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"Eight Miles High"

1966 U.S. picture sleeve.
Single by The Byrds
from the album Fifth Dimension
B-side "Why"
Released March 14, 1966
Format 7" single
Recorded January 24, January 25, 1966, Columbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
Genre Psychedelic rock, Raga rock
Length 3:33
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, David Crosby
Producer Allen Stanton
The Byrds singles chronology
"It Won't Be Wrong"
"Eight Miles High"
"5D (Fifth Dimension)"
Music sample
"Eight Miles High"

"Eight Miles High" is a song by the American rock band The Byrds, written by Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn, and David Crosby and first released as a single in March 1966 (see 1966 in music).[1] The single managed to reach the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 30 of the UK chart.[2][3] The song was also included on the band's third album, Fifth Dimension, released on July 18, 1966.[4]

The song was subject to a U.S. radio ban shortly after its release, following allegations published in the broadcasting trade journal the Gavin Report regarding perceived drug connotations in its lyrics.[5][6] The band strenuously denied these allegations at the time, but in later years both Clark and Crosby admitted that the song was at least partly inspired by their own drug use.[7][5] Musically influenced by Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane, "Eight Miles High", along with its McGuinn and Crosby penned B-side, "Why", was influential in developing the musical styles of psychedelic rock and raga rock.[7][6][8]



The song's obscure lyrics are, for the most part, about the group's flight to London in August 1965 and their accompanying English tour, as illustrated by the opening couplet: "Eight miles high and when you touch down, you'll find that it's stranger than known."[6] Although commercial airliners fly at an altitude of six to seven miles, it was felt that "eight miles high" sounded more poetic than six and also recalled The Beatles' song "Eight Days a Week".[6] According to Clark, the lyrics were primarily his creation, with a minor contribution being David Crosby's line "Rain grey town, known for its sound", a reference to London being home to the British Invasion that was dominating the U.S. charts at the time.[6][5][9] Other lyrics that refer to The Byrds' stay in England include "Nowhere is there warmth to be found/Among those afraid of losing their ground", a reference to the hostile reaction of the UK music press and to the English group The Birds, who had served the band with a copyright infringement writ (due to the similarities in name) upon their arrival in London.[10][11][9] The couplet "Round the squares, huddled in storms/Some laughing, some just shapeless forms" is a description of the fans who waited for the band outside their hotels and the line "Sidewalk scenes and black limousines" refers to the excited crowds that jostled the band as they exited their chauffeur driven cars.[9]

Although the basic idea for the song had been discussed during the flight to England, the song didn't actually begin to take shape until The Byrds' November 1965 tour of the U.S.[5] In order to alleviate the boredom of travelling from show to show during the tour, Crosby had brought along cassette recordings of Ravi Shankar's music and the John Coltrane albums Impressions and Africa/Brass, which were on constant rotation on the tour bus.[12][13] The influence of these recordings on the band would manifest itself in the music of "Eight Miles High" and its B-side, "Why".[12]

Clark began writing the song's lyrics on November 24, 1965, when he scribbled down some rough ideas for later development, prior to a concert appearance supporting The Rolling Stones.[5][14] Over the following days, Clark expanded this fragment into a full poem, eventually setting the words to music and giving them a melody.[5] Clark then showed the song to McGuinn and Crosby, with the former suggesting that they arrange the song to incorporate the influence of John Coltrane.[5] Since Clark's death, however, McGuinn has contended that it was he who conceived the initial idea of writing a song about an airplane ride and that he and Crosby both contributed lyrics to Clark's unfinished draft.[5] In his book, Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds' Gene Clark, author John Einarson disputes this claim and ponders whether McGuinn's story would be the same were Clark still alive.[5]

The influence of Coltrane's saxophone playing and in particular his song "India" from Impressions can be clearly heard in "Eight Miles High", most noticeably in McGuinn's reoccurring twelve-string guitar solo.[5] In addition to this striking guitar motif, the song is also highlighted by Chris Hillman's driving bass line, Crosby's chunky rhythm guitar playing and the band's ethereal harmonies.[15][7][5] In a 1966 promotional interview, which was added to the expanded CD reissue of the Fifth Dimension album, Crosby said that the song's ending made him "feel like a plane landing." The song also exhibits the influence of Ravi Shankar, particularly in the droning quality of the song's vocal melody and in McGuinn's guitar playing.[16][17] Despite The Byrds having appeared brandishing a sitar at a contemporary press conference, held to promote the release of "Eight Miles High", the instrument was not actually used in the song.[7]

Earlier versions of "Eight Miles High" and "Why", were recorded at RCA Studios in Los Angeles on December 22, 1965 but Columbia Records refused to release them because they had not been recorded at a Columbia owned studio.[18][7] McGuinn has since stated that he believes the original RCA version of "Eight Miles High" to be more spontaneous sounding than the better known Columbia release.[7] This opinion was echoed by Crosby who commented "It was a stunner, it was better, it was stronger. It had more flow to it. It was the way we wanted it to be."[7] These earlier versions of "Eight Miles High" and "Why" initially saw release on the 1987 album Never Before and were also included on the 1996 Columbia/Legacy CD reissue of Fifth Dimension.[19][20]

During the same month that "Eight Miles High" was released as a single, The Byrds' main songwriter, Gene Clark, left the band.[21] His fear of flying was stated as the official reason for his departure, although other contributing factors, including his tendency towards anxiety and paranoia, as well as his increasing isolation within the group, were also at work.[21][22] Following the release of "Eight Miles High" and Clark's departure, The Byrds never again managed to place a single in the Billboard Top 20.[2]

Release and legacy

"Eight Miles High" was issued on March 14, 1966 in the U.S. and May 29, 1966 in the UK, reaching #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #24 on the UK Singles Chart.[1][2][3][21] Upon its release, the band faced allegations of advocating the use of recreational drugs from Bill Gavin's Record Report, a weekly newsletter circulated to U.S. radio stations.[6] This resulted in a nationwide radio ban within a week of the report being published, a factor which contributed to the single's failure to break into the Billboard Top 10.[6] The Byrds and their publicist, Derek Taylor, countered by strenuously denying that the song was drug related, with Taylor issuing an indignant press release unequivocally stating that the song was about the band's trip to England and not drug use.[7] However, by the early 1980s both Crosby and Clark were prepared to admit that the song was not entirely as innocent as they had originally declared, with the former stating "Of course it was a drug song! We were stoned when we wrote it."[7] Clark was less blunt, explaining in interview that "it was about a lot of things. It was about the airplane trip to England, it was about drugs, it was about all that. A piece of poetry of that nature is not limited to having it have to be just about airplanes or having it have to be just about drugs. It was inclusive because during those days the new experimenting with all the drugs was a very vogue thing to do."[5]

The song's use of Indian and free form jazz influences, along with its impressionistic lyrics, were immediately influential on the emerging genre of psychedelic rock.[21][23] The song was also responsible for the naming of the musical subgenre raga rock when journalist Sally Kempton, in her review of the single for The Village Voice, first used the term to describe the record's experimental fusion of eastern and western music.[24] However, although Kempton was the first person to use the term "raga rock" in print, she had actually borrowed it from the promotional press material that accompanied the "Eight Miles High" single.[8] The experimental nature of the song placed The Byrds firmly at the forefront of the burgeoning psychedelic movement, along with The Yardbirds, The Beatles, Donovan and The Rolling Stones, who were all exploring similar musical territory concurrently.[23]

The band performed the song on a number of television programs during the 1960s and 1970s, including Popside, Drop In, Midweek, and Beat-Club.[25] Additionally, the song would go on to become a staple of The Byrds’ live concert repertoire, until their final disbandment in 1973.[25] The song was also performed live by a reformed line-up of The Byrds featuring Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Chris Hillman in January 1989.[25] The song would remain a favorite of Clark's and would often be performed live during his solo concert appearances until his death in 1991.[5] McGuinn also continues to perform the song in his live concerts.[26] Although Crosby has revisted the song infrequently in his post-Byrds career, it was performed during Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's reunion tour of 2000, with Neil Young handling McGuinn's complex guitar solo while the other three members sang the song's three-part harmonies.[16]

Contemporary reviews for the single were almost universally positive, with Billboard magazine describing the song as a "Big beat rhythm rocker with soft lyric ballad vocal and off-beat instrumental backing."[21] Record World magazine also praised the song, commenting "It's an eerie tune with lyrics bound to hypnotize. Will climb heights."[21] In the UK, Music Echo described the song as "wild and oriental but still beaty". The publication also suggested that with the release of "Eight Miles High" The Byrds had jumped ahead of The Beatles in terms of creativity, stating "[By] getting their single out now they've beaten The Beatles to the punch, for Paul admitted recently that the Liverpool foursome are working on a similar sound for their new album and single."[27] In recent years, Richie Unterberger, writing for the Allmusic website, has described "Eight Miles High" as "one of the greatest singles of the '60s."[4]

In addition to its appearance on the Fifth Dimension album, "Eight Miles High" also appears on several Byrds' compilations, including The Byrds' Greatest Hits, History of The Byrds, The Original Singles: 1965–1967, Volume 1, The Byrds, The Very Best of The Byrds, The Essential Byrds and There Is a Season.[28] Additionally, a 16-minute live version of "Eight Miles High" was included on the Byrds' 1970 album, (Untitled), and another live version was released as part of the 2008 album, Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971.[29][30]

In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Eight Miles High" at #150 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time[31] and in March 2005, Q magazine placed the song at #50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.[32]

Cover versions

The song has been recorded many times, notably by Golden Earring during 1969, who put a nineteen-minute version of the song on their Eight Miles High album.

"Eight Miles High"
Single by Hüsker Dü
Released March 1984
Recorded October 1983
Genre Alternative rock
Hardcore punk
Length 3:56
Label SST
Producer Spot
Hüsker Dü singles chronology
"In a Free Land"
"Eight Miles High"
"Celebrated Summer"

Other artists who have recorded the song include:

Quotes and film appearances

The Doors' 1968 song "Spanish Caravan", itself based on the classical piece "Asturias" by Isaac Albéniz, has a part, 27 seconds in, which is similar to the opening chord progression of "Eight Miles High".[citation needed]

Don McLean's song "American Pie" makes reference to "Eight Miles High" with the lines "The Birds [sic] flew off with a fall-out shelter/Eight miles high and falling fast."[34] The First Edition name checked the song's title in the lyric "I tripped on a cloud and fell a-eight miles high" from their song "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)".[citation needed]

The independent rock band Okkervil River reference "Eight Miles High" in their song "Plus Ones" (from the 2007 album The Stage Names). The song, which mentions several classic numerical lyrics but alters their original intentions by adding one, includes the line, "You would probably die before you shot up nine miles high."[citation needed] Two songs on Bruce Springsteen's 2009 album Working on a Dream make production homages to "Eight Miles High".[35]

The Byrds' version was featured in the 1983 film Purple Haze.[36]


  1. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. pp. 541-544. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Byrds chart data". Ultimate Music Database. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  3. ^ a b Brown, Tony. (2000). The Complete Book of the British Charts. Omnibus Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-7119-7670-8. 
  4. ^ a b "Fifth Dimension review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Einarson, John. (2005). Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds' Gene Clark. Backbeat Books. pp. 82-85. ISBN 0-87930-793-5. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. pp. 158-163. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. pp. 152-157. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  8. ^ a b Bellman, Jonathan. (1997). The Exotic In Western Music. Northeastern Publishing. p. 351. ISBN 1-555-53319-1. 
  9. ^ a b c "Eight Miles High". Roger McGuinn's Official Blog. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  10. ^ "Sold on Song: Eight Miles High". BBC. Retrieved 2009-11-12. 
  11. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. p. 95. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  12. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. p. 141. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  13. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 75. ISBN 1-90600-215-0. 
  14. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 72. ISBN 1-90600-215-0. 
  15. ^ "Eight Miles High". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  16. ^ a b Lavezzoli, Peter. (2007). The Dawn of Indian music in the West. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 155-157. ISBN 0-826-42819-3. 
  17. ^ Crosby, David. (1990). Long Time Gone: The Autobiography of David Crosby. Mandarin Paperbacks. p. 99. ISBN 0-7493-0283-6. 
  18. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. p. 620. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  19. ^ "Fifth Dimension". ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  20. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (1996). Fifth Dimension (1996 CD liner notes). 
  21. ^ a b c d e f Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. pp. 84-87. ISBN 1-90600-215-0. 
  22. ^ Einarson, John. (2005). Mr. Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of The Byrds' Gene Clark. Backbeat Books. pp. 87-88. ISBN 0-87930-793-5. 
  23. ^ a b "Psychedelic Rock Overview". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  24. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 88. ISBN 1-90600-215-0. 
  25. ^ a b c Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited. Rogan House. pp. 591-617. ISBN 0-95295-401-X. 
  26. ^ "Roger McGuinn Interview". Modern Guitars Magazine. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  27. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965-1973). Jawbone Press. p. 91. ISBN 1-90600-215-0. 
  28. ^ "Eight Miles High album appearances". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  29. ^ "(Untitled) review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  30. ^ "Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971 review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  31. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  32. ^ "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks". Retrieved 2009-11-08. 
  33. ^ "A Trip Down the Sunset Strip review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  34. ^ "Don McLean's American Pie - Official Lyrics". Don McLean Online. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  35. ^ "Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2009-01-28. 
  36. ^ "Purple Haze: Soundtrack". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 

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