Natural Harmony / Draft Morning - the Byrds
One day I'll do a series of posts on the great track transitions of all time. At first all songs on albums had a respectable gap between them. For instance, on "With the Beatles" (1963), the first LP I ever bought, the initial four songs are separated by 8, 9 and 7 seconds respectively, the average trackgap over the whole record working out at 8 seconds. By "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1967) it was down to 1.5 seconds if that.
The first ever instance in pop of an actual merge between consecutive songs occurs, I believe, at the beginning of the album between the songs "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "With a Little Help from my Friends" and then again twice between "Good Morning Good Morning" into "Sgt Pepper's (reprise)" and the magnificent "A Day in the Life". I say "I believe" because I may be wrong on this, I just can't think of any that are earlier.
The following year the first great transitions occurred on the Beatles' "White Album" going from "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" into "While my Guitar Gently Weeps", and the Byrds' "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" with "Natural Harmony" turning into "Draft Morning". The great transitions are not so much merge's as a musical moment that occurs to transport us to the next track. In the best transitions, the two songs are, as here, inextricably related.
"Draft Morning" is David Crosby's finest song. Like many things pertaining to Crosby, its creation was full of controversy. During the making of the "Notorious Byrd Brothers" he fell out with the rest of the Byrds because they were still buying in Gerry Goffin / Carole King songs as opposed to using their own (see last post again) and he walked out while they were half way through recording "Draft Morning", so his words were remembered and rewritten by McGuinn and Hillman. Paradoxically Crosby isn't even on the recording, but it's his best.
The only Youtube clip I could find with both "Natural Harmony" and "Draft Morning" on it has "Wasn't Born to Follow" as well, so you get a bonus. This was one of those Goffin/King songs that Crosby was complaining about, so maybe he was right, but the result is pure Byrds, so maybe he was wrong.
Natural Harmony" is a Chris Hillman song, not a Crosby composition, though Crosby's influence is surely there in its jazzy feel syncopated rhythm changes and its evocation of joy:
"Dancing through the streets side by side,
head thrown back, arms open wide...."
The song is a celebration of the beauty of life seen through the eyes of youth but the curiously edgy vocals hint at the everpresent grim reaper, much as the centre of Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt's youthful "The Hireling Shepherd" is a death's head moth.
Then 2 minutes 10 seconds in, the airbrushed cymbals, the bass, the 12 string Rickenbacker, then we're in, transition. Bliss.
And here's the grim reaper, Vietnam.
It's one of the great anti-war songs, with a beautiful melody, enhanced by stunning harmonies, a last stand military trumpet with battle noises, and a deep sadness that perfectly counterbalances the youthful zest of "Natural Harmony".
"Draft Morning". So short, so sweet, so sad. It gets you every time.
"Sun warm on my face, I hear you, down below moving slow and it's morning.
Take my time this morning, no hurry to learn to kill and take the will from unknown faces.
Today was the day for action, leave my bed to kill instead, why should it happen?"