Album: Fifth Dimension
Ladies and Gentlemens, welcome to my favorite song from the 1960s.
That’s right: I love “Eight Miles High” even more than “What Goes On” or “I Can See For Miles” or “Visions of Johanna” or “She Said She Said,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” There isn’t anything I don’t love about “Eight Miles High”
I love that it’s the last Byrds song that Gene Clark had a hand in (talk about passing the torch!), and that for whatever punchline David Crosby later became, he at the very least co-wrote this.
I love how got banned for being about drugs when it’s so clearly about flying to London and how it inspired Husker Du to not just create the greatest cover version in rock history, but write a sequel (”Dead Set on Destruction”) where they’re stuck in London forever.
I love Chris Hillman’s ominous bassline, and how Roger McGuinn’s guitar comes in playing the main theme, and then almost instantly devolves (but really heightens) into an insane mess of Coltraney Shankarisms for a few seconds until setting up that opening phrase:
Eight miles high
And then, for an instant, the entire universe stops, until Michael Clarke’s drum roll snaps it back into existence.
And when you touch down
You’ll find that it’s stranger than known
And there’s that drum roll again, which will spend the rest of the song as a spirit guide, only appearing when it is absolutely necessary to make sure the entire song stays together after McGuinn’s guitar continually threatens to rip a hole in the fabric of the universe. (I originally wrote “rip a whole in the fabric of the universe” and now I’m convinced that McGuinn was trying to do that as well!)
At the end of the day, it’s kinda ironic that it took jazz-influenced guitar solos to create a full-fledged psychedelic rock classic, but there it is, and what’s so beautiful about the guitar solo is that McGuinn clearly didn’t know what the fuck he was doing. I mean he did conceptually: he knew how to leave holes (and wholes!) at first to set up tension, he knew how bring the main theme back in before just randomly splattering notes everywhere, but the fact that he was in no way a virtuoso was what made all three solos so powerful.
And so what does it all add up to? A single that must have been incredibly weird to hear over the radio, one of the first psychedelic songs – predating even “Rain” or “Tomorrow Never Knows” – and one of the most gorgeous and influential songs ever recorded.
“Eight Miles High”