Standing in the airport I am waiting for a plane.
Going east to London, want to be back there again.
It's the right time of year, all the trees are autumn brown
But I really only want to get to you.
Sitting by the window, watching ocean going by
Seems I should be with you but how fast can this thing fly?
Hey how it seems like an eternity
All the time it took me trying to get to you.
Oh, that's a little better (4x)
Standing in the airport I am getting off the plane.
Glad to be in London even though it's pouring rain.
It's a bright sunny day when I see you run my way
But it took me twenty years to get to you. (2x)
Notorious Byrd Brothers, participating still in the great wave of experimentation that produced the Christmas 1967 albums, used a lot of new technical effects, including phasing, flanging and spatial panning, but these effects often seemed to sit on top of the album rather than be an organic part of it. Among its many technical accomplishments, the album includes the earliest clear use of a Moog synthesizer in this psychedelic collection. To my ears, Notorious Byrds Brothers, though a great album in many ways, also reveals the moment when the psychedelic aesthetic is beginning to fall apart, giving way to other musical genres that sometimes make uneasy alliances with psychedelia.
I begin my exploration of The Notorious Byrd Brothers with a song co-written by Gene Clark, the composer of the psychedelic classic Eight Miles High, because for a brief time Clark rejoined the Byrds after a long absence, contributing Get to You and a few vocal tracks to the album. It’s uncanny how much this lyric is of nearly the same subject matter as Eight Miles High, again singing of flying to dreary London, regardless of the well-known fear of flying that this Byrds member suffered. Rather than depicting the experience of a rock and roll band as in Eight Miles High, this song is about a more private experience, either with London or a loved one. However, the lyric is not so psychedelic as the previous hit single and I feel it is a little less authentic. The chorus Oh, that’s a little better seems to point toward some alleviation of anxiety perhaps through some sort of drug (maybe even alcohol), but it’s mild effect only helps a bit. There’s no perceptual shift going on as there had been in Eight Miles High. The chorus not only points to sedation of anxiety—a role that has not been a part of the psychedelic experience before—but carries within it an uncanny sonic likeness to the number one November 1968 “bubblegum” psychedelic hit Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, sharing a similar exaggerated tremolo effect.
The song begins with the slamming of a door (reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ We Love You) followed by the country strains of a steel guitar in an unusual 5/4 time. The most striking psychedelic alliance in Notorious Byrd Brothers is with country music, which had been, with rare exceptions (the Lovin' Spoonful and Buffalo Springfield come to mind), not been part of the psychedelic experience. But in 1968 country music would make a deep impression on the development of pop music and the gradual change of aesthetic away from psychedelic experimentation toward a sound considered to be more authentic. It is my belief that this tendency was set off Bob Dylan’s album John Wesley Harding, released in late December 1967, which included outright country songs in sharp contrast to psychedelic music on the airwaves. But the Byrds were working on country music at the same time, releasing the Notorious Byrd Brothers’ psychedelic amalgam with steel guitar within a couple of weeks of John Wesley Harding. By their next album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, released in August 1968, the Byrds, having lost David Crosby and gained Graham Parsons, had abandoned psychedelia altogether in favor of country music sounds. Notorious Byrd Brothers would contain the last songs by the Byrds to make an appearance in the Psychedelic Masterworks collection.