Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 20: The Byrds, "Eight Miles High"

Artist: The Byrds
Song: "Eight Miles High"
Album: Fifth Dimension
Year: 1966

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When one inspects the entire music world of the mid-1960's, it is almost inexplicable to see the way in which almost every band was able to simultaneously give influence and take influence from their peers.  That is to say, due to the way in which music was splintering off in countless directions, bands were constantly using ideas and musical fusions from other groups within their own music.  While some may wish to believe that "every" band took their sound for the "new" style of rock from a single source, the fact is, if there was any band that can be singled out, it is likely a group that is often overlooked.  Though they are rarely given such accolades, when one follows the timeline of musical innovation, there may be no other band more vital to the development of the psychedelic rock sound than Los Angeles, California legends, The Byrds, and their influence can be heard all across many of the most commercially successful bands of their era.  Mixing together sounds of folk, blues, and the rising rock and roll sound, The Byrds created sonic beauty of unmatched proportions, and though they had already experienced a number of lineup changes, they found their artistic apex with their 1966 album, Fifth Dimension.  Without question the turning point in the psychedelic movement, there are few songs that remain as influential and absolutely vital to the progression of music as a whole than The Byrds stellar 1966 song, "Eight Miles High."

While the musical arrangement found on "Eight Miles High" may not seem anything out of the ordinary, when one considers the time in which it was released, it was so far ahead of other bands, that one can cite it as one of, if not the earliest and most clear psychedelic song.  From the progression and sounds found across the song, one can hear its direct influence on bands ranging from Pink Floyd to The Beatles to R.E.M.http://thedailyguru.blogspot.com/2010/03/march-13-rem-half-world-away.html, and this reality alone is enough to cement the songs' legacy as one of the most important in all of music history.  The bassline from Chris Hillman that kicks off the song is as integral as any other element, and the fact that each part of the song can stand on its own pushes the overall arrangement to even greater heights.  The way that the guitars seem to cut across this sound, then lift the entire song is a technique that has rarely been matched, and once "Eight Miles High" settles in, there may be no other song that so perfectly captures the psychedelic mood.  This reality seems to defy every common assumption about the lineage and rise of this movement, as it is commonly assumed that San Francisco was the "birthplace" of such music, and yet "Eight Miles High" stands in strong defiance so such thoughts.  In fact, one can make a much easier case that it is the sounds and techniques found here that influenced the later, more popular groups of the psychedelic movement, and yet in comparison, no later band was able to achieve the musical bliss found all across The Byrds, "Eight Miles High."

Managing to perfectly match the sonic beauty of the music, it is the shared vocals on "Eight Miles High" that have turned the song into such a legendary recording.  Within the vocals and lyrics of the song, the strong influence of the folk movement is best represented, and it is here where one can experience just how closely that style is with the psychedelic rock sound.  Though for some members of The Byrds, these gorgeous vocals would serve as a preview of their achievements in later groups, the signing on "Eight Miles High" remains the pinnacle of group harmonies on many levels, and the sound is just as enjoyable today as it was upon first release.  The combined voices of Jim McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman, and Gene Clark are nothing short of perfect, and there is also a great deal of movement within their singing, adding yet another dimension to the song.  However, it was also within the singing that "Eight Miles High" created a great deal of controversy, and the song was even banned from radio for some time.  Though the band insists that the lyrics were written in reference to their first trip to England, it became assumed that the words were in fact commentary on drug use, and this is what led to the banning of the track.  In later years, some members of The Byrds did admit that while the bulk of their initial defense was true, "Eight Miles High" was not completely "innocent" in nature, and one was not wrong in reading drug references into the songs' lyrics.  Yet this remains a rather secondary fact, as the absolutely stunning vocals far overpower the words, and one can still hear the impact of these vocals in modern music.

Though in many cases it goes largely unnoticed, "Eight Miles High" stands as one of the most covered and referenced songs in all of music history.  From the iconic song "American Pie" to The First Edition's, "I Just Dropped In (To See What Condition my Condition Was In)" to recent recordings by Bruce Springsteen, one can find traces of the track in nearly every genre of music.  Furthermore, the number of complete covers of "Eight Miles High" is astounding, and even in today's music scene, the song still makes appearances, though most modern audiences are unaware of its origins.  All of these tributes to the song further cement its place as one of the most important in history, and when one looks at "Eight Miles High" on the overall timeline of musical progression, there is no question that without its presence, the psychedelic movement would likely never have occurred.  It is the way that The Byrds were able to so brilliantly blend together the instrumentation, then compliment this sound with one of the most perfect vocal tracks ever recorded that sets the song so far apart from others, and the fact that one can hear everything from jazz to folk to rock in the song is the final testament to what a special achievement one can find in this song.  While the band itself has yet to receive all of the credit they so clearly deserve, the fact remains that there is no other song in history that is as vital to the development of a new style of music than one can experience on The Byrds' 1966 classic, "Eight Miles High."

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