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Eight Miles High

by

The Byrds



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Many people believe this song is about drugs, but the band claimed it was inspired by a flight where singer Gene Clark asked guitarist Roger McGuinn how high up they were. McGuinn told him 6 miles, but for the song they changed it to 8. The band had been doing a lot of drugs at the time, including LSD, which this is probably about. If the band admitted the drug references, they knew it would get banned by radio stations, and that's exactly what happened when a radio industry publication reported that it was about drugs and stations should be careful about playing it. As soon as one station dropped it, others followed and it quickly sank off the charts.
In his book Echoes, Gene Clark said that he wrote the song on his own with David Crosby coming up with one key line ("Rain gray town, known for its sound"), and Roger McGuinn arranging the song with help from Crosby. In the Forgotten Hits newsletter, McGuinn replied: "Not true! The whole theme was my idea... Gene would never have written a song about flying. I came up with the line 'Six miles high and when you touch down.' We later changed that to Eight because of the Beatles song "Eight Days a Week." I came up with several other lines as well. And what would the song be without the Rickenbacker 12-string breaks?" (Thanks to Kent at the Forgotten Hits newsletter, which you can join at The60sshop@aol.com.)
This created a genré known as "Acid Rock," which was a kind of psychedelic music that became popular in the late '60s. Unfortunately for The Byrds, it also killed their Pop career.
The band recorded this on their own, but Columbia Records made them re-record it before they would put it on the album, partly because they had contracts with unions. The Byrds liked the first version better.
Don McLean referred to this in his song "American Pie," which chronicles the change in musical style from the '50s to the '60s. The line is "Eight miles high and falling fast- landed foul out on the grass." McLean could be sardonically implying that the song is about drugs, since "foul grass" was slang for marijuana. (thanks, Brett - Edmonton, Canada)
Husker Du recorded a Noise-Pop version in 1985. (thanks, Paul - Glasgow, Scotland)
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Comments (45):

Leo Kottke's version is outstanding and it is incredible to see him play it live in concert. I have had the privilege of seeing him 22 times in concert since the mid-80s and I am always delighted when he includes Eight Miles High in his set.
- Linda, Inland Empire, CA
I think it is both about the Byrds trip to England and not being well received and the Small faces being given LSD in an orange which is the source of Itchycoo Park. I wondered if Round the square was Picadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square. David said in an interview that he played tapes of Coltrane and Shankar to affect McGuinn's lead playing.
- Marion, Anderson, SC
I always thought this song was about arriving in Viet Nam after a flight in a troop transport plane. The lyrics seem to lend themselves to bewilderment in a strange land, which was at the time.... Viet Nam. I also thought the song referred to the actions/inactions of the U. S. Government during this timeframe regarding the Viet Nam war. Guess I was tuned out on this one, but I love the song and will continue to think about its serious connotations.
- Brad, Fairfax, VA
This is a great song. Great harmonies and great example of that famous "jangly" guitar. But...the guitar solo sucks! No rhythm, no melody. Just kind of starts and goes aimlessly. Also sounds like the guitar was dropped halfway through and then picked up and finished. Almost like a parody of a guitar solo...except that it's real.
- Jeff, Concord, CA
In 1970 the Byrds turned "Eight Miles High" into a jam warhorse. McGuinn supported by guitar wizard Clarence White, bassist Skip Battin and drummer Gene Parsons would jam for about 20 minutes. Battin & Parsons also engaged in a bass/drum duet for a while. This arrangement can be heard on the double LP "(untitled)." Additionally the Byrds can be seen doing this during a live television appearance from Fillmore East, NYC on September 23, 1970.
- Barry, New York, NC
The Coltrane track is India, you can hear the riff at 2:22

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wuaquaMmGA
- Jim, London, United Kingdom
The line "in places small faces unbound" refers to English mod band Small Faces.
- Elizabeth, Hoschton, GA
A few minutes ago I heard on 'Randy's Vinyl Tap' that the song was originally 'Seven Miles High' but was changed because 'it sang better'.
- Reg, Kemptville, ON, -
mark, costa mesa, Kristine Mckenna also wrote art reviews in the la times, and in august 09 i saw an article of hers in the new york times.
- jim, venice, CA
Hi

Does anybody know where I can get the electronic, or what you call it, version of this song. Its hillarious:)
My brother once had it on a sort of compilation of Byrds songs and they where all played on synthesizers.
- Jakob Carlsen, København N, Denmark
I'm surfing songfacts this morning. When I was young, I went to as many concerts as I could. I paid my own way. I met as many bands as I could. All are memorable some good some bad. I met the Byrds in 1966 or 1967. After meeting them, I never listened to their music again. They were rude, snobs who forgot who put them where they were. I also spoke with a local (Providence Rhode Island) opening band for the Byrds that night. They said pretty much the same thing. The Bryds wouldn't talk to anyone backstage. They just stood around with their noses in the air. Too bad because no matter how important we might think we are, we are all basically in this dance together and none of us is any better than the other.
- Valerie, Eureka, CA
some of the BYRDS were into flying and chose to incorporate it in their music with songs like Eight Miles High, Mr. Spaceman, and 242 Foxtrot (the Lear Jet song). these guys were heavy duty musicians who unfortunately had to play in the shadows of Beatlemania. speaking of more birds, Neil Diamond did a movie complete with songs and soundtrack called Jonothan Livingstone Seagull.
- roman, barrie, ON
The song "5th Dimension" was more about acid that this one actually.
- Reed, New Ulm, MN
An ultra-obscure late '60s Detroit garage band called The Index does a wonderfully atmospheric version of EMH. It's on youtube for anyone interested.

Somebody should do an Eight Miles High tribute CD and collect all the best versions of this masterpiece.
- Gary, Portland, OR
This was played fairly often on the university radio station I listened to in 1970. In the early autumn of that year I remember it charting very high (ha!) on their weekly survey. I assumed (and still do) that it was about going somewhere by plane -while- on drugs.
- Ekristheh, Halath, United States
A little clarification regarding Small Faces: Rod Stewart was not in the band when the Byrds could have heard them in 1966 (or when they released "Itchycoo Park" in 1967) - he and Roonie Wood joined with three members of the group in 1969 after they left the Jeff Beck Group, at which time they renamed themselves Faces.
- Jeff, Long Island, NY
I always thought this was about flying to London.
"Rain gray town" certainly is not L.A. And who cares what drugs they were on -- show of hands?
McGuinn also sings about London in a beautiful song in 5/4 time.
- Alan, Greene, RI
I am looking for a version done by a female folk-singer-songwriter in the 80s-90s that was very original. I can't remember her name but she was playing around the LA area at the time and I remember reviews of her performance by I believe, Kristine McKenna, in the LA Times. Does anyone know who she might be?

BTW- I saw the 'Untitled' Byrds play this song in 1971 and it was brilliant!
- Mark, Costa Mesa, CA
If ever there was a Rock Family Tree worth looking at, it has to be the Byrds. They link everyone and everything that came out of the US in the late 60s, and spawned such luminaries as Crosby, Stills & Nash; Gram Parsons; Manassas; Buffallo Springfield et al.....
- Dave, Liverpool, United Kingdom
John/Jasper,CAN - Yeah, I've wondered whether the Small Faces took their name from that line in this tune, or the line is mentioning the band. BTW, it was Rod Stewart & The Small Faces ("Itchykoo Park," arguably about an acid trip), and Rod later dropped the SF name (& maybe the band?) *** Also, at that time, I believe Roger McGuinn was still Jim McGuinn, wasn't he? His name change was odd, but although he's a bit wacky, he is a genius. I mean, just listen to that guitar work!
- Fred, Laurel, MD
Yeah obviously there is the drug conatations but McGuinn was obsessed with flying (I think he got a pilot's licence), Gene Clark hated flying. A quote from the time was that Gene left the Byrds on the steps of an aeroplane because of this. McGuinn reportedly said "You're a Byrd so you can fly". Great song, seminal song for me, being a young guitarist when it came out. McGuinn says in the sleeve notes of the album that he based the solo on John Coltraine. Seen him playing it live twice but don't think I would savour a 20 minute solo. Love the guy but JC he ain't.
- John, Dundee, United Kingdom
I've got to agree with TJ in Chicago. Leo Kottke's cover--at least the live version that I heard--is brilliant. It's as spare and simple as the original is frenzied and psychedelic, so in that sense the two versions are starkly different. Yet Kottke's cover is true to the spirit of the original. Kottke's voice is low, quavering, and hasn't much range but it matches and magnifies the haunting mood of the song.
- Kevin, Syracuse, UT
The Byrd's are probadly the most influential
sucessful band no-one really talks about. Eight
Miles High is a awesome song - In addition Chesnut Mare is one of the gratest acoustic arrangements ever recorded- Very few know that
the Eagles are a direct outgrowth of the Byrds
in addition to Buffalo Springfield. America's
musical past is greatly unappreciated- Byrds,Poco,
NRPS,Flying Burrito Brothers, Early Eagles,the list goes on.flv
- francis l. vena, new york city,, NY
Lyrically this song was a diliberately cryptic account of the band's first visit to England.You had to be in the know to understand that,ie the "small faces" referred to were an up and coming band.Of course it referrs to the altitude that planes fly at.Soon afterward it was recorded,the song was tipped off as a drug song.
- john, jasper, Canada
The tune and the slow way that is the song is sung is thought-provoking. It's interesting...it's always made me listen closely to it. It makes me think of the rain...eight miles high.
- Heather, Los Angeles, CA
The best version of this track is from the 'Untitled' double LP where one side of one LP is @ 20 minutes long and is a live version (don't know where!)- fantastic - does anyone know if it's available on CD?
Ian Alicante Spain
- Ian, Alicante, Spain
Leo Kottke's version of this song is amazing. The song is written in a minor key and his version is very haunting. There's not much that's funny about it, or even countryish, as Elliot suggests below, other than perhaps the drumming and guitar backbeat. Kottke really gets into the spirit of the song and makes you hear the well-crafted lyrics like: "Rain grey town, known for it's sound, in places, small faces unbound..."
- TJ, Chicago, IL
Chris Hillman re-recorded this song on his album "The Other Side" in 2005. I like the bluegrass version better than the original. Chris plays mandolin, and bluegrass legend Herb Peterson produced the album.
If you're into bluegrass this cd is a keeper!
- DAVE, ATCO, NM
Covered very well by Roxy Music on the Flesh & Blood album
- Luke, Manchester, England
Bill Muni was also in the band 'America'.
- rob, vancouver, Canada
I saw McGuinn in a solo concert a couple of years ago -- he said that the guitar solo on this record was an attempt to sound like the sax solos of jazz legend John Coltrane.
- Sanford, Chicago, IL
This song was also covered by the short-lived Geffen recording artists Three in 1988. Three consisted of Keith Emerson, Robert Berry, and Carl Palmer. The modernistic, synth-heavy version that appeared on their only album also featured "updated" lyrics.
- Steve, Torrance, CA
This song was recorded during a time when it was unusual for anyone NOT to be on drugs. That aside, I always thought it was inspired by Gene Clark's well documented, obsessive fear of flying. As gossip has it, this phobia was the second reason for his leaving the band, the first being McGuinn and Crosby's controlling alliance. Great song and performance by this incarnation of the band at their peak.
- david, Plymouth, MA
Cool song!! Cool intro!! Of course it's about drugs.
- Stefanie, Rock Hill, SC
Billy Mumy, who played the little brother in the LOST IN SPACE TV series from 1965 to 1968 was a Byrds fan.

How apropriate!

DANGER DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!
- Steve, Salt Lake City, UT
I love it, the Byrds rock on!!
- Dan, Lee, NH
This is #150 on Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
- Ross, Independence, MO
Founding Byrd Gene Clark who co-wrote this song eventually quit the band due to his fear of flying.
- craig, madison, WI
The song is there best, that is in my opinion. I think that its timing was great and it's hidden message of round squares and shapeless forms will tell you the true meaning.
- nick, Buffalo, NY
In my opinion, i think that not only does the song scream drugs, but if you really think about it, towards the end, it kinda notes death too.
- Ashley, Magnolia , DE
I Like Leo Kottke version it reminds alot of Johnny Cash's cover of Personal Jesus, just straight up music
- Ken, Sugar Land , TX
Although the rest of the band said it wsa not a drug song, Crosby claimed the song was both about drugs and not about drugs. "Of course it was a drug song. We were stoned when we wrote it. We can also justifiably say that it wasn't a drug song because it was written about the trip to London. it was a drug song and it wasn't a drug song at the same time."
- aaron, new york, NY
Leo Kottke did an interesting version of this. His twelve-string playing is, as always, excellent on this song...but his vocals and the countryish tempo just don't fit this particular song - it's actually pretty funny, in the same way a song sung by William Shatner is funny.
- Elliott, Douglassville, PA
This song was released on Fifth Dimension in '66
- Yorick, Columbia, MO
this song is mentioned in Don McLean's American pie "the byrds flew off of the fallout shelter/eight miles high and falling fast"
- leigha, New York, NY
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