Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jam of the day, vinyl you just have to buy, music inspired by history and literature, and a silly quote: The Byrds / "I Come And Stand At Every Door"

Artist: The Byrds
Album: Fifth Dimension
Song: "I Come And Stand At Every Door"
Released: July 18, 1966
Label: Columbia

I was really happy to score a near mint copy of this album at Jerry's Records this morning. The Byrds are one of my all-time favorite bands—if not the favorite—and this is one of their albums that I've never spotted at a store on vinyl. Sure, I could find a reissue online or whatever, but there's a certain thrill in having a few albums in the back of your mind all the time and knowing that you will, with absolute certainty, buy one whenever you see a copy for sale. Check this one off my list. I have a few others on mind. What albums are on YOUR list?

I also stopped in to Galaxie Electronics, which on the same floor as Jerry's on the right when you walk in, to buy a new belt for my turntable. I've had it about four years now and this is the first time I've had to fix anything, so I'm grateful for that. I've been putting that off for a couple of weeks, out of laziness and business, and between random shopping and Record Store Day last weekend, I've built up quite the backlog of albums I've been meaning to listen to. But screw all that, I had to but Fifth Dimension on as soon as I got home. I was planning on writing something about "Eight Miles High" (one of the most famous Byrds tunes and their first exploration into jazzy psych rock) or maybe the title track or maybe the silly little ditty "Mr. Spaceman", but then … I heard "I Come And Stand At Every Door".

I almost forgot this song was on this album. I almost forgot it even existed. It's kind of a throwaway, not really standing out as a stellar single or anything and, with its somber guitar line and rhythm and the deliberate vocal cadence, it's very much the least poppy track on an otherwise very upbeat and exciting record. Its the lyrical content, though, that really delivers the message. The words are an English translation of a poem by Turkish poet Nâzim Haket about the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings of WWII. It's written from the perspective of a seven year-old child (the poem says "girl" but the song's lyrics are slightly different and don't mention gender) who died in the bombings, and describes the child's death and how his/her spirit remains in this world and asks for nothing but peace. It's rather touching when you listen carefully and/or read along. Apparently Pete Seeger recorded a version of the poem in song form originally, in 1962, and The Byrds 1966 version added some somber electric guitars to the tune and really did it justice.

"I come and stand at every door
But no one hears my silent prayer
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead"

Anyway, this song also got me thinking about other songs and albums that have been inspired (or are direct references to/usages of) historical events and/or literary pieces. We all know that Jeff Mangum says a fair amount of the content of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was inspired by his recent reading of The Diary of Anne Frank. The only other really interesting example I can think of off the top of my head is If… which was apparently inspired by the Italo Calvino novel If on a winter's night a traveler. I haven't listened to that album, but I remember loving that novel when I read it in college. I still have a copy laying around here; I should pick it up again… Can you think of any other examples like this? I'll keep racking my brain and scouring the web. I'm sure there are some interesting ones!

One last thing: the remastered CD reissue of this album that came out on the album's 30th anniversary had a few bonus tracks: an alternate version of "Eight Miles High", two version of that single's B-side called "Why", a great David Crosby-penned tune called "Psychodrama City", and some others. The second version of "Why" is 17 minutes long, though, because after the tune ends and a radio promo interview with Roger McGuinn and David Crosby starts playing. It's kinda funny because you can only hear what those guys say, not the radio interviewer and not the songs they apparently play during the interview. But they say some pretty funny stuff as they talk about the album and the songs. It's worth tracking down and listening to if you're a big fan like me. I remember laughing so hard when they got to talking about the album name and the title track. Roger McGuinn says something silly like, "Well, the fifth dimension is a very philosophical place." Well said, dude.

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