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BALLAD OF EASY RIDER
(Columbia CS-9942 / CK-9942, 1969)
Reissued: (Columbia/Legacy CK 65114, 1997)

Track Listing

Credits:
Released October 27, 1969. Produced by Terry Melcher. Engineered by Jerry Hochman. Recorded June - August 1969. Cover photo courtesy Lem Parsons.

Personnel:
The Byrds v. 6.0
Roger McGuinn: vocals, guitar, synthesizer
Clarence White: vocals, guitar
John York: vocals, bass
Gene Parsons: vocals, drums, guitar, 5-string banjo

Except:
On "Ballad of Easy Rider"
Add strings

On "Tulsa County Blue"
Add Byron Berline on fiddle

On "Jack Tarr the Sailor"
Add strings

Singles from album sessions: "Ballad of Easy Rider" /
"Oil in My Lamp" and
"Ballad of Easy Rider" /
("Wasn't Born to Follow")
Columbia 44990
Released October 1, 1969

"Jesus Is Just Alright" /
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Columbia 45071
Released December 15, 1969


Lyrical fragment:
In interviews with the Byrds and others about "Ballad of Easy Rider," Bob Dylan has variously been credited with writing all the song's lyrics, half the lyrics, and the lyrics to the first verse. The last of these attributions is correct. Dylan declined to write a song for the film Easy Rider, but jotted the first verse on a napkin and handed it to Peter Fonda, telling him to give it to McGuinn.
Whether to acknowledge his actual contribution or to take advantage of Dylan's reputation, the film credits listed Dylan as a co-writer of the song. Dissatisfied with the film's downbeat ending, and perhaps believing his name had been exploited to boost the film's street credibility, Dylan insisted his name be removed from the song credit.

"Tulsa County":
Pam Polland, the composer of "Tulsa County," had her own band called Gentle Soul. Terry Melcher had produced an LP for Gentle Soul and in the course of doing so acquired the copyright to "Tulsa County." The song had already been a country hit for June Carter, but Melcher must have been happy that John York suggested the song for the new Byrds LP.
Before Gentle Soul, Polland had performed with Ry Cooder. Cooder later joined the Rising Sons, along with Taj Mahal and future Byrd Kevin Kelley. The Sons were signed to Columbia and recorded sessions with Melcher for an album in 1965 and '66. "Tulsa County" was one of the tracks they cut; it was finally released on The Rising Sons (Columbia/Legacy, 1992).

"Deportee":
Woody Guthrie wrote "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)" in 1948, after reading about an actual crash in Los Gatos Canyon in which a planeful of migrant workers died while being deported to Mexico.
Guthrie's version was almost tuneless, more of a poem than a song. In the late '50s, a teacher named Martin Hoffman set the words to music, and Pete Seeger added the song to his live repertoire.
In the '60s, the Kingston Trio would record the song as well.



During the spring of 1969, the Byrds (still McGuinn, Clarence White, Gene Parsons and John York) reunited with Terry Melcher, who had produced the first two Byrds albums. Melcher became the Byrds' manager as well as the producer of their next album. In October, their effort, Ballad of Easy Rider, was released.
The production is considerably improved from that of its predecessor -- clear, tasteful, and not the least bit murky. Thanks to several well-chosen covers, the material is just as strong, despite the fact there is only one McGuinn original, the title track -- and that song had already appeared in a slightly different version by Roger McGuinn on the Easy Rider soundtrack. The most notable feature of this album is the increased role of White, Parsons, and York, with mixed results.
The title track is one of McGuinn's prettiest melodies, built around a lyrical fragment Bob Dylan gave to Peter Fonda. The movie soundtrack features McGuinn's solo acoustic version, but here "Ballad of Easy Rider" is arranged with tasteful strings and banjo-style picking -- apparently inspired by the sound of Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'," the Fred Neil song that was a big hit when Nilsson's version appeared on the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy in the summer of '69. Sure, the arrangement is derivative, but it suits "Ballad" well. The 1997 reissue does not, unfortunately, include the soundtrack version of the song, but it does add a longer version of the album track, with an extra 26 seconds and a lovely solo by Clarence White.
None of the other "McGuinn songs" are written by McGuinn. "Tulsa County Blue" aka "Tulsa County," written by Pam Polland, is one of the LP's highlights. White's gentle bluegrass-style picking and the mournful fiddle from Byron Berline complement this tale of an unsatisfying relationship. The 1997 reissue adds a version with vocals by York.
Another strong track is the cover of "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)," in which the great Woody Guthrie gave names to the anonymous migrant workers killed in a plane crash. Again, the arrangement, this time a graceful country waltz with touches of southwestern guitar, is perfect for the poignant lyrics. (Apparently McGuinn's love of planes didn't preclude a song about aviation's worst-case scenario.)
The other McGuinn numbers are not as successful. The original Byrds had attempted "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," the Dylan song from Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, 1965) during the sessions for Turn! Turn! Turn!. Where that version was inappropriately peppy for the material, this one is inappropriately listless and maudlin. The vocals are much improved over the first version, though that version has greater energy to commend it.
This arrangement of "Baby Blue" points the way for one of the Byrds' American offspring, the Eagles. Many critics contend that the Eagles' California rock sound is derived from the rootsy feel of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. In fact, the MOR country lite arrangement of "Baby Blue" lays down the exact formula for chart-topping songs like "Best of My Love" and "New Kid in Town."
Just as Don Henley and Glenn Frey were absorbing parts of the Byrds' sound in California, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol were applying the methodology of the early Byrds to traditional British music with Fairport Convention. By mid-'69 Fairport had recorded such traditional numbers as "Nottamun Town," "She Moves Through the Fair," and "A Sailor's Life." (Later versions of Fairport and its assorted spinoffs would make traditional British music their sole reason for being.) McGuinn had been familiar with such folk songs since his Old Town days. Whether or not he was inspired by British folk-rockers, this attempt at traditional British music, "Jack Tarr the Sailor," is labored to say the least. McGuinn sings the turgid sea chantey with a fake Gaelic accent while the accompanying banjo drowns under too-loud electric guitar and strings. On earlier songs like the unreleased "Pretty Polly" and even the bizarre "Space Odyssey," McGuinn had managed to incorporate British folk elements more naturally, so "Jack Tarr" is a disappointment.
The final McGuinn number is an album closer in the tradition of "2-4-2 Fox Trot" and "Space Odyssey," "Armstrong, Aldrin & Collins." Rocket countdown sound effects make up the bulk of the track; the actual song is one verse of pseudo-folk mythography set to a melody reminiscent of Roy Acuff's "Wreck on the Highway." The song was co-written by country-folk songwriter Zeke Manners.
Among the outtakes is one McGuinn track that should have made the album, the jaunty "Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood." This engaging story-song about the perils of show biz, written by the promising young songwriter Jackson Browne, finally surfaced on The Byrds Boxed Set in 1990, and appears as a bonus track to the 1997 reissue. The reissue also contains "Fiddler A Dram (Moog Experiment)" (aka "Jenny Take A Ride"), another synth experiment with considerably more charm than the earlier "Moog Raga." By the time of "Fiddle," McGuinn was wisely using the synthesizer in the context of a song, rather than as a mere generator of new noises.
After McGuinn, drummer Gene Parsons makes the biggest contribution to the album. Parsons watched gospel group the Art Reynolds Singers record "Jesus Is Just Alright" with his former bandmate Gib Guilbeau producing. Impressed, Parsons brought the song to the Byrds. Their version combines gospel-style group vocals with Clarence White's heavy, blues-based, fuzz-toned guitar and a subtle, droning string part. In 1973, the song would be a Top 40 hit for the Doobie Brothers in an almost-identical arrangement.
Parsons wrote the good-natured mid-tempo "Gunga Din," which is given the "Gentle on My Mind" treatment. He stumbled on a sure-fire way to get his song on a Byrds album -- just include a verse about taking an airplane somewhere. There's no hint of the Byrds sound, but the unpretentious voice of Gene Parsons and the impressive songwriting make this his best Byrds performance. This song describes an incident in which John York was not allowed into a New York restaurant with his mother due to improper attire.
The other Parsons solo vocal, "There Must Be Someone," is less impressive. It's a fair-to-middling performance of a mediocre Vern Gosdin song, again with no hint of the Byrds sound. White and Parsons had backed the Gosdins on several releases for the Bakersfield International label.
Gene Parsons and Clarence White also contribute the fine instrumental outtake, "Build It Up," which is added to the reissue as a bonus track. Like "Nashville West" from Dr. Byrds, the song is a real showcase for White's guitar.
White sings lead on the traditional "Oil in My Lamp." It's a bluesy, slow arrangement that obscures some nice harmony singing on the choruses. Another take of this song was released in 1990 on the Boxed Set and appears as a bonus track on the reissue. It's even better than the original, with a country sound, a quicker tempo, and more subdued guitar work. It sounds as if the Byrds were having fun when they recorded this version.
In a similarly low key vein, the Boxed Set and the reissue also contain a staple of their live act at the time, "Way Beyond the Sun," (aka "Way Behind the Sun"). McGuinn arranged this traditional number, but York takes the lead vocal. (According to Johnny Rogan's reissue liner notes, York found the song on the first album by British folk-rockers Pentangle, so this song demonstrates that the Byrds were listening to those they influenced.) The band sounds loose and relaxed, almost playful, and White's picking is, as usual, exemplary.
"Way Beyond the Sun" was rejected, however, in favor of "Fido," presumably so York could get a composer's credit. "Fido" sounds so much like "The Mighty Quinn," though, that Dylan should be the one collecting royalties, along with the Mike D'Abo incarnation of Manfred Mann, whose arrangement of "Quinn" was also swiped. The double tracked vocal, the dated Leslied organ part, and Gene Parsons's drum solo don't help matters any.

If fans of the film Easy Rider (perhaps misled by Columbia's ad campaign for the LP) picked up the album expecting hard rock songs about Harleys, they must have been disappointed. Even those with a broader notion of the film's subject matter were probably puzzled by the content of the LP, which apart from the title song had nothing whatsoever to do with the film.
Despite the album's tenuous connection to the film, Ballad of Easy Rider is a partial return to form. Melcher's production is a retrenchment from the muddled sound of the original Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, and as a result, the best cuts, "Ballad of Easy Rider," "Tulsa County," and "Deportee," really sound like the Byrds of old, despite the underuse of McGuinn's 12-string. There are some successful experiments -- the gospel style of "Jesus Is Just Alright," for example -- and some failures, like the MOR sound of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." From the writing credits, one might infer that McGuinn was preoccupied with matters other than composing songs for this LP, and in fact, this was the case. At the time this LP was recorded, McGuinn was devoting most of his energies to his abortive rock opera Gene Tryp. This extracurricular distraction left the remaining Byrds to fill the gap. On "Jesus" and "Gunga Din," they succeed, but their other efforts have the unmistakable scent of filler about them. Yet, for all its flaws, Ballad of Easy Rider holds up surprisingly well. It's a step up from Dr. Byrds, and to these ears better than the Byrds LPs that followed -- making Ballad the best of the post-Sweetheart Byrds albums.


To (Untitled)...


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Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"Ballad of Easy Rider":
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: June 18, 1969

"Fido":
John York
Rec. date: August 5, 1969

"Oil in My Lamp":
Traditional, arranged by
The Byrds
Rec. date: July 1, 1969

"Tulsa County"
aka "Tulsa County":
Pam Polland
Rec. date: July 23, 1969

"Jack Tarr the Sailor":
Traditional, arranged by
The Byrds
Rec. date: July 1, 1969

"Jesus is Just Alright":
Art Reynolds
Rec. date: June 17, 1969

"It's All Over Now,
Baby Blue":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: July 22, 1969

"There Must Be Someone":
Vern Gosdin
Rec. date: July 2, 1969

"Gunga Din":
Gene Parsons
Rec. date: July 24, 1969

"Deportee":
Woody Guthrie & Martin Hoffman
Rec. date: June 19, 1969

"Armstrong, Aldrin and
Collins"
Zeke Manners & S. Seely
Rec. date: August 26, 1969
1997 Bonus Tracks:
"Way Beyond the Sun"
aka "Way Behind the Sun":
Traditional, arranged by
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: June 23, 1969

"Mae Jean Goes to Hollywood":
Jackson Browne
Rec. date: July 28, 1969

"Oil in My Lamp":
Rec. date: June 19, 1969
Boxed Set version

"Tulsa County Blue"
Rec. date: July 23, 1969
Previously unreleased version
with York vocal

"Fiddler a Dram (Moog Experiment)"
Roger McGuinn
Rec. date: June 24, 1969
Previously unreleased track

"Ballad of Easy Rider"
(long version):
Rec. date: June 18, 1969
Previously unreleased version

"Build It Up":
(instrumental):
Rec. date: June 23, 1969


Other tracks from album sessions:
"Ballad of Easy Rider"
(soundtrack version):
Rec. date: June 18, 1969
Appears on Easy Rider
Soundtrack


Unreleased tracks from album sessions:
None


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Byrds Albums | Ballad of Easy Rider

Welcome | News | LPs | History | Members | Spinoffs | Related | Reference | Sanctuary | About | NEXT SECTION

Mr. Tambourine Man | Turn! Turn! Turn! | Fifth Dimension | Younger | Notorious | Sweetheart | Dr. Byrds | Ballad | (Untitled) | Byrdmaniax | Farther Along | Byrds | Beginning | Never Before | Box | NEXT CHAPTER





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