Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Song of the Week: The Byrds -- Have You Seen Her Face?

The Byrds were probably America's best band in an era dominated by the British Invasion. Not just clones of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, The Byrds blended American country and western, pop and folk to create a beautiful new sound. That sound was most distinguished by the beautiful harmonies of four of the five members. By the time the band's fourth -- and best -- album Younger Than Yesterday was released,  Gene Clark (pictured above on the right and recipient of two Flip-Side posts in his post-Byrds career. Those are Out On The Side and Polly) had departed the band for good. With that departure the Byrds were now missing their strongest singer and perhaps their strongest songwriter. Tensions between David Crosby and the rest of the band were bubbling over and creating particular tension between the band and band leader Roger McGuinn.

From that bubbling cauldron, bassist Chris Hillman emerged, perhaps unlikely so, as a major creative force. Co-composer of the album's #1 hit single, So You Want To Be A Rock-N-Roll Star, Hillman also wrote and sang lead on four other songs on the album: Thoughts And Words, Time Between, The Girl With No Name, and today's SOTW, Have You Seen Her Face.

And more than that (if that wasn't enough), Hillman changed the sound of The Byrds, not just with his flatter, more countrified voice, but with the musicians he brought in to support his songs. Chris Hillman called on country guitar wizard Clarence White to play leads on Hillman's songs, essentially ditching The Byrds trademark 12-string chimey Rickenbacker as the lead instrument. Now we had the twang of a Fender Telecaster. This was a total rebranding of the Byrds that would become permanent as David Crosby would soon leave the band and be replaced by another Chris Hillman friend, Gram Parsons (himself a recipient of a Flip-Side post for his beautiful solo-era song, A Song For You). Of course those two would quickly leave The Byrds, along with drummer Michael Clarke, and form their own group, The Flying Burrito Brothers.

Have You Seen Her Face was released as a single in the US and died a miserable death on the charts. In some respects, it marks the beginning of the end of The Byrds' chart success. That doesn't mean the song isn't great, just that the stuff they were soon to record wasn't as radio friendly as before.

I've always had a soft spot in my musical heart for Chris Hillman. Not only was his bass work for the Byrds tremendous, but as noted above, his song writing and singing grew into it's own. As co-founder, and anchor, of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Hillman proved to be the corner stone in the creation of country-rock.

Enjoy Have You Seen Her Face.

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