’65 Revisited is a series that will return to some of the many widely successful albums of 1965 and bring them back into the spotlight again, 50 years after release. These are not simply reviews, but rather a chance to re-analyze and give some of music’s greatest records another spin.
The year of 1965 was eventful, to say the least; war raged in Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Jr. marched with thousands in Selma, and the music world experienced some truly thoughtful albums. The title track of the Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn! perhaps says it best when quoting the Book of Ecclesiastes: “a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to break down, a time to build up.” The folk-rock group’s hit album spent 40 weeks on the Billboard charts, but would likely seem a bit too ingrained in the folk movement of the 1960s if it were played today. Yet, in its day, the album delivered a concise bundle of soft-rock tunes that proved relevant to music fans feeling the instability of the world around them. After all, “to everything—turn, turn turn, there is a season—turn turn turn.”
Perhaps Turn! Turn! Turn! isn’t the most ideal album of the Byrds to bring back, as it was for the large part a follow-up—albeit a successful one—to the Byrds’ debut LP, Mr. Tambourine Man. Yet it might not be precise to analyze the effect of the rock cover version of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” which was already made famous in its original version the very same year by Bob Dylan. This is an amusing aspect of 1965—can one imagine a song and a cover of it being officially released in the same year today, and both being wildly popular at the same time? (I suppose we’ll have to settle for party remixes or YouTube claim-to-fame acoustic covers as the closest thing the current music industry has to what the Byrds did with Dylan’s music in 1965).
And yet Turn! Turn! Turn! is still at its heart a new take on previous work, with two Dylan covers (including my personal favorite, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”), an appearance of the oft-covered “A Satisfied Mind,” and a rendition of “Oh Susannah!” filling a track-list with four other original Byrds songs. The highlight of the album is “He Was a Friend of Mine,” a re-working of a traditional song of lament that was penned by Byrds guitarist Jim McGuinn shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The melodic folk music is at its peak as the group sings about a death that gave the country a feeling of despondency and uncertainty about the future. The relevance of the album to the time period is thus incredibly important to consider when remembering music that some current fans might consider to be not much more than a relic. Unless you were living through it, there is almost no way to understand how an average American, just two years after having found out that the president was assassinated, would have felt as the country shook while the tumultuous decade of the 60s rocked on, but the Byrds’ take on “He Was a Friend of Mine” certainly gives a taste.
It is a little ironic that the Byrds are remembered mostly by their covers, when I found the strength of the album to be the tracks that they had created themselves. “If You’re Gone” is soulful and yearning, and “Wait and See” sounds as much like a 60s love pop song as any song from the decade could get. Ultimately, the album is viewed as a neat addition to the Byrds’ discography, and yet there’s an earnestness to the record that demands remembrance. As the group itself would undergo changes in both their musical style and their lineup after its release, the album remains fixed in a time in place of folk music, when the rest of time was indeed “a-changin’.”