“Eight Miles High” — Three Views

The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, eventually reaching number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.   Influenced by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass album, it was one of the first (if not the first) glimmerings of psychedelic rock.  And thus a progenitor of prog?  I think so.

Check out three views of this pioneering tune for yourself.  First, a Byrds promo appearance lip-syncing for an unknown TV show.  Note David Crosby’s brilliant outfit, complete with Russian hat:

Of course, “Eight Miles High” has been covered numerous times.  Back in 1988, it was the one of the key tracks on To The Power of Three, the collaboration of Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry.  How Eighties is this?  Check out Berry’s headless Steinberger bass!  Emerson’s keytar!  Palmer wielding a Dynacord electronic drum controller at the front of the stage!  Plus the, uh, dancers “playing” snare drums in the background.  Goodness!  (Though it does serve as a reminder that Robert Berry releases his posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson, 3.2: The Rules Have Changed, on August 10.)

Three years later (ouch) in 1991, “Eight Miles High” was one of the cover tunes on Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s album Spin.  Since their 1981 version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” had snagged number one on the British single charts, Stewart and Gaskin had been bringing a thoroughly proggy attitude to the synth-pop duo format.  Spin is no different, mixing quirky originals with fresh takes on Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — and the Byrds.  One bonus feature of the album: the precocious pre-Porcupine Tree percussion of Gavin Harrison.  Check out the spectacular drum fill that kicks off this version!

Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s new album Star Clocks, featuring “eight Dave Stewart originals alongside a cover of an iconic 1960s song,” is out on August 17.  Pre-order it at Burning Shed.

Bonus track: Stewart & Gaskin’s samurai/Beach Boys/cathedral bells version of “It’s My Party,” with special guest video appearance by … Thomas Dolby?

— Rick Krueger

4 thoughts on ““Eight Miles High” — Three Views

  1. For some reason I’d never even heard of the Dave Stewart or the Power of Three versions. Stewart’s version is faithful to the spirit of the original arrangement, and yes, nice proggy keyboards. Alas, the Power of Three version doesn’t hold up as well for me despite Emerson’s nice licks at the end. But oh that video, none more 80s!!

    Meanwhile in another part of the 80s, Husker Du issued 8 Miles High as a single, with the most throat-shredding vocal ever recorded. Here’s a later live performance on a suitably gray day

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kruekutt

      When my college choir toured England & Scotland in 1981, Stewart’s version of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (with Colin Blunstone of the Zombies & the Alan Parsons Project on vocals) was one of the records I bought. I’d loved Stewart’s keyboard work on Bill Bruford’s albums, and thought that it was a pretty cool lateral move. Later that year, when I traveled to Ann Arbor for a graduate school interview, there was “It’s My Party” on sale in Schoolkids Records. The rest was history!

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  2. richierwalker

    I’m sat here outside our hotel at Poppit Sands, S.Wales waiting for a bus to take us into Cardigan for Day 2 of The Sixteenth Dream Of Dr. Sardonicus Prog Festival. I come across this thread wearing my Fifth Dimension Byrds t-shirt, Eight Miles High features on Fifth Dimension of course. I’m gonna take that as a good sign for the day ahead.
    About ‘Eight Miles High’, IMHO this song is one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded and no one has ever come anywhere near a version of equal standing, kudos to them for trying.

    Liked by 1 person

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