Remember how I went (or am currently) on a country rock/psychedelic cowboy spree? Well, this is the album that started all that. It’s rare an album works so slowly and thoroughly on me, to the point I can listen to it a year later and still hear things that blow my mind and make me go “these guys were absolute geniuses, I get it now”. I never really sat down and listened to The Byrds until about two years ago, and it blew my fucking mind. The album also is produced by Gary Usher, and Curt Boettcher helped with the harmonies.
Not really going to bother with an extensive backstory on the album itself, I’ll leave that up to you to read about. Suffice it to say that the band was at the breaking point at a WHITE ALBUM-level as they were making this album. The recording reduced the band to a core duo of Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. They then threw their lot in with Gram Parsons for their next move, a pretty unparalleled surrendering of creative control to a new band member in rock history. It was the right move though, as it brought us SWEETHEART OF THE RODEO.
I’ve never been able to decide my preference between stereo and mono mixes for this album. I love the punch of the mono, but it doesn’t have the drastic obvious superiority of, say, the Beatles mono mixes. That’s not to say there aren’t differences, ChrisGoesRock explains a few of them:
- The horns on “Artificial Energy” are noticeably quieter on the mono mix.
- The cello sections during the chorus of “Goin’ Back” are much quieter on the mono mix.
- Where the stereo mix of “Natural Harmony” has a lot of double-tracking on the vocals, this is almost non-existent on the mono mix. To make up for the lack of double-tracking, the mono mix adds extra electronic phasing to the vocals.
- The mono mix of “Change Is Now” has more echo on the vocals, which tends to give the song a “spacier” feel.
- The Moog synthesizer sound effects on “Space Odyssey” are sometimes louder and sometimes quieter than the stereo mix.
For the most part, though, it seems like this was an early stereo rock album where stereo was used effectively and it does at least feel like there’s interaction between instruments in the soundfield. You’ll find that this isn’t really the case for most stereo mixes from 1967-68. I think that has to do with Usher and Boettcher, who really were the only guys who knew how to make a decent stereo mix at that time. At least in Los Angeles.
So I just decided to throw in both mixes and leave it up to you. The stereo mix is from an original Columbia vinyl, the mono is from the MFSL 20-bit remaster. I put the bonus tracks from the MFSL in a separate download so you can choose your preference and not miss out or have to download the bonus material twice. I recommend the bonus tracks, David Crosby’s “Triad” is worth it alone.
If you’ve never heard this album and want my suggestion: get the STEREO. You can go back and listen to the mono after you’ve fallen in love. That might be blasphemy in some circles, dunno.
But get this album. It is slowly working its way into my top five favorite all time albums like an unrelenting space monolith. It tops some of the best Beatles, some of the best Rolling Stones, some of the best Beach Boys.