During an action-packed Byrds tour of the UK in August 1965, ideas began to form in Gene Clark’s mind for a new song. After germinating for several weeks, he began to put his thoughts on paper during the band’s U.S. tour in November 1965. Traveling from gig to gig, David Crosby’s cassettes of Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane provided the tour bus soundtrack. As Clark continued writing the song that would become ‘‘Eight Miles High,’’ this exotic music, especially Coltrane’s recordings, found their way into the composition. Juxtaposed against lyrical snapshots of London, like ‘‘rain grey town, known for its sound,’’ the modal melody created a striking contrast and summoned a surreal, flight-like feeling. Despite Clark’s increasing isolation from the group, it was obvious that ‘‘Eight Miles High’’ was a work of major importance and the group promptly made plans to record it.
The band entered RCA Studios in Los Angeles on December 22, 1965, to track ‘‘Eight Miles High,’’ along with a new Roger McGuinn– David Crosby song ‘‘Why.’’ They had worked up an explosive arrangement for the Clark song, adding elements culled from their recent highway listening sessions. The Coltrane influence is especially evident in McGuinn’s electric twelve-string solo, inspired by Coltrane’s free-form sax lines on ‘‘India.’’ Shankar’s sitar work is reflected in Chris Hillman’s driving bass part, a hypnotic drone against which McGuinn’s guitar lines shine in high relief. This Eastern influence also emerges on the high energy ‘‘Why’’ with McGuinn creating a sitar-like solo on his guitar while employing non-Western scales. Though not a conscious attempt, these songs were later sited as pioneering examples of raga rock, one of several innovative sub-genres, along with folk rock and country rock that the band explored in their career. Despite the unqualified artistic success of the RCA sessions, Columbia refused to release the tracks because they had not been recorded in a Columbia-owned studio. The band dutifully re-recorded the two songs at Columbia Studios in Hollywood and these recordings were released as a single and later included in the Fifth Dimension album. However, the band was not fully satisfied with this second attempt, believing that the RCA recordings were better.
This special Sundazed release marks the first use of the recently-located original mono mixdown masters. McGuinn has always felt that the first recordings of these songs were more spontaneous. And when asked about the RCA version of ‘‘Eight Miles High’’ Crosby declared, ‘‘It was a stunner, it was better, it was stronger. It was the way we wanted it to be.’’