HOME      ARTIST      NEXT      PREVIOUS      CONTACT

*1.14-WHY (Byrds)

Byrds

LISTEN

Keep sayin' no to her since she was a baby.
Keep sayin' no to her, not even maybe.
Why? (2x)

You say there's a limit there. She can't go past that.
She don't believe you. She don't think that's where it's at.
Why? (2x)

Say she can't change that. It's the way you've always done it.
She don't care about that. She thinks you've just begun it.
Why? (2x)

[Break]

You say it's a dead old world, dull and unforgiving.
I don't know where you live but you're not living.
Why? (2x)

[Repeat 1st verse]

[Coda]


On the flip side of the single Eight Miles High was Why. Both songs together were the first of what would become known as raga rock, though arguably Heart Full of Soul and See My Friends showed the way. Like its predecessors, Why uses electric guitar to suggest the sitar through its drone. What sets Why apart are Jim McGuinn’s two musical improvisations on a 12 string Rickenbacker, which was run through a custom-made device designed to emulate the sound of a sitar. Roger (Jim) McGuinn explained this device in a 1977 interview: "We used this special gadget I had made. It was an amplifier from a Philips portable record player and a two-and-a-half inch loudspeaker from a walkie-talkie placed in a wooden cigar box which ran on batteries, and it had such a tremendous sustain that it sounded very much like a sitar." [Johnny Rogan: The Byrds: Timeless Flight (1998), pp.152-157]

According to David Crosby in his biography Long Time Gone, Jim Dickson, the Byrds’ manager introduced him to Ravi Shankar playing sitar during a recording session in Los Angeles. Crosby became a vocal advocate of Indian music and Shankar in particular, often dropping the musician's name in contemporary interviews. During meetings with The Beatles in 1965, Crosby's enthusiasm for Shankar's music began to rub off on George Harrison, who was enthralled by Crosby's descriptions of Indian scales and the sitar.

There are two extant versions of Why: the version that was the B side to Eight Miles High is clean and clear with acoustic guitar holding equal weight with electric drone, while the version included on Younger Than Yesterday in 1967 (and recorded in December 1966) is brasher and more electric in its mix. Peter Lavezzoli, in his book The Dawn of Indian Music in the West (2007) has commented that while the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Kinks had all used sitars or Indian-style drones as instrumental decoration in their songs, Why, and to a lesser extent, Eight Miles High, were "the first example[s] of pop songs that were specifically conceived as vehicles for extended [Indian] modal improvisation." (pp. 155-158)

The lyric proposes freedom (an opening up of small faces, rounding the squares, as suggested in Eight Miles High) for a girl while seemingly addressing her parent, trying to shame the parent into letting her go. The parent's attitude of "no" toward the child is making that parent dull and lifeless. If the parent thinks there's a proper way to do things, the child needs to be allowed to find better ways of doing it. The child already sees past the boundaries the parent has set up. The lyric ends up pleading to the parent to at least break things up a bit by allowing the possibility of maybe.

Again, as in Eight Miles High, contrary attitudes are combined so that there need be no melodic variation in the sung verses. Two repetitions of a long drone Why provide a sort of refrain and transition between the rock and roll based lyric lines and the raga of the instrumental breaks. The "landing" of Eight Miles High is in Why a bit more discordant and jerky, as if the musical structure binding two alien traditions were breaking up.

TOP      NEXT      PREVIOUS      CONTACT