Certain Songs #158: The Byrds – “Wild Mountain Thyme”

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Album: Fifth Dimension.

Year: 1966.

A serious contender for The Prettiest Song Ever Recorded (Folk Division), “Wild Mountain Thyme” has of course been recorded dozens and dozens of times. I’ve heard only a fraction of those, but I can’t imagine any of them being more achingly gorgeous that the block vocals / 12-string guitar / soaring strings arrangement that The Byrds pull off here.

That said, I have to give a shout-out to a version of this song that Peter Case performed solo live in the KFSR studios in either 1986 or 1987. I treasured my cassette copy of that show for years. You know, until I lost it. Because I lost nearly all of the cassettes that I treasured in the 1980s, which almost killed me.

On Fifth Dimension, “Wild Mountain Thyme” is filler, for sure. Gene Clark had left the band, and neither McGuinn or Crosby had more than a couple of songs ready to go, and instead of doing Dylan songs (only two of their eight 1960s album didn’t have at least one Dylan song), they decided to do traditional songs that may influenced Dylan, whom in 1966 was taking tradition out into a back alley and beating it to within an inch of its life.

But it’s great filler. And sticking a gorgeous old folk ballad in between a waltz about the Theory of Relativity (or taking acid) (or both!) and a country song about wanting to be abducted by aliens pretty much sets the listener up for the psychedelic madness still to come.

Video for “Wild Mountain Thyme”

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