David Crosby felt that recording material written by someone other than the band was a step backwards and was opposed to their inclusion. In addition, Crosby’s controversial song “Triad” was recorded during the session and was ultimately displaced from the original release by “Goin’ Back.” By the way, “Triad” was eventually included on the CD version of this release in the late 1990s.
To make a long story short, Crosby’s outbursts, failure to appear for recording dates, pontifications during concerts, and other negative behavior was creating a wedge between him and the two other principals, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. In addition, percussionist Michael Clarke’s drumming ability came into question and he was especially having issues with Crosby and he quit the band. Session drummers Hal Blaine and Jim Gordon added percussion in Clarke’s absence.
Tensions with Crosby having reaching a head, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman went to Crosby’s house and fired him from the band. Meanwhile, Michael Clarke returned to the band and ex-Byrd Gene Clark rejoined the band after quitting a year earlier. Although not credited on the LP, it is rumored that Clark provided background vocals to several tunes including “Goin’ Back.” Clark can be seen lip syncing with the band on the Smothers Brothers Show on “Goin’ Back,”
Smothers Brothers Performance
Gene Clark’s fear of flying, that lead him to leave the group in 1966, resurfaced and he quit the Byrds a second time. Additionally, Hillman and McGuinn fired Michael Clarke following the release of the LP and the Byrds were reduced to two original members. As for Crosby’s material, McGuinn and Hillman reworked his three songs and these appeared on the LP. One of these, “Dolphin’s Smile” is one of my favorite cuts.
Further controversy arose after the album’s release as the cover has Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, and Michael Clarke standing at the windows of a horse stall. A horse appears in the fourth window leading many people, including David Crosby, to claim that the horse represented him. McGuinn vehemently denies this allegation stating that, “If we had intended to do that, we would have turned the horse around.”
“The Notorious Byrd Brothers” was the first prerecorded cassette tape that I ever purchased and it was one I listened to quite frequently. I bought it F.W. Woolworths shortly before I went away to college in 1973. The album has great harmonies and showcases the direction the band was moving with a more country flavored side. Is it my favorite LP by the Byrds? No, that would be “Fifth Dimension.” It is, however, my second favorite and deems to be in this week’s album spotlight.