Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers vs. Monkees’ Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.: Odd Couples

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At first glance, this is one of those apples and oranges pair ups. On the one hand, the Byrds: respected pop icons, credited with the invention of folk rock, the popularization of the 12-string electric guitar, and regarded as key contributors in the development of jangle pop, psychedelic rock and country rock. As well, the Byrds continue to be cited as influences by popular modern-day artists such as Tom Petty.

On the other hand, the Monkees: at best, considered by some to be simply lightweights of nostalgia radio; at worst, considered by just as many others to be the living embodiment of everything wrong with a cynical and manipulative entertainment industry that exists only to dictate taste for profit.

However, closer inspection shows that by the time of the release of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (late 1967) and The Notorious Byrd Brothers (early 1968) both bands had arrived in nearly the same place at nearly the same time via somewhat similar routes.

After two albums crafted primarily by seasoned studio professionals, the Monkees were now allowed to play their own instruments, but frequently used hired guns anyway. The Byrds’ first single, their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” was mostly played by L.A. sessions players, but immediately after the quintet did their own playing. Still, they weren’t above bringing in players when needed — players like Paul Beaver, for instance, who played Moog synthesizer on “Natural Harmony”… and on the Monkees’ side two closer, “Star Collector.”

That isn’t the only similarity between these records. As well as the Moog, both albums are bolstered with steel guitars and horn sections, both contain songs with drug references (“Artificial Energy” and possibly “Salesman”), and both have Goffin/King covers.

There are other cases of songs on one record that parallel songs on the other. “Old John Robertson” and “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round” as country rock prototypes are sonically interchangeable. The Byrds’ hippie tribute “Tribal Gathering” is mirrored by the Monkees’ vignette about that other dreamy tribe living out their “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” And aren’t both “Draft Morning” and “The Door Into Summer” about the loss of innocence?

But the most obvious similarity can be found by playing the albums back to back. Or, with the aid of a digital playlist, simply alternate the tracks from each album in order. There’s an amazing sense of continuity between the two: No single voice dominates the proceedings, and no particular style pushes its presence at the expense of other ones. It isn’t too hard to hear these albums as one of those cases where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.: One went on to critical acclaim; the other went on to hit No. 1 on the album charts and sell double platinum. And yet blood calls to blood; and in these days of critical hindsight and genetic testing, it’s become much easier to right the wrongs of yesteryear. Both of these albums are high water marks in ’60s pop and should be regarded as such — or at least as the proverbial brothers from another mother.

Oh … the winner? Match cancelled on account of family reunion.

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito

JC Mosquito spends most of his day keeping the wolves from the door. When he's not occupied with this pastime, he's interested in all things rock and roll -- which may or may not have died back in the late 1950s, the late 1970s, or the early '90s, depending on who you believe. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
JC Mosquito
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  • Douglas Humphries

    This is a joke —- right ? talent & creativity vs sales and popularity amongst teenyboppers — go play in the street and forget about attempts to make the most tenuous of connections – ( turn in your writer’s credentials before you go . )

  • Forrest Humus

    Amen Amen I say to you. The Monkees PACJ,L album is not only their best but one of the best of the 1960s. And that IS saying something.

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