Six Great Versions Of Byrds Classics By Other Artists



Last week we made our picks of the best songs by The Byrds, one of the more under-appreciated bands in Rock history. As is our custom it’s time to follow up a featured artist list with a list of covers of that artist’s material, but the problem when it comes to The Byrds is that a disproportionate number of their songs were covers already – notably over 20 covers of Dylan songs – and it’s a little bit purpose-defeating listing covers of covers. But we’ve done it anyway on a couple of occasions because the Byrds really made some songs their own, even if they didn’t write them. Here are six big ones in chronological order:

 

Pete Seeger – “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” (1962)

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The Byrds made a couple of subtle changes to the chording and the melody, but Seeger did all the heavy lifting putting this one together, rearranging the words from Ecclesiastes so they fit together better, and adding seven key words of his own. But the old folk hero loved what The Byrds did with his song, and afterwards he always tried to sing it the way they did.

 

Dusty Springfield – “Wasn’t Born To Follow” (1970)

From her “lost” London sessions that weren’t officially released until 1996, this one is a good example of how a brilliant lyric can mean different things when sung by different people. For The Byrds, the Goffin-King song came to be about freedom seekers exploring the natural countryside. For Dusty Springfield it comes across more like a conciliatory spin on whatever personal hell she was going through that year.

 

Patti Smith – “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (1979)

Another example of the same lyrics taking on different meanings. The Byrds wrote this one to make fun of The Monkees, but ironically by 1979 Patti Smith was using it against all the Rockers of the Byrds’ generation, and in the process she gave the song a hefty punch that was missing from the original version.

 

Husker Du – “Eight Miles High” (1984)

If any Byrds song was going to get covered Punk style it had to be this one, because in some ways the Byrds version was as shocking to the general masses in 1966 as Punk was in the late Seventies. Bob Mould’s frenzied take on Roger McGuinn’s Coltrane-inspired lead guitar licks is like a cross between psychedelia and speed metal and is worth the price of admission alone.

 

Tom Petty – “Feel A Whole Lot Better” (1989)

This was full circle for Petty, covering a song by his greatest influence smack in the middle of his most important album. The song was pretty Beatley to begin with, but under Jeff Lynne’s direction it provides a hint as to what The Byrds might have sounded like in the Sixties if they had enjoyed the top-level production values that The Beatles did.

 

Keith Richards – “Hickory Wind” (2004)

Keef always talks about the “magical connection” he had with his “soul brother” Gram Parsons, and many people believe that the Stones’ country-flavored material like “Wild Horses” was directly influenced by Parsons, but the truth is that Richards listened to a lot of country music as a kid and always had an affinity for the high & lonesome hurtin’ song.

 

 

Photo: Dusty Springfield; Credit: By Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang 2.24.01.05, bestanddeelnummer 921-1468 (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

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