The Byrds – 1966

What exactly was the genesis showing a new way forward in English folk music? My track of the day, “Wild Mountain Thyme” by The Byrds, starts showing the huge influence rock and pop music started to play in shaping this new neo-folk music that was to be made in England. A murderer’s row of American bands were already blending folk music with electric rock. Artists like the Jefferson Airplane with their Takes Off album, Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled first, Simon and Garfunkle with the Sounds of Silence, and singer-songwriters lik Tim Buckley’s self-titled first, Tim Hardin’s Tim Hardin 1, Fred Neil’s self-titled 1966 release, all of the anti-folk groups from the ESP-Disk label, and most importantly Dylan’s from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan through Blonde on Blonde which culminated with his electric tour in England. All these young English artists that would later on start their own bands like Steeleye Span, Pink Floyd, or the Strawbs were being turned on to new sounds that they couldn’t quite know how to get to.

As English folkies were turning inward in a different way than before, they were forgetting that their American brethren were leaving them in the dust presenting some kind of new folk music. They weren’t as hung up on authenticity, which was holding a lot of these fresh, or green neo-folkies back. I’ll cover England’s answer tomorrow, but today simply listen to how simply one American band would create the first strains of Celtic rock, smoking most everything other English groups were trying to do, and present a line these same groups had to surpass to create a distinctly different sound.

Fifth Dimension album cover.

Placed in one of the first psychedelic albums ever, Fifth Dimension, the Byrds at that moment had been used to all the arrows thrown at them by music critics who absolutely hated their mainstreaming or supposed dumbing down of “serious” protest or folk music. David Crosby, Roger McGuinn and the rest of the Byrds never cared much for tradition, they’d take the best parts of Dylan songs and transform it into something new and anthemic. Showing the parallelism of thought, the song they transformed for this album was a popular Irish song “Purple Heather” or “Will You Go Lassie Go”, this Irish song written by Francis McPeake in 1957 was itself adapted/mutated highly from the original poem written by Robert Tannahill in the 1800s.

So, going from a high lineage of necessary experimentation, to a supposedly low-brow form of musical expression…Roger McGuinn from the Byrds went one step further he introduced the Eastern sounds of Indian-like raga string orchestration, and brilliant John Coltrane-inspired 12-string guitar parts to create this soaring, mystical and thoroughly modern romantic “folk” song. With this gauntlet thrown at his English brethren, the Byrds cajoled them to take risks that put them further away from their traditional sources…it’s this sound which I’ll turn to England and cover tomorrow…

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bonus track time, other folk sounds from America blowin’ away the English, well there’s something from Dylan…

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something from The J-Plane…
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and something from Fred Neil.

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