The Byrds were the first recording act to popularize folk rock, a blend of British Invasion-influenced rock—with its chiming guitars and seamless harmonies—and the socio-political poetry typifying the best folk music song lyrics. Not content to be known as a Bob Dylan cover band, they pioneered studio electronic effects and are generally credited with producing the first true country rock album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

The group’s original members—lead guitarist/vocalist Roger McGuinn, guitarist/vocalist Gene Clark, Rhythm guitarist/vocal David Crosby, bassist Chris Hillman, and drummer Michael Clarke—were all folk and bluegrass performers based in the Los Angeles area who’d become fascinated by the songcraft and fashion sense exhibited by the Beatles. Manager Jim Dickson helped secure a recording contract with Columbia, and the band’s first release, the Dylan-penned "Mr. Tambourine Man" (Columbia 43271; 1965) topped the charts, driven by McGuinn’s trademark twelve-string guitar and tight three-part harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers as filtered through the Beatles. The Byrds’ first three albums—Mr. Tambourine Man (Columbia 9172; 1965), Turn! Turn! Turn! (Columbia 9254; 1965), and Fifth Dimension (Columbia 9349; 1966)—further refined the formula, which became the template for a host of imitators, including the Turtles, Simon and Garfunkel, Barry McGuire, We Five, and soft rock pioneers, the Mamas and the Papas.

By the 1966, rock’s superstars—the Beatles (particularly on Revolver, Captitol 2576) the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys, among others—were pushing the boundaries of sonic possibilities in the recording studio, integrating hitherto exotic instruments such as sitars and harpsichords, electronics (e.g., feedback, phasing), and multi-tracking into the framework of the pop song. The Byrds remained on the cutting edge with two adventurous LPs, Younger Than Yesterday (Columbia 9442; 1967) and The Notorious Byrd Brothers (Columbia 9575; 1968), but the lack of major hit singles limited commercial success.

Internal differences led to fragmentation of the group; Crosby helped found Crosby, Stills and Nash and Gene Clark pursued a solo career (as well as collaborating with the Gosdin Brothers). With McGuinn now in charge—augmented by the only remaining charter member, bluegrass veteran Hillman—they released the landmark country rock LP, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (Columbia 9670; 1968), featuring the material and lead vocals of Gram Parsons. Although Hillman and Parsons left to form the Flying Burrito Brothers, McGuinn continued to explore a country-inflected rock style in later album releases: Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde (Columbia 9755; 1969), Ballad of Easy Rider (Columbia 9942; 1969), The Byrds [Untitled] (Columbia 30127; 1970), Byrdmaniax (Columbia 30640; 1971), and Farther Along (Columbia 31050; 1971).

McGuinn elected to pursue a solo career; his recorded work was stylistically similar to the 1970s Byrds LPs. Short-term reunions of various group members have occurred over the years, resulting in the following releases: Byrds (Asylum 5058; 1973), McGuinn, Clark and Hillman (Capitol 11910; 1979), McGuinn, Clark and Hillman’s City (Capitol 12043; 1980), McGuinn and Hillman (Capitol 12108; 1980), and The Byrds (Columbia 46773; 1990; a retrospective box set including two tracks from a 1990 Roy Orbison tribute and four new compositions recorded by Crosby, Hillman, and McGuinn). The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

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