The Byrds

Never Before

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This 17-song compilation of alternate takes, unreleased songs, and assorted oddities from the Byrds' mid-'60s prime is a necessary purchase for their many fanatics, but a bit choppy and insubstantial in places. The highlights are many: a rough but endearing previously unreleased cover of Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"; an alternate take of "Eight Miles High" that is quite different (though not as good) as the hit version; a couple pretty David Crosby ballads (including "Triad," later covered by the Jefferson Airplane); a cover of the traditional folk tune "I Know You Rider" with scintillating 12-string guitar solos from Roger McGuinn; "Why," the raga-rock B-side of "Eight Miles High" (both the original 45 version and an alternate take are included); and the non-LP B-side of "Turn, Turn, Turn," "She Don't Care About Time" (written by Gene Clark). A couple of instrumental jams show McGuinn at his most recklessly experimental; "Flight 713" is a taut, almost jazzy piece, while the synthesizer burps of "Moog Raga" give an insight into the electronic direction the group might have pursued if Gram Parsons hadn't joined the band. On the down side, some of the outtakes were clearly throwaways, and the stereo version of their first single was hardly a coveted item. The 1968 B-side "Lady Friend," one of Crosby's best compositions, is ruined by a ham-fisted drum track overdubbed in the 1980s (it was restored to its original version on the box set). A ragtag collection, yes, but there are plenty of stellar moments, and this CD (together with In the Beginning) rounds up virtually everything from the group's classic period that didn't appear on their first five albums.