The Byrds – So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star —-Powerpop Friday

This song peaked at #29 in 1967 in the Billboard 100. This is the first hit song to use a variation of the term “rock star” in the title. Rock had been around since about 1955, but the term “rock star” didn’t get talked about until the ’70s, when it became a way to describe the most glamorous and intriguing artists.

The song was written by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. It was written asa tongue-in-cheek look on fame and the pop music industry.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers often covered this song. Petty was a huge fan of The Byrds, and also loved a good cautionary rock star tale.

From Songfacts

Many interpreted it as a swipe at the success of manufactured rock bands like The Monkees, but Roger McGuinn has confirmed that he and Chris Hillman were not writing about The Monkees, but instead the whole music business.

Even after the term became ubiquitous, it was rarely used in song titles; the Dutch pop group Champagne hit #83 with “Rock And Roll Star” in 1977, but it wasn’t until 2007, when the rock era had long since ended, that songs with that title in the term began to proliferate. That year brought us:

“Party Like A Rock Star” – Shop Boyz (#2)
“Rockstar” – Nickelback (#6)
“Do It Just Like A Rockstar” – Freak Nasty (#45)
“Rock Star” – Hannah Montana (#81)

It was mostly hip-hop acts that used the term from then on, notably Rihanna with “Rockstar 101” and Post Malone with “Rockstar.”

The recording was dubbed with the sound of screaming girls, taped at a Byrds show in Bournemouth, England during the band’s 1965 UK tour.

South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela contributed the clarion trumpet solo.

 

So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star

So you want to be a rock and roll star?
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
Then take some time

And learn how to play
And with your hair swung right
And your pants too tight
It’s gonna be all right

Then it’s time to go downtown
Where the agent man won’t let you down
Sell your soul to the company
Who are waiting there to sell plastic ware

And in a week or two
If you make the charts
The girls’ll tear you apart
The price you paid for your riches and fame

Was it all a strange game?
You’re a little insane
The money, the fame, and the public acclaim
Don’t forget who you are

You’re a rock and roll star
La, la, la, la, la, la, la

Byrds – You Ain’t Going Nowhere

A great song by The Byrds that was written by Bob Dylan. The Byrds released this song in 1968 and it was on their classic album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Their version was released 3 years before Dylan commercially released a version of the song on his Greatest Hits Vol 2 album in 1971.

You Ain’t Going Nowhere peaked at #74 on the Billboard 100 in 1968. This country-rock song has been covered many times by different artists.

Dylan’s original Basement Tapes demo of this song contained the lyric “Pick up your money, pack up your tent”, which was mistakenly altered by McGuinn in the Byrds’ version to “Pack up your money, pick up your tent.” Dylan took note of this lyric change in his 1971 recording of the song, singing “Pack up your money, put up your tent McGuinn. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.” McGuinn said: “It was an honor to be in a Bob Dylan song! I got the words wrong and he changed all the words for his version of it. He and I have always been kind of like that. He likes to poke fun at me.”

From Songfacts

The likely influence on this song was Dylan’s 1967 motorcycle accident, which severely limited his mobility. The song was recorded in the basement of a house where members of The Band lived, and played with Dylan while he experimented with new sounds. The Basement Tapes album was not officially released until 1975, but the songs were circulated and this one drew the attention of The Byrds, who released it on their 1968 album Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds released “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” as the first single off the album peaking at #45 in the US and #74 in the UK. Guitarist and singer Roger McGuinn recalled to Uncut that their record label, Columbia Records (which was also Dylan’s record label), sent their producer Gary Usher some demos from Dylan’s Woodstock sessions. Among them were “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Nothing Was Delivered” (which the Byrds also recorded), 

Roger McGuinn said “I thought they sounded really good,” he said. “You didn’t know what Bob was up to; and far as I knew, he was just laid up from a motorcycle accident. But I think it was probably a reaction to the psychedelic thing. It just got to be too much and everybody wanted to back off.”

You Ain’t Going Nowhere

Clouds so swift
Rain won’t lift
Gate won’t close
Railings froze
Get your mind off wintertime
You ain’t goin nowhere
Whoo-ee ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, Oh are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chairI don’t care
How many letters they send
Morning came and morning went
Pack up your money
Pick up your tent
You ain’t goin nowhere
Whoo-ee ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, Oh are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chairBuy me a flute
And a gun that shoots
Tailgates and substitutes
Strap yourself
To a tree with roots
You ain’t goin nowhere
Whoo-ee ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, Oh are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair

Now Genghis Kahn
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep
We’ll climb that hill no matter how steep
When we get up to it
Whoo-ee ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, Oh are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair

 

Byrds – I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better

I can hear Needles and Pins by The Searchers slightly in this song and that just makes it better. Gene Clark of the Byrds wrote this song and also sang it. The song was the B side to All I Really Want to Do and it was released in 1965 and as a B side managed to peak at #103 on the Billboard charts.

Tom Petty did a great cover of this song on his Full Moon Fever album released in 1989. Tom was heavily influenced by the Byrds.

Gene Clark talked about the song:

“There was a girlfriend I had known at the time, when we were playing at Ciro’s. It was a weird time in my life because everything was changing so fast and I knew we were becoming popular. This girl was a funny girl, she was kind of a strange little girl and she started bothering me a lot. And I just wrote the song, ‘I’m gonna feel a whole lot better when you’re gone,’ and that’s all it was, but I wrote the whole song within a few minutes.”

 

I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better

The reason why oh, I can’t say I have to let you go, baby and right away
After what you did I can’t stay now
And I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone

Baby for a long time (baby for a long time) you had me believe (you had me believe)
That your love was all mine (that your love was all mine) and that’s the way it would be
But I didn’t know (but I didn’t know) that you were putting me on
And I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone, when you’re gone

Now I gotta say (I gotta say) that it’s not like before (that it’s not like before)
And I’m not gonna play your games any more (and I’m not gonna play)
After what you did (after what you did)I can’t stay on
And I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone
Oh, when you’re gone, oh when you gone,oh when you gone

Byrds – Eight Miles High

One of the reasons that Roger McGuinn is one of my favorite guitarists is because of this song. Roger has said he was influenced by John Coltrane when arranging the song.

The song peaked at #14 in the Billboard 100 and #24 in the UK in 1966

Many people…including me believe this song is about drugs, but the band claimed it was inspired by a flight where singer Gene Clark asked guitarist Roger McGuinn how high they were in the sky. McGuinn told him six miles, but for the song, they changed it to eight.

Roger McGuinn on Eight Miles High

Eight Miles High has been called the first psychedelic record. It’s true we’d been experimenting with LSD, and the title does contain the word “high”, so if people want to say that, that’s great. But Eight Miles High actually came about as a tribute to John Coltrane. It was our attempt to play jazz.

 

From Songfacts.

This story was likely a smokescreen to keep the song in the good graces of sensitive listeners. The band had been doing a lot of drugs at the time, including LSD, which is the likely inspiration. If the band owned up to the drug references, they knew it would get banned by some radio stations, and that’s exactly what happened when a radio industry publication reported that the song was about drugs and that stations should be careful about playing it. As soon as one station dropped it, others followed and it quickly sank off the charts.

When we asked McGuinn in 2016 if the song was really about drugs, he replied: “Well, it was done on an airplane ride to England and back. I’m not denying that the Byrds did drugs at that point – we smoked marijuana – but it wasn’t really about that.”

In his book Echoes, Gene Clark said that he wrote the song on his own with David Crosby coming up with one key line (“Rain gray town, known for its sound”), and Roger McGuinn arranging the song with help from Crosby.

In the Forgotten Hits newsletter, McGuinn replied: “Not true! The whole theme was my idea… Gene would never have written a song about flying. I came up with the line, ‘Six miles high and when you touch down.’ We later changed that to Eight because of the Beatles song ‘Eight Days a Week.’ I came up with several other lines as well. And what would the song be without the Rickenbacker 12-string breaks?”

This song is often cited in discussions of “Acid Rock,” a term that got bandied about in 1966 with the release of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album. The genre covers a kind of psychedelic music that became popular at the time, and also the look and lifestyle that went with it. “Acid Rock” was hailed as a pathway to higher consciousness and derided as senseless drug music. At the end of the ’60s, the term petered out, as rock critics moved on to other topics for their think pieces.

The band recorded this on their own, but Columbia Records made them re-record it before they would put it on the album, partly because they had contracts with unions. The Byrds liked the first version better.

Don McLean referred to this in his song “American Pie,” which chronicles the change in musical style from the ’50s to the ’60s. The line is “Eight miles high and falling fast- landed foul out on the grass.” McLean could be sardonically implying that the song is about drugs, since “foul grass” was slang for marijuana.

Husker Du recorded a noise-pop version in 1985.

For decades, the story went that “Eight Miles High” was a commercial failure because it had been banned from radio due to its perceived pro-drug messages. Research presented by Mark Teehan on Popular Music Online challenges this theory. Teehan instead blames the song’s failure to chart on three factors:

First, its sound was too far ahead of its time, and radio stations didn’t know what to do with it.

Second, the departure of Gene Clark led to Columbia Records significantly shrinking the scope of the band’s advertising campaign.

Third, the success of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Kicks” further diminished Columbia’s support for the Byrds and “Eight Miles High.”

Eight Miles High

Eight miles high and when you touch down
You’ll find that it’s stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you’re going
Are somewhere just being their own

Nowhere is there warmth to be found
Among those afraid of losing their ground
Rain gray town known for its sound
In places small faces unbound

Round the squares huddled in storms
Some laughing some just shapeless forms
Sidewalk scenes and black limousines
Some living some standing alone

Byrds – My Back Pages

Possibly my favorite song of the Byrds. I like the Byrds arrangement of this great Bob Dylan song. Roger McGuinn’s voice plus Rickenbacker is always a winning combination. Dylan recorded his version in 1964 on his Another Side of Bob Dylan album. I fell for the song because of the line, I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. Just a great phrase…

On the countless Dylan songs that are covered, I will usually like Dylan’s version better…on this one I prefer the Byrds. The song peaked at #30 in the Billboard 100 in 1967.

From Songfacts.

Already skilled at turning acoustic Dylan folk tunes into melodic, electric folk-rockers, the Byrds struck gold when they decided to take this somewhat nondescript Dylan tune from 1964 and electrify it for their fourth album. Leader Roger McGuinn cut out two of the more abstract verses and fashioned a chorus where there really wasn’t one, utilizing David Crosby’s harmony singing. McGuinn also does a classic 12-string Rickenbacker solo and Van Dyke Parks fills things out with a soft but essential organ part. As a single it stalled at #30 in 1967, but its reputation as a rock classic has grown through the years. 

In his Songfacts interview, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds said: “I don’t try to interpret what Bob meant when he wrote the song. He doesn’t do that, and to do that, you spoil it for people who have a different meaning of the song.”

The phrase “back pages” never shows up in the lyrics, but it became a favorite saying amongst music writers, who used the term to describe an archive, either literal or figurative. A notable use is the music journalism collection Rock’s Backpages.

My Back Pages

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Countless with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
We’ll meet on edges, soon, said I
Proud ‘neath heated brow

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
Rip down all hate, I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
Sisters fled by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

My guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

The Byrds – Drug Store Truck Driving Man

This song is on the Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde album by the Byrds. The song is decent but the interesting part is the story behind the song. It was written in response to an on-air argument with Ralph Emery, at the time an all-night country DJ on a country radio station. It was written by Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons.

In 1968 The Byrds were in Nashville promoting their new country album “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” and got a cool reception at the Grand Ole Opry. They got into an argument with Emery on air when he said that “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” wasn’t country and then proceeded to call them long-haired hippies and would not play the record. He also didn’t understand what the song meant and Roger told him that Dylan wrote it…that didn’t help.

Ralph Emery would not budge…It was the 1960s in a very fifties Nashville and Ralph could not get past the hair. It would open up a bit in the early seventies with Outlaw country music by Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings.

This is from an interview with Chris Hillman.

“There was the funny story with Ralph Emery, the DJ in Nashville, where he had The Gilded Palace Of Sin tacked on the wall outside of his office, and with a big red pen it said, ‘This is not country music.’ Roger and Gram had gone to do an interview with him when we were all still with the Byrds, and Ralph was such a jerk to them then that they wrote that song “Drug Store Truck Driving Man”. A classic! I wish I’d written a part of that. But later, whenever I’d go on his show with the Desert Rose Band, Ralph would ask, “Did you write that song?” Finally, I had to say, “No, but I wish I had!” So when Roger was on later, Ralph would say, “Well, how is Gram doing?” and Roger would answer, “He’s still dead.” McGuinn was pretty darned quick in those situations!” 

Lyrics

He’s a drug store truck-drivin’ man
He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer rolls around
He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

Well, he’s got him a house on the hill
He plays country records till you’ve had your fill
He’s a fireman’s friend he’s an all-night DJ
But he sure does think different from the records he plays

He’s a drug store truck-drivin’ man
He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer rolls around
He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

Well, he don’t like the young folks I know
He told me one night on his radio show
He’s got him a medal he won in the War
It weighs five-hundred pounds and it sleeps on his floor

He’s a drug store truck drivin’ man
He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer rolls around
He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

He’s been like a father to me
He’s the only DJ you can hear after three
I’m an all-night musician in a rock and roll band
And why he don’t like me I can’t understand

He’s a drug store truck-drivin’ man
He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan
When summer rolls around
He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

He’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

This one’s for you, Ralph

 

 

Roger McGuinn

Those glasses and Rickenbacker equals the sixties rock band. One of my favorite guitar players ever. I loved the jangling 12 string Rickenbacker that McGuinn is famous for… Roger heard George Harrison use one and then McGuinn took it to a new level in songs like Eight Miles High.

I was lucky to see him solo in 1987. He will not rip into a Hendrix solo but the sound he gets out of his 12 string Rickenbacker is great. On the songs, he did only on his 12-string acoustic he makes them sound full without a band.

His sound is the sound of the mid-sixties. He was a founder of the Byrds and was with them through all of their incarnations. The jangly pop, country rock, and the more rock music jamming faze in the early seventies.

The Byrds started in 1964 and lasted until 1973. McGuinn was the only member to remain with the band the entire run. Personally, I like all of the phases of the band. The last phase is probably the least well known but with Clarence White playing guitar with his B-Bender was fantastic. Songs like “Lover of the Bayou,”” Ballad of Easy Rider,” and “Chestnut Mare” are memorable.

McGuinn also collaborated with Bob Dylan on the soundtrack “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” and joined Bob in the mid-seventies on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour.

The Byrds influenced many artists like Elvis Costello, The La’s, Wilco, REM, and The Jayhawks but the one I think of the most is Tom Petty. Tom helped revive the jangly sound in the seventies with American Girl which sounded very close to McGuinn. This is Roger talking in 2014:

“When I heard ‘American Girl’ for the first time I said, ‘when did I record that?’ I was kidding but the vocal style sounded just like me and then there was the Rickenbacker guitar, which I used. The vocal inflections were just like mine. I was told that a guy from Florida named Tom Petty wrote and sings the song, and I said that I had to meet him.

Roger invited Tom to open up for him in 1976 and they were friends after that. Roger released an album in 1991 titled “Back To Rio” with help from Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, and others.

His solo career was never too successful until 1989 with a country hit “You Aint Going Nowhere” that made it to number 6 in the Country Charts. That was ironic after being told by Nashville disc Jockey Ralph Emery in 1968 that the song wasn’t country when the Byrds covered it. In 1991 he had his most commercial album “Back To Rio” that made it to #44 on the Billboard Charts and two singles “King of the Hill”#2 and “Someone To Love”#12.

Roger, Chris Hillman, Marty Stuart are currently doing a small tour for the 50th anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo…I see the Ryman on there and I see me there.

https://www.jambase.com/article/byrds-co-founders-roger-mcguinn-chris-hillman-announce-sweetheart-rodeo-50th-anniversary-tour