#185 – Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds
– It’s unreal how young many of us were when the 1960’s music scene started changing our lives. And if we really stop and think, it’s mind-boggling how fast everything was changing. It seemed we were being exposed to new sounds and looks on a weekly basis.
When The Beatles kicked open the floodgates with their February 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was more than the music. It was also the visuals – how they looked. It was considered pretty shocking and for many of the boomers, also very cool.
The younger boomers had been too late for the original 1950’s rock ‘n’ rollers who brought a sound and look that earned them dangerous and rebellious reputations – mainly from the older generations. But our firsthand adolescent exposure in the early ’60s was through clean-cut male crooners in letter sweaters and girls in party dresses and bouffant hair. To emphasize my point, The Singing Nun had a number one song in late 1963 with Dominique.
Believe me, there was nothing dangerous, rebellious or shocking about that.
So The Fab Four with long hair, tight tailored business suits and high-heeled Beatle boots made a definite impression. But by 1965 that visual was practically clean-cut compared to what was happening. The second wave of The British Invasion included The Rolling Stones, who were considered the anti-Beatles with longer hair and a dislike for matching suits.
And on this side of the Atlantic the new wave included The Byrds.
They were different. Of course it was visual, which is the direction this rambling is headed. Like The Stones they ditched matching suits and grew hair longer than a mop top. When I first saw them on television singing Mr. Tambourine Man in early 1965, the only one that seemed to have eyes visible beneath his hair was Jim McGuinn (who didn’t change his name to Roger until 1967). And when I stop and think about it, I’m sure his eyes were only noticeable due to the rectangular “granny” glasses he pioneered into one of many teenage fads of the 60’s.
Musically they were also different. The Beatles were at first considered rockers and The Stones were bluesmen. The Byrds were folkies. Mr. Tambourine Man was a Bob Dylan song while their second number one, Turn! Turn! Turn! was written by Pete Seeger. And even though George Harrison was playing a 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar when recording the soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night, it wasn’t considered the main “Beatles sound.”
Still, it was enough to influence a former folkie. With McQuinn the 12-string “Ric” became the basis of The Byrds sound and kicked open the floodgates for folk rock.
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The electric guitars and harmonies of McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby made Mr. Tambourine Man very different from the Bob Dylan solo acoustic version. Add the visuals that came along with The Byrds, including longhairs Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman, and the whole package could be pretty shocking for older generations and original folk music diehards.
But for many of the boomers, that’s what also made them very cool.
The Byrds released Turn! Turn! Turn! in early October 1965. Decades later when I woke up with the song “jangling” through my head on July 28th, it was still very cool. But what’s uncool is when I admit there are other Byrds songs on my digital playlist, but I don’t own a copy and hadn’t heard it in a long time. Maybe I could count the original 45 rpm vinyl since I rode my bike to the local record store in 1965 to buy it, but it would take an archaeological dig through my stored archives to find it. So I’ll just admit to my current lack of coolness and add it to the subliminal category of Dream Songs.
And speaking of digging through the past…
For my end of the baby boomer generation, we weren’t even teenagers yet when The Beatles, The Stones and The Byrds were changing our lives. We were still kids playing with our friends, who were also kids. Televisions had been earning a reputation since the 1950’s as the first electronic babysitters, but that didn’t mean we sat around all day watching cartoons and reruns of I Love Lucy. We had every inch of our backyards memorized and had explored all the woods, fields and creeks within walking distance of our neighborhood.
We did sports; we built forts and we played war. That might even be a decent title for a folk song if anyone wants to borrow it. And though I’m a dedicated peacenik who is stunned beyond disbelief that government madmen have control of nuclear warheads, many of us as kids in the 60’s were blissfully unaware of similar Cold War dangers. Of course that changed fast when we hit our teenage years and the escalating war in Vietnam was broadcast nightly on television news.
That was definitely uncool.
But as young preteens we’d choose sides to hit, pass or shoot a ball. If we were playing war, we might launch a sneak attack on a group of foreign neighborhood kids that might be playing too close to our assumed realm of influence. We’d battle with words and bravado, or during more immature standoffs throw chunks of dirt. If one of our foes landed with a hard chunk and your friend took off crying, the goal was to win the race to his house and tell his mom how brave he’d been in the heat of battle, and then race home before we all got in trouble.
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We built tree houses as high up in the trees as we’d dare to climb. On the opposite extreme we’d sometimes dig a large hole in the ground, cover it with plywood and use dirt, sticks and leaves to camouflage our underground forts. We also made tunnels, which were ditches covered with boards and dirt that were only big enough for us “little kids” to crawl through and keep out the “big kids.” We also believed “big kids” wouldn’t know where these bunkers were located because we could disappear in a small hole and end up crawling in a direction unknown to them.
And yes, as a kid it was all very cool.
After digging and covering one of our underground forts in the fall of 1965, a few of us were inside hiding out and listening to our favorite Top 40 AM radio station. I remember we had an old rug covering the ground so we weren’t sitting on dirt and a battery powered lamp so we also weren’t sitting in the dark.
The deejay announced the new Byrds song and played Turn! Turn! Turn! And when it finished, he shouted in his hip Top 40 radio deejay voice, “That was so good, let’s play it again!” And he did. We immediately heard the song a second time! I’ve always remembered that because it was the first – and only – time I’ve ever heard a song played twice in a row on the radio.
At that moment the deejay seemed dangerous, rebellious and shocking – and also very cool.
But what became even more dangerous and shocking (I’ll skip rebellious since it was completely unplanned) during this second spin through Turn! Turn! Turn! the roof to our underground fort started caving in. Fearing we were about to be buried in a pit, we screamed, shouted and flew through our escape tunnel in record crawling time.
Popping out of the ground we saw a neighborhood “big kid” standing on the sinking ground with a stunned look on his face. He had taken a shortcut home through the woods and since we had been good at camouflaging our location, walked on top of our fort. The plywood boards cracked and popped and dirt started falling through the cracks. Stepping off before a complete collapse, he probably gave us some type of “big kid” lecture about making dangerous traps in the woods and then continued his walk home.
He turned, turned, turned (sorry, I can’t help myself) our fort into just another hole in the ground. If we had been playing war, we were the losing force.
A final note about Turn! Turn! Turn!
When Pete Seeger wrote the song he took the lyrics from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. And I’m not sure where I read this, but for that creative reason it holds the record as a number one song – with the oldest lyrics. Now there’s a sound visual…
To check out the song and shocking visuals, here’s a video of The Byrds performing Turn! Turn! Turn!
To purchase The Byrds – Greatest Hits with Turn! Turn! Turn! visit Amazon.com
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