The Byrds: (Untitled) (1970)

While sometimes getting passed over by the likes of the Beach Boys and the Velvet Underground, I think a case can be made for the Byrds being just about the greatest American band of all time. Their initial run of singles and albums between '65-'68 is the most fondly remembered, culminating in 1968's Notorious Byrd Brothers, the band (by that point essentially just a trio after several departures) delivering, for me, their finest album, and one of the all-time greats.

After the country side-trip of 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo, dominated by brief member Gram Parsons, bandleader Roger McGuinn re-emerged in 1969 with a new four-piece, joined by the fantastic guitarist Clarence White, drummer Gene Parsons (unrelated to Gram), and bassist John York. This would prove to be the most stable version of the band, enduring until the 1972 dissolution, the only change being York's replacement with Skip Battin beginning with 1970's (Untitled).

(Untitled) was the first latter-day Byrds album I bought, way back in high school, when I was only familiar with early hits like "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn Turn Turn," and it blew me away at the time. (The story goes that the band was working on a real title, but the record company inadvertently started pressing the vinyl with the "(Untitled)" placeholder still on the record, so the band just went with it.)

It's a double album, with one live album and one studio album. (The later CD reissue, retitled (Untitled/Unreleased), appends numerous live and studio tracks.) The studio album is arguably the most consistent LP from the four-piece version of the band. There are several McGuinn standouts, including the narrative "Chestnut Mare," a touching story about a man's obsession with a horse (ok, "you'll be just like a wife" is kinda creepy, but try not to think about it), and the gorgeous ballads "All The Things" and "Just A Season," which are classic Byrds tracks. McGuinn also sings a few collaborative pieces, including the mildly psychedelic "Hungry Planet." Clarence White provides vocals on a cover of Little Feat's classic Americana tune "Truck Stop Girl."

The live disc is something of a monster, this iteration of the band being a phenomenal stage act, particularly when McGuinn and White let loose on guitar. (At the time I bought this, it was the only live Byrds available, though they've since released a few other shows from this line-up, absolutely worth picking up.) Besides a few newer tracks (like the Creedence-like "Lover of the Bayou," which also appeared in a studio version on the CD reissue), the live album has the four-piece reinterpreting some classic Byrds singles. Some may come across as rushed or almost begrudging (kinda like latter-day Phil Collins-era Genesis lumping a bunch of Gabriel-era songs into a fan-service medley), but the side-long jam on "Eight Miles High" was definitely a live highlight, taking a run at the Dead as the era's ultimate jam band.

Here's an audio rip of "All The Things":
...and an audio rip of "Lover of the Bayou" from the live disc:
Here's a live take on "Chestnut Mare":
Here's an abbreviated, instrumental-only jam on "Eight Miles High" from another 1970 show: