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Eight Miles High
Eight Miles High demonstrates the power of a good arrangment. With bass building like a gathering thundercloud, rumbling guitar chords and tumbling drums usher in Roger McGuinn's memorable four note guitar lick.
Song facts
Composer  Clark/Crosby/McGuinn
Genre Pop
Album Fifth Dimension
Released 1966
UK Chart 24
On release, it was widely misinterpreted as a drug song and was banned by many radio stations, but was actually inspired by The Byrds' first trip to London in 1965, the "rain grey town/ known for its sound". Largely written by Gene Clark after a night spent partying with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, the lyrics are filled with references to the culture shock felt by the band. Their visit wasn't particularly well received by the press, and they were threatened with legal action by London band The Birds, hence the line "nowhere is there warmth to be found / among those afraid of losing their ground."

Clarke had already established himself as the bands most assured writer, with his literate folk rock tunes a highlight of their early canon. The original title, Six Miles High (the cruising height of a transatlantic airliner), was changed after it was decided 'Eight' sounded more poetic. Ironically, by the time the song was released Clarke had left the band, citing a fear of flying.

Always open to diverse influences, McGuinn's memorable guitar lick was inspired by jazz saxophonist John Coltrane's 'India', and his sparkling modal runs during the solos were a direct imitation of Coltrane's 'sheets of sound' style, perfectly reflecting the lyric's sense of dislocation and confusion. This is further enhanced by the chopping rhythm guitar and frantic drumming.

Although the song may not have been directly inspired by drugs, it placed the Byrds firmly at the forefront of the emerging psychedelic movement and remains one of the finest singles of the mid 60s.

Mick Fitzsimmons

Roger McGuinn talks about Eight Miles High
Roger McGuinn

Roger McGuinn reveals how a flight to England in 1965 proved to be the inspiration behind their classic song - "technically it should have been six miles high but six miles high didn't sound as good poetically".


Other versions
Roxy Music
 Roxy Music produced a stirring version of Eight Miles High on their Flesh and Blood album in 1980.

This song turned me on to all sorts of things

Malcolm, Middlesex

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The Byrds Homepage
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