There are albums that seem to be perfectly tailored for a generation of young listeners, and such records don’t necessarily come armed with revolutionary ideas or innovative sound textures, but instead, some of the best records that represent an entire generation’s ideals form more like a snapshot of a moment, and that is exactly what The Byrds’ 1967 classic album “Younger Than Yesterday” is.
At this point in their career, The Byrds had no shortage of popular success in both the U.S. and the U.K. and they had managed to implement 12 string guitar and an adoration for turning Bob Dylan’s protest-themed songs into short pop gems, into the tried and true formula of The Beatles’ 2 or 3 minute song structures and aesthetics. Their previous album, 5th Dimension, had seen them embracing psychedelic sounds as many of their peers did back in the day, but Younger Than Yesterday felt like The Byrds finally felt comfortable in their own skin, and it truly showed.
Album opener “So You Want to Be a Rock N’ Roll Star” felt like a huge kiss-off for an era of quick and easy marketing for british invasion-type bands, ironically mocking the same process that they benefited from artistically and the next track, “Have You Seen Her Face?” is probably one of the finest pop tunes in the whole Byrds’ catalog and one Lennon/McCartney would’ve been proud to have on theirs, but from there on, the album only goes deeper into weirdness, for “CTA” is one of the first experiments in true, unabashed and unapologetic randomness the Byrds engaged in.
Chris Hillman is also a big part of how this record was shaped, as he stepped up to the plate as a songwriter on his own (which would later naturally develop into his work with Gram Parsons in The Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds’ own Sweetheart of the Rodeo) and helped mold some needed variety upon the band’s music and trajectory.
Forgotten Classic and Underrated Masterpiece
The album’s much-maligned country affectations might probably define some of its reputation, but The Byrds’ constant approach to energizing rhythms and blazing guitar leads usually takes any cliche out of the equation and paves the way for whatever composition to just, well, work, at their favor, and nowhere else is this as evident than on album tracks “Time Between”, “Thoughts and Words” and “The Girl With No Name”, all penned by their secret weapon, bassist Chris Hillman.
Not usually considered The Byrds’ best album, Younger Than Yesterday is due for a reevaluation, not just because of the singles or the splendid album tracks like “Why”, but also for the spellbinding melodies and harmonies that call back to the era’s aesthetic signifiers whenever you hear them, including the festival-referencing imagery in “Renaissance Fair”. It might be constantly overshadowed by the more experimental “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” or by its bigger curveball, the previously mentioned “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, but Younger Than Yesterday deserves its spot amongst the 1960’s finest, most exciting and pleasurable masterpieces.