Fifth Dimension

The Byrds

Epic / Legacy Records, 1966

REVIEW BY: Dan Smith


Since I've already reviewed Younger Than Yesterday and Turn! Turn! Turn!, two of the Byrds' first four albums, it seems logical to go ahead and complete the circle, and give the lowdown on the other two. Thus, today I'll look at Fifth Dimension, the Byrds' third LP, and a review of their freshman effort, Mr. Tambourine Man, is forthcoming.

There is an interesting dichotomy on these early Byrds records. There are long stretches of perfectly inspired, groundbreaking, and lovely material, interrupted cruelly by seemingly half-thought-out pieces that prevent the albums from working together as a cohesive whole. (Unfortunately, the first Byrds records that remained consistent all the way through would be the two that followed the disintegration of the "classic" lineup - The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo.)

Fifth Dimension stands comfortably beside the Beatles' Revolver as good examples of psychedelic pop. The title cut, a Roger McGuinn original that either describes either the pleasures of an acid trip or Einstein's theory of relativity (!), leads off the record nicely, setting up an ear-pleasing sonic palette of soaring harmonies, raga- and Coltrane-influenced 12-string guitar , and a spacey, dreamy ambience. "Wild Mountain Thyme" is an old Scottish ballad that gets the Byrds treatment, and this lovely tune is augmented by beautiful string washes.

After two rather wistful, slow-paced tunes, the bouncy, country-influenced "Mr. Spaceman" and the pounding, jazzy "I See You" come crashing in. "Mr. Spaceman" is a bit of fun, with a happy McGuinn melody and characteristically optimistic lyrics, here regarding the possibility of other-worldly intelligence. A bit light, perhaps, but a fun song nonetheless. The latter is heavily jazz-inspired, beginning the trend of unique angular soloing by McGuinn on the 12-string, in a style he has not often returned to since. Equally notable here are David Crosby's stirling harmony vocals (as always), and Michael Clarke's surprisingly aggressive drumming. Crosby's "What's Happening?!?!" follows, another good original, very much in the vein of later compositions like "Everybody's Been Burned". A good song, but nowhere near the quality of the first four tracks.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"I Come And Stand At Every Door" is a truly haunting dirge - the story of a young child killed at Hiroshima. It's a bit grotesque and heavy on the pathos, but McGuinn's delivery saves it. The second side just ups the ante, with the power and majesty of "Eight Miles High", perhaps the group's best song ever. From the pounding, insistent rhythm section to McGuinn's truly astounding Coltrane impression on the 12-string, this is a quintessential Byrds instrumental track. Then add the Clark-Crosby-McGuinn harmonies ("Eight Miles High" was recorded before Clark left the group) and you have an exceptional song, one of the most important and influential of the entire decade.

The Byrds' up-tempo version of "Hey Joe" follows (yes, the track made famous by Jimi Hendrix), with Crosby belting out the lyrics over some angular soloing by McGuinn and a rather "funky" Hillman bassline. While not as good as Hendrix's version (but few songs are), it's a lot of fun to sing along with and is actually pretty solid.

The rest of the album takes a bit of a step down. A long and mostly boring R&B instrumental called "Captain Soul" occupies the next slot, and the album comes to a close with the oddity "2-4-2 Waltz (The Lear Jet Song)", with Byrds harmonies sharing space with the sounds of the aircraft mentioned in the title. Sandwiched between these two shaky tracks, however, is the truly amazing "John Riley", another great folk tune augmented with powerful strings and signature Byrds harmonies. A forgotten classic, often overlooked, that stands comfortably among the group's best tunes.

As with all the recent reissues, we're treated to a handful of bonus tracks, including another, rawer version of "Eight Miles High", and two versions of an excellent fast-paced raga-rock number called "Why" that was the "Eight Miles High" B-side. In addition, there's a fun rocking "I Know My Rider" and Crosby's trippy "Psychodrama City". The fact that any of these bonus tracks could be added to the album with no loss in quality is astounding - and at least three of them ("Rider", "Psychodrama" and "Why") are actually superior to some of the cuts on the record (specifically, "Captain Soul", "2-4-2 Waltz" and "What's Happening").

This is a classic of American pop, and I think most music fans who check it out will enjoy it, especially if you're a fan of harmony vocals and more "out-there" rock instrumental styles worked into the pop song format. Make sure you get the reissue with the bonus tracks, however, as it is far superior in terms of quality and sound.

Rating: A

User Rating: A



© 1999 Dan Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.