[Review] The Byrds: Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (1969)

After Gram and Chris rode off into the sunset, Roger re-grouped, literally, with a new band that straddled country and rock.

Kronomyth 8.0: Like a clock during a thunderstorm.

The Byrds drew a line in the sand with the revolution country rock of Sweetheart of the Rodeo, then backed off it by hedging their bets with half an album each of country rock and psychedelic rock on Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde. As the title implies, The Byrds were in the midst of an identity crisis; Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman had left to form The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Roger McGuinn was the last Byrd standing. Now the lone lawman, McGuinn deputized Clarence White and drummer Gene Parsons (once again, no relation) from The Reasons/Nashville West and added John York (a Gene Clark alumnus) to square off the new quartet.

This retooled version of The Byrds was very tight musically, with McGuinn and White playing off each other in a way that McGuinn and Crosby never could. In order to smooth over the transition to a new group, McGuinn decided to handle all the lead vocals. That familiar voice and another set of bookends from Bob Dylan (including a great cover of The Band’s “This Wheel’s On Fire”) aren’t the only audible touchpoints to the band’s past, but they do help create a clear connection between this record and the albums before it—and, you could argue, change was one of the few constants in The Byrds anyway.

Despite the temptation to view this as The Byrds’ bastard child, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde delivers what listeners could have reasonably expected at this stage: tasteful country-rock compositions with sweet pedal-styled steel (achieved through a string-bending device that White and Parsons actually invented) and psychedelic rock songs streaked with country. McGuinn is the only link to psychedelic rock at this stage, although the rest of the band adapts well enough on “King Apathy III,” “Bad Night At The Whiskey,” “Child of the Universe” and “Candy” (the last two appearing in and inspired by the film, respectively). On the country side, “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man” (a song co-written with Gram Parsons), “Your Gentle Way of Lovin’ Me” and the instrumental “Nashville West” are nicely done. The record closes with a medley that points forward to the band’s well-received live performances. Nothing on this record would be considered quintessential Byrds, but Rodeo wasn’t the end of the show either, and fans will want to stick around for this encore.

Original LP Version

A1. This Wheel’s On Fire (Bob Dylan/Rick Danko)
A2. Old Blue (arranged & adapted by Roger McGuinn)
A3. Your Gentle Way of Loving Me (Gary Paxton/Floyd Guilbeau)
A4. Child of the Universe (Dave Grusin/Roger McGuinn)
A5. Nashville West (Gene Parsons/Clarence White)
B1. Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man (Roger McGuinn/Gram Parsons)
B2. King Apathy III (Roger McGuinn)
B3. Candy (Roger McGuinn/John York)
B4. Bad Night At The Whiskey (Roger McGuinn/Joseph Richards)
B5. Medley: My Back Pages (Bob Dylan) / B.J. Blues (Roger McGuinn/John York/ Gene Parsons) / Baby, What Do You Want Me To Do (Jimmy Reed)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Stanley’s Song
12. Lay Lady Lay (alternate version)
13. This Wheel’s On Fire (version one)
14. Medley: My Back Pages / B.J. Blues / Baby What You Want Me To Do (alternate take)
15. Nashville West (alternate version)

The Players

Roger McGuinn (guitar, lead vocals), Gene Parsons (drums, harmonica, banjo, backing vocals), Clarence White (guitar, backing vocals), John York (electric bass, backing vocals) with Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar on B1). Produced by Bob Johnston; engineered by David Diller, Tom May, Neil Wilburn.

The Pictures

Album design by The Institute for Better Vision. Photography by Mark Gottlieb, Mark/Glen Studios. Ranch shots courtesy of Dennis Morse.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee on March 5, 1969 in the US (Columbia, CS 9755) and on April 25, 1969 in the UK (CBS, M/S 63545); reached #153 on the US charts and #15 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1971 in the US (Columbia, CS 9755) {6-eye label}.
  2. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2008 in the US (Sundazed, LP 5072).
  3. Re-released on expanded compact disc on October 19, 2005 in Japan (Sony, MHCP-659) with 5 bonus tracks.

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