AUK’s Chain Gang: The Byrds “Wild Mountain Thyme”

Last week Mark Nenadic took a look back to the Carter Family’s ‘Wildwood Flower’ and since we’re talking about all things wild, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is one of those folk tunes that has seen countless versions. Originally a Scottish tune by poet Robert Tannahill and composer Robert Archibald Smith, it was adapted by Belfast musician Francis McPeake, who seems to have recorded it first too.

It also seems to have inspired the wild element in some of its interpreters later on, certainly The Byrds, who recorded it for ‘Fifth Dimension,’ one of their most ‘wildly’ uneven earlier albums. Somehow, this wildly uneven analogy became some sort of the standard for the band from the seventies phase of the band’s career.

But, with all the unevenness of ‘Fifth Dimension,’ their version of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is one of the best things on the album. In many of its elements, it is the archetypal early phase of The Byrds. The addition of the strings to the chiming guitars and harmonies is an excellent touch that maybe gives the song that fifth dimension that big chunks of this album are missing. 

Of course, the key saving grace here is ‘Eight Miles High,’ but in many ways, their version of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ is a precursor of one of the strains of Americana that tackles all things roots.

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