The Byrds early material has been mined over and over again. It first began with Never Before, a great collection of unreleased outtakes and alternate versions first released in 1989. (Well, I guess it actually began with the original release of Preflyte in 1969, an attempt to capitalize on their mid-60s success.) Since then an amazing amount of unreleased material has seen the light of day including Live At The Fillmore West 1969, four volumes of the Sanctuary series, a 2 disc reissue of Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, two box sets, numerous bonus tracks on the reissues of the catalog and more. What’s really amazing is that all of this stuff is worthwhile, some of it downright fantastic. The Preflyte Sessions is no exception.
You have to keep in mind that this is very early Byrds material, recorded before their first album Mr. Tambourine Man. They were still finding their way, looking for their “sound” and coming together as a band. Even so this material is quite good. The 40 songs spread across two discs provide a clear picture of the band at this point in time. It’s amazing how great a songwriter Gene Clark was even then, writing almost perfect little pop songs (“The Reason Why,” “You Won’t Have To Cry,” “You Movin’,”She Has A Way,” etc.). Clark wrote or co-wrote almost every track on this collection. The two versions of “Mr. Tambourine Man” are quite different than the official version which would be recorded with some studio musicians at a later date. Also of real interest are the four early David Crosby related tracks. Two from the rare Early L.A. album and two unreleased, including a great version of “Get Together.”
Some of the songs are represented with multiple versions and/or takes but it never seems redundant. Almost half of the 40 songs are previously unreleased. The others come from the original Preflyte, Early L.A. and In The Beginning (another collection of early material on Rhino). It’s really great to have all this material together in one place.
McGuinn has turned loose of the tapes to another unreleased live album, Live At Royal Albert Hall 1971, and while this later incarnation of the Byrds is not my favorite I’ve got in on pre-order at amazon.com (put something I want on sale for $9.99 and I’ll almost always buy it). You can’t go wrong with anything that Clarence White is on.