10 Acts That Owe The Byrds a Round
You could argue that every band with a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar owes a heavy debt to the forefathers of folk-rock, the Byrds. But that would only be a half-baked conclusion. It’s one thing to spend two grand on a fancy guitar, and it’s another to actually aim for this iconic ’60s group’s inimitable style. The Byrds were progenitors of “cool,” with their unabashed folk-worship, ear for classical music and unique, soaring harmonies. So we’ve hunted down 10 modern acts that we think most owe the Byrds a round of drinks (if not a share of their royalties). It’s sort of like our Neil Young list, but with more jangle.
Hüsker Dü may not be the first band that comes to mind, what with the sheer sound differential, but there’s no doubt that a young Bob Mould was keyed in to the Byrds from the very beginning. That’s apparent on the groundbreaking ‘Zen Arcade’ album, where‘Something I Learned Today’ sounds eerily similar to Byrds classic ‘Eight Miles High.’ Speaking of which, the band did one of the greatest covers of that song, Mould turning Roger McGuinn’s 12-string lead into a wall of distortion and missed notes.
Listen to the Stone Roses’ self-titled debut album, and the ‘60s retro vibe and jangly guitars are unmissable on tracks like ‘I Want to Be Adored’ and ‘She Bangs a Drum.’ Oh, and those bowlcuts, too, seem copied directly from the Byrds first press photos. Although the band gets props for being forefathers of the Britpop movement, which basically owned the ‘90s, their roots must, too, be given props. In short, one’s pops must get props.
Echo and the Bunnymen
Echo and the Bunnymen were part of the ‘80s British New Wave/post-punk tsunami, and their records definitely hark back to the Byrds’ great jangle-fests, both in terms of instrumentation and energy. Sometimes, when it’s raining, we can hear a little bit of that Gene Clark Country Gentleman in lead singer Ian McCulloch’s baritone pipes and pitch-black lyrics. In an awesome crossover moment, one can also hear Echo’s influence on list-mate R.E.M., as heard in the uncanny similitude of ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo and ‘Man On the Moon’ by R.E.M. Poetry in motion.
The La’s are one of those bands that American listeners will forever link to the ‘90s alternative movement, and that’s because we yanks only got a fleeting glimpse of the band in the form of ‘There She Goes.’ (Please, do yourself a favor and never, ever, ever, ever listen to the Sixpence None the Richer version.) But you can hear the Byrds influence all over the band’s music — and especially on the lead riff of ‘There She Goes,’ which mainlines McGuinn.
If you had to describe to a friend what Scottish rockers Teenage Fanclub sound like, you’d probably say the Byrds meets Big Star — leaning a little more toward the former than the latter. There is no doubt that the band borrows heavily from the Byrds in its classical song structures and the high-jangle of its guitar attack. The Fanclub even paid tribute to early Byrd Gene Clark with the aptly titled song ‘Gene Clark.’
If you listen to his albums ‘100% Fun’ and ‘Girlfriend,’ you’ll hear Matthew Sweet literally dissecting early Byrds songs and repurposing them as his own. We’d accuse him of stealing if the finished product weren’t so damned (cough, cough) sweet. ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ is required listening — and it might be the closest an artist has gotten to sounding like the Byrds since Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ ‘The Waiting.’
The direct Byrds influence is most apparent on Wilco’s early albums (‘A.M.,’ ‘Being There,’ and ‘Summerteeth’), and songs like ‘Box Full of Letters’ — especially that opening riff — have B-Y-R-D-S written all over them. To boot: One of our favorite moments in recent rock history was when the twine literally met at a VH1 event, and the then-up-and-coming alt-country band backed lead Byrd Roger McGuinn on classic ‘So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star.’ Pure avian gold.
The Jayhawks land somewhere between the Byrds’ 1968 country-rock album ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ and Chris Hillman/Gram Parsons post-Byrds band the Flying Burrito Brothers — updated for the ‘90s/’00s coffeehouse crowd. Their most Byrds-y moment may be ‘Pray for Me,’ from the highly acclaimed 1995 album ‘Tomorrow the Green Grass.’ Gary Louris’ lead lick and guitar solo channel Roger McGuinn almost note for note.
Haven’t heard of this one-man band from New York City? If you like the other groups on this list, go out and buy all of his stuff. The P.G. stands for ‘Patrick Gubler,’ and he’s single-handedly rewritten the book on the British folk-inflected era of the Byrds — without completely sucking. Byrds fans will immediately hear the influence of the 1967 classic ‘Younger Than Yesterday’ on Gubler’s compositions — especially on the 2007 album ‘Slightly Sorry.’
Active during the mythical early years of college radio, R.E.M. went on to become a huge international success, and they’re probably the most influential band on this list, besides the Byrds themselves. You simply can’t ignore lead guitarist Peter Buck’s choice of a 12-string Rickenbacker as his weapon of choice, and there’s no denying his ear for folk-rock melodies. The Byrds influence is obvious in the simple Baroque song structures, too — and in those high, snaking harmonies between bassist Mike Mills (the group’s David Crosby, or maybe Chriss Hillman) and Michael Stipe (the Roger McGuinn).