the record features straight and psychedelicized country-rock, plus a folk song from McGuinn (“Jack Tarr The Sailor”) and the by-now-obligatory space-y ending, “Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins.” While some critics have pointed to Beach Boys-styled harmonies (e.g., “Oil In My Lamp”) in the music, you’ll find much better harmonizing on the earlier Byrds elpees. York, Parsons and White can carry a tune, but the second coming of Crosby, Stills & Nash they’re not. The Byrds’ association with a second counter-culture film (Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde featured a song from the film, Candy, and another inspired by it) shows that the group remained an important institution in the U.S., even if their ground-breaking days were behind them.

Maybe McGuinn was growing restless with the process; a slowed-down version of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” suggests a certain boredom with the formula, though not with the bard himself. The post-Rodeo adventures are a different animal than the earlier Byrds albums, to be sure, but McGuinn pulls the common thread of quality and folksy rock & roll through both sides of the band.

Read more Byrds reviews

Original LP Version

A1. Ballad of Easy Rider (Roger McGuinn) (2:04)
A2. Fido (John York) (2:39)
A3. Oil In My Lamp (Traditional, arranged by The Byrds) (3:12)
A4. Tulsa County Blue (Pamela Polland) (2:48)
A5. Jack Tarr The Sailor (Traditional, arranged by The Byrds) (3:31)
B1. Jesus Is Just Alright (Arthur Reynolds) (2:09)
B2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan) (4:52)
B3. There Must Be Someone (Vern Gosdin) (3:28)
B4. Gunga Din (Gene Parsons) (3:02)
B5. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos) (Woody Guthrie/Martin Hoffman) (3:49)
B6. Armstrong, Aldrin And Collins (Zeke Manners/Scott Seely) (1:41)

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Way Beyond The Sun
13. Mae Jean Goes To Hollywood
14. Oil In My Lamp (alternate version)
15. Tulsa County (alternate version)
16. Fiddler A Dram (Moog Experiment)
17. Ballad of Easy Rider (long version)
18. Build It Up (instrumental)

The Players

Roger McGuinn (synthesizer, guitar, vocal), Gene Parsons (drums, guitar, vocal, five string banjo), Clarence White (lead guitar, vocal), John York (bass, vocal). Produced by Terry Melcher; associate produced & engineered by Jerry Hochman.

The Pictures

Cover photo courtesy of Lem Parsons.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and reel-to-reel tape on November 10, 1969 in the US (Columbia, CS 9942/HC 1228), the UK (CBS, S 63795) {red label}, Australia (CBS, SBP 233762) and Japan (CBS Sony, SONP-50191); reached #36 on the US charts and #41 on the UK charts. Japanese version features different cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the UK (CBS, S 63795) {yellow-orange label}.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in the Netherlands (CBS Embassy, EMB 31956) and Yugoslavia (Embassy/Suzy, EMB 31956).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Columbia, PC 9942).
  4. Re-issued on expanded remastered compact disc in 1997 in the US (Columbia, COL 486754 2) and on April 21, 1997 in Japan (Sony, SRCS 9229) with 7 bonus tracks.
  5. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2012 in the US (Friday Music, 88691945301).
  6. Re-released on Blu-Spec remastered compact disc in 2013 in Japan (Sony, SICP-30455).

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