The Byrds

Chestnut Mare

Song Review by

In the late '60s, the lone, remaining original Byrd, Roger McGuinn, and a New York psychologist, Jacques Levy (who later went on to write with Bob Dylan for the album Desire), began work on a country & western musical adaptation of Peer Gynt entitled Gene Tryp. Though it never made it to the stage, a number of the songs subsequently ended up on the last few Byrds recordings, including the western fable "Chestnut Mare." Released on the Byrds' Untitled album in September of 1970 and as a single a month later, the record failed to make much of an impact commercially in the U.S. (it reached the Top 40 in the U.K.), although it did become an FM staple throughout much of the decade. In the song, McGuinn tells of one man's quest for a horse in several verses spoken over Skip Battin and Gene Parsons' understated rhythm, Clarence White's lyrical flat-picking, and a descending chord progression on his own 12-string. Story-songs have always been quite prevalent in folk music but can, on occasion, become a bit tiresome with repeated listenings. McGuinn and company are able to transcend the basic folk narrative: conveying the hope, persistence, confrontation, love, and respect that are at the heart of the song, while having enough pop sense to include an irresistible chorus, as well as the gorgeous, ethereal bridge which details horse and rider's descent from the edge of the ridge. From the prologue to the final chorus, every little piece creates something that's truly magical and uplifting. During the final verse, when McGuinn exclaims over a building rhythm and White's acoustic picking and pedal steel-like Telecaster bends "...that's when I lost my hold and she got away, but I'm gonna try to get her again someday," it's both majestic and inspiring. "Chestnut Mare" was the last of Roger McGuinn's many genuinely great moments with the Byrds, but it remains a wonderful piece of Americana, as well as one of the most enduring songs of the time.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Untitled 1970 Columbia 5:11
The Best of the Byrds: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 1972 Columbia 5:11
No Image 1973 CBS Records
20 Essential Tracks from the Boxed Set: 1965-1990 1991 Columbia / Legacy 5:06
Sounds of the Seventies: FM Rock, Vol. 1 1992
Various Artists
Definitive Collection 1995 Columbia 5:08
Story Songs 1997
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 5:10
Super Hits 1998 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 5:11
Full Flyte (1965-1970) 1998 Raven 5:07
Horse Songs 2000
Various Artists
Mag 5:08
The Essential Byrds 2003 Columbia / Legacy 5:08
Oldies: Forever Young 2004
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 5:09
Very Best of the Byrds [2006] 2006 Sony Music Distribution
There Is a Season 2006 Legacy / Columbia / Sony BMG 5:08
No Image Sony Music Distribution 5:09