"When the Boxed Set first appeared in 1990 its 90 tracks offered a wealth of treasures to Byrds fans. Almost all the traditonal classics were here, with sound quality upgraded over previous CDs. There were also a surprising number of previously unheard songs which had failed to make the original albums, including some first-rate material. Alternate takes of previously released songs were also here, either for the first time or rarities previously available only on obscure albums like "Never Before" (e.g., 'Baby Blue' '65 in monaurel is followed by an early version of 'She Don't Care About Time'; this is the unreleased single aborted in favor of 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' b/w the familiar take of 'Time'). There were also a significant number of the original album cuts presented in entirely new 2-track to 8-track remixes of the separated master tracks. Finally, McGuinn/Crosby/Hillman recorded four entirely new tracks in 1990 exclusively for the Boxed Set. A completely remastered equalization of this entire package presented all tracks at about the same volume with new bass/trebel balances.
The subsequent Legacy release of all original Columbia albums (except "Greatest Hits Vol. II" and "The Singles") in Expanded Editions, with sound quality upgraded to 20-bit, has stolen much of the thunder from the Boxed Set. Most of its treasures have been swept into the appropriate Expanded Edition albums, often along with even a few more previously unreleased surprises. But despite the unrivaled excellence of the Expanded Edition reissues, there are still things unique to the Boxed Set.
The following are not on the Expanded Editions, nor the "Never Before" and "20 Essential Tracks" albums, nor (to my knowledge) anywhere else:
I. TRACKS (TAKES) UNIQUE TO THE BOXED SET
'Roll Over Beethoven' (live Swedish radio broadcast, Feb 1967); 'Lover of the Bayou', 'Willin'', and 'Black Mountain Rag' (all live at Queens College, NY, 1970); 'Kathleen's Song'; 'Just Like A Woman'; 'White's Lightning'; 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man' (with Bob Dylan), both live at Roy Orbison Tribute, 1990.
(Gram Parsons' vocal on "You Don't Miss Your Water" was also on the above list because it is omitted on "Expanded Sweetheart". However, it is now available on the double disk "Legacy Edition Sweetheart".)
COMMENTS: 'Lover of the Bayou' is dramatically different from both the live and studeo cuts on Expanded "(Untitled)" and almost as good as the live "(Untitled)" cut. 'Kathleen's Song' is the "Byrdmaniax" take stripped of overdubs; the stripped verision on Expanded "(Untitled)" is an alternate take. 'Just Like A Woman' is slightly less polished but far more interesting musically (I think) than the take on Expanded "Byrdmaniax" and "Byrds Play Dylan". 'White's Lightning' is a different segment of the 15 Minute Jam excerpted on expanded "(Untitled)". Bob Dylan joining the Byrds on stage for a lyrically near complete version of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' is just too good to not have in your collection.
II. REMIXES UNIQUE TO THE BOXED SET
COMMENTS: The Expanded series, though remastered with superior sound quality, are to my ear rightfully faithful to both the mix and equalization of the original albums. This leaves the Boxed Set remixes/remaster unique. Generally, to my ear, the Boxed Set remasters bring the vocals forward slightly and make them more distinct (e.g., Crosby's vocal is more intelligible on 'Psychodrama City'). Whether or not that's a good thing is up to you, but they are alternatives.
Of the 90 Boxed Set tracks, about 38 (depending on how you count in a few places) are listed as remixes of the original separated tracks. Here are some of the more interesting not available elsewhere:
(1) From "Turn! Turn! Turn!": The title track and 'He Was A Friend of Mine' appeared in true stereo for the first time here. The first is on "20 Essential Tracks" but 'He Was A friend of Mine' is in stereo only here. These masters have only two tracks, so they are presented with instruments slightly to one speaker and vocals to the other. NOTE: Expanded "Turn!" album doesn't note 'Friend' as a mono track, but if you listen with headphones it's clearly monoaurel. "Essential Byrds" lists it as mono.
'It Won't Be Wrong' and 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune' are remixed from 3 track masters; 'The World Turns All Around Her' (with bongo track) and 'Times They Are A-Changin'' are 8 track remixes. While not dramatically different, the equalization on these is slightly brighter (to my ear) than the original album, with vocals more distinct. Whether this is an improvement or detracts from the dramatic mystery of the original is a subjective call, but is probably too subtle to be more than an interesting alternative.
('World' is a bit of a mystery to me. The Boxed Set booklet says: "Remixed from the original eight-track master, this cut includes a bongo track which was used in the earliest mixes, but deleted on the released version." However, except for equalization it sounds the same to me as both the album cut and bonus track versions on "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (i.e., all 3 sound the same). I no longer have the original vinyl so can't check whether the bongos, if that's what they are, are deleted there, or if I'm just missing something .)
(2) From "5D": Of special interest are 8 Track remixes of 'I See You' and 'Hey Joe' and a rebalanced 'John Riley'
'I See You' was always my second favorite song on "5D" after 'Eight Miles High'. This remix is to my ear superior to the original. The rhythm guitar has been brought forward and equalization shifted more towards the bass, which for me makes the song surprisingly more dramatic and powerful. It also has a fuller, richer sound. The tempo sounds slightly slower, but it's not.
'John Riley' corrects the extreme separation of the original stereo album, in which vocals are on one speaker and instruments on the other. Here, the two tracks are moved closer together, somewhat like the stereo versions of 'Turn!' and 'Friend'.
'Hey Joe' is much less polished here, with opening countdown and a cold ending that falls apart, but I've come to prefer it to the album mix. Both Crosby's vocal and the bass have been brought forward; this reduces the excessive treble of the album cut, giving the song a more simple, dangerous blues feel. The album cut now sounds to me by comparison a little too slick and frantic.
(3) "Younger Than Yesterday": 'Have You Seen Her Face,' (with longer ending), 'Time Between,' 'Renaissance Fair,' Everybody's Been Burned,' and 'The Girl With No Name' are original album tracks remixed from the 8 track masters, though they sound pretty faithful to the originals mixes.
(4) "(Untitled)": 'Just A Season' is an alternate mix of the album track, which the booklet suggests was done at that time but not used.
(5) Two Boxed Set remixes originally appeared on "Never Before" but I think deserve mention here:
The classic 'Why' track on the the flip of 'Eight Miles High' (not the remake on "Younger Than Yesterday") is best enjoyed on Expanded "5D". The "Never Before" remix brings the drums forward so prominently as to distort the song beyond recognition. Fortunately it eventually settles into the familiar classic, but for me the damage is done. And incidently, "The Byrds: The Singles" album mistakenly uses the 'Why' mono mix from "Younger Than Yesterday".
'Mr. Tambourine Man' is apparently a stereo remix of the single; it runs 2:16 compared to the album track's 2:29. There is an artificial echo and the vocals have that thin angelic sound of "Notorious Byrds Brothers". Again the drums have been brought forward, but this time it works very well "with" the song so you can actually dance to it. It's pretty enough, in some ways almost a Beatles song, and I like having it. Still, when money is on the table I much prefer the full artistic richness of the standard album cut. I believe these are all the same take -- the 2:16 version may simply fade sooner and has dramatically different equalization. "20 Essential Tracks" (a Boxed Set sample album) does not use this Boxed Set version, substituting "a full stereo remix of the original eight track master". That's cheating, but I'm fine with it, as that's my personal favorite master of this defining classic performance. (If interested, see "20 Essential Tracks" reviews for my take on the stereo version of 'Turn!' and the 4 "new" 1990 songs.)
III. OTHER REASONS TO OWN THE BOXED SET
If you are a true Byrds fan with a complete Expanded Edition set, you'll probably want the Boxed Set and booklet to complete your collection. The booklet (5 1/4" x 11", 56 pages) has a multi-page line chart that traces the Byrds' evolving line-up and shows what became of the many shedded "Byrd feathers". There is also a complete listing of album and single releases, where you can find such embedded tid-bits as (e.g.) that "Sweetheart" was the first Byrds album to be released only in stereo.
The 4 CDs have beautiful cover art to illustrate their title themes: "We Have Ignition," "Cruising Altitude," "Full Throttle," and "Final Approach". They are a nice way to listen to a range of Byrds performances and styles across several albums per CD.
Though others have griped, I like the fact that this is an obviously highly subjective collection of often arbitrary choices and omissions. There's something very personal about that, sort of like a peek into Roger McGuinn's family scrapbook of fond memories.
IV. UPDATE: THE NEW BOXED SET (10/3/06)
With the release of a new boxed set ("There Is A Season") in October 2006, many will wonder how many of the above tracks have been folded into the new box.
Surprisingly, so far I've found only two -- 'Willin'' and 'Black Mountain Rag' live at Queens College.
'Roll Over Beethoven' on the new box is a live track from 1973, along with a new live performance of 'Mr. Tambourine Man' (without Dylan). 'Lover of the Bayou' is the "(Untitled)" live track, not Queens College. And so it goes...
Nor do any of the 1990 box's remixes appear to have been used. 'He Is A Friend if Mine' is live from that 1967 Swedish radio broadcast, and 'Turn! Turn! Turn!' is the standard monaurel track.
I like the new box quite a bit, especially the many live performances on Disks 3 and 4 -- but you can set it alongside the old box. Each has unique takes and mixes."
Great Box From one of the Most Influental Bands in Rock-Hist
Morten Vindberg | Denmark | 04/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1990, when this box-set was originally released, it was really a goldmine of rarities, great out-takes and new recordings - obviously alongside of the hits and the majority of the best tracks of their 11 Columbia studio albums.
Now with the re-release of all the Byrds originals ( remastered and all with great bonus-tracks ) the box will be less attractive for collectors who just love Byrds music and who do not necessarily want everything released by the Band. Still for completists and people who want to own the very best of band, flavoured with rarities and lesser known tracks, this is still a very good buy.
I'll comment a little on the songs not included on the re-issue series. The four "new" 1990 recordings with 3 original members ( Crosby, Hillman and McGuinn ) all sound appealing and inspired - two of them are really great. The re-recording of "Here Was a Friend of Mine" is vocally outstanding and at least just as strong as the original. Their version of "From a Distance", with Hilmann vocally up front, is terrific. Often this fine song has been ruined by overdone arrangements and sentimental vocals. The Byrds gives a pure version with their well-known instrumentation ( most important their fine harmonies and McGuinns 12 string Rickenbacker ) - for me one of the greatest surprises. The other two new songs are good though no more.
Another song that deserves to be brought out is the live-version of "Lover of the Bayou" ( not the Untitled track ) - to my knowledge this the only place this recording can be found. From the same live-appearance Clarence White's guitar-performance on "Black Mountain Rag" is simply breat-taking.
"Mr Tambourine Man" with Bob Dylan from the Roy Orbison tribute concert is another highlight.
From "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" ( my least favourite Byrds-album ) there is a re-found Gram Parsons vocal on "One Hundred Years From Now".
Some songs are in slightly different mixes, which may be detected by the trained ear.
It may be worth noting that the rarities and outtakes sound as clear and clean as the original songs ( only exception is the 1967 live version of "Roll Over Beethoven" )
Otherwise there are hours of fine music by one of the greatest and most influental bands in American rock-music.
Moreover there is a fine biography ( by David Fricke ), rare photos, family tree, detailed information about the songs, notes from Crosby, McGuinn and Hillman - and more.
Belleza somnolienta que despierta en cada escucha
Sergio Rodriguez Heredia | san clemente del tuyu, Buenos Aires Argentina | 09/26/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"sonido fresco, tintineantes guitarras y toda la ingenuidad y belleza d un grupo de canciones inolvidables, sobre todo reunidas en los tres discos..el ultimo decae un poco, empalideciendo la calidad total del box...pero bueno, no deja de ser una caja muy recomendable!"
Halcyon Days | Lakeville, MN USA | 05/18/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"simply put the best compilation ever of The Byrds which coincided with Crosby Hillman and McGuinn reuniting for the Orbison tribute show in 1990; alternate tracks and cleaned up sound reveal their exquisite harmonies and playing - 4 stages let the listener experience their growth and changes AWESOME!!"