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The Student News Site of Iona University

The Ionian

The Student News Site of Iona University

The Ionian

The unheralded band who inspired all

I am positive that I am not speaking out of my you-know-what when I say that we have all had conversations surrounding the following question: Who is the most underrated artist or band of all time? It is a question as old as time; one that strikes the heart of the receiver and leads the way to a hotly contested, often unresolved, debate.  

As someone who considers themselves to have ample knowledge of music, particularly from the 1960s and ’70s, I have never shied away from this discussion. In fact, my answer has remained the same over the years, sitting quietly in my back pocket until provoked by a friend or family member. The Byrds, a California rock group from 1964-1973, are my choice.  

Prior to their formation, the original five Byrds were a ragtag group of failed folkies. They spent their early years touring the so-called beatnik scene and performing at open mic hootenanny nights as a means of “earning their stripes,” so to speak, as young musicians.  

Their first album, titled “Mr. Tambourine Man” after the hit single of the same name, is, in my eyes, the essential folk rock record. Mixing cover songs with Clark’s haunting melodies, they created a nostalgic, yearning sound that has influenced everyone from the Smiths to R.E.M.  

The Byrds’ sophomore album, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” was not as commercially successful, but its title track was a smash hit in 1965 and has become one of the most culturally significant songs to come out of the Vietnam era.  

From 1966-1968, the Byrds started to expand their horizons, experimenting with Indian ragas and free form jazz. In effect, they ushered in the psychedelic music movement. Without this, there would be no Tame Impala, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, who are some of the more popular psychedelic acts of today.  

During this era, the Byrds released my personal favorite album, “The Notorious Byrd Brothers.” It is a masterpiece, a true stroke of genius on their part. “NBB,” as it is often shortened to, perfectly pairs the jazz of John Coltrane with a new genre called country rock and the aforementioned psychedelia. To my knowledge, there has not been any other album like it since. Music aside, the songwriting is out of this world. “Draft Morning” is a song that will put a lump in your throat, “Old John Robertson” represents a reflection of childhood, and “Artificial Energy” warns us about the dangers of drugs. There is simply nothing better than this, and to think the band was falling apart during the recording sessions makes it all the more impressive.  

In August of the same year, the Byrds came out with “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” the very first pure country rock record. The album received mixed reviews from the press at the time, but has found newer appreciation over the years. It may be tough to hear, but the music of Zach Bryan, Morgan Wallen, and Luke Combs all stem from “Sweetheart.”  

The Byrds may not be the most popular choice in this discussion of underrated artists, especially for people my age, but I will always stand by my decision. They are the band that inspired me to pick up the bass guitar, write my own original songs, and explore musical genres that I wouldn’t have been interested in otherwise. I think a good, open-minded listen to them could be helpful in convincing a lot of people.  

 

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Robert Hughes, Sports Editor

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