Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Compare and Contrast: The Only Way to Travel

From 1966 (but unreleased until 1989) here's The (at the height of their powers) Byrds and a very cool studio version of the venerable "I Know You Rider."

And from a year later, here's land-locked Boulder, Colorado surf band The Astronauts with another perspective on the song.

[Audio Note: This is one of those really weird early stereo mixes -- it sounds horrible on headphones, but just fine on real speakers. Act accordingly.]

And finally, from the Avalon Ballroom in late September 1966, here's the Grateful Dead with their take.

The song itself is as old as the proverbial hills, although its first modern appearance dates back to a 1934 John and Alan Lomax folklore anthology; by the 60s, it was pretty much a blues and folkie standard. The Byrds opened their live shows with it for much of 1966-67, but that version was in majestic open-D tuning; the studio track above is in G, the better to emulate (as Roger McGuinn has noted on several occasions) the Beatles then current "Paperback Rider." The Dead also used to play it a lot back in the day; it's no secret I'm not particularly a fan, but I must admit that discovering this version was a bit of an eye-opener. It noodles a little too much for my taste (so what else is new?) but it works up a pretty effective head of steam by the time it sort of collides to a halt.

Actually, on balance I think I kind of prefer the Astronauts' cover. The whole surf thing was of course pretty much passé at this point, and their albums found them trying on whatever current rock styles they thought they could credibly get away with, with often cringeworthy results. But this one has a genuinely authentic folk-rock vibe and the rhythm section really kicks; if the San Francisco hippies in the psychedelic ballrooms the year this was released had actually heard it, I suspect they might even have approved.


pete said...

I like the Astronauts version, too. A good arrangement and the singer channels Barry McGuire with less pomposity.

And who's in that picture of the Byrds beside McGuinn and Crosby? The guy in the back might be Mike Clarke, maybe, but the other guy isn't Hillman, is it?

steve simels said...

The guy on the left is Hillman. He used to straighten his hair back then. And the guy in the back is Clarke. Definitely.

Gummo said...

The Byrds version is kinda lame, but you're right, that Astronauts version kicks nicely. All it's missing is a strong solo in the middle.

Rider was a song that the Dead played throughout their entire 30 year career, and it never disappointed. They did acoustically, electrically, slow, mid-tempo, fast. Didn't matter, it always paid off.

Their most common arrangement of the song was as a segue out of China Cat Sunflower. The one that most Deadheads consider the 'standard' version is found on Europe 72, and I don't know 10 minutes of more joyous music on this planet.

Michael said...

Love the guitars on the Astronauts version but absolutely hate the vocal. The dead and I don't mix well, so my vote goes to the jingle and the jangle.

edward said...

Take out the vocals for The Astronauts and the arrangement sounds like something from It's A Beautiful Day. Odd

Word Verification: Malice. I really like that one;>

Wendy said...

Their most common arrangement of the song was as a segue out of China Cat Sunflower. The one that most Deadheads consider the 'standard' version is found on Europe 72, and I don't know 10 minutes of more joyous music on this planet.

I completely concur.

I saw Phil Lesh and Friends in concert a few years back. They started the set with "China Cat Sunflower", segued from one song to the next for 45 minutes, took a break, came back and did another uninterrupted 45 minutes, ending with "I Know You Rider". Lesh had a great guitarist with him (Warren Haynes, maybe) who really knew how to take off with the cues Lesh was giving him, and the music kicked, shall we say, ass.

jackd said...

I really like the Astronauts vocal. It's such a delightful contrast to the publicity photo. Wouldn't you love to know what those guys looked like four or five years later?

steve simels said...

The album that its from still has them dressed in suits with pretty short hair, especially for 1967.

Anonymous said...

Hey, let's have a big hand for the musicologists in the room. C'mon guys, stand up and take a bow. If not for the Lomax's, Charles Seeger, Bascam Lumsford, etc, or their musical disciples (eg, Dylan), many quintessential American forms of music (R'n'B, bluegrass, country, folk rock, psychedelic rock, on and on) would be nonexistent or incredibly uninteresting. The Grateful Dead would have had to jam on Broadway standards. The Byrds' first single would have been "Wait Til The Sun Shines Nellie."


Gummo said...

AP --

Don't forget Harry Smith, his seminal set of Anthology of Folk Music albums were devoured in the late 40s and 50s by the kids who became the folk and rock musicians of the 1960s -- Dylan, Garcia, Van Ronk, Bromberg, and all their peers.

Anonymous said...

Gummo --



Anonymous said...

I always loved the Hounds doing "I Know You Rider" live. It kicked ass. I think I have a live version of them doing it from 74' at the legendary Sano City.


Anonymous said...

yeah how 'bout a hand for those guys whose names mysteriously ended up as co-writers (or sole writers)of these tunes.

As Chuck Berry said, "who's Fratto?"

steve simels said...

Ah yes -- the great Morris Levy. Sole writer of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." I completely believe that.