Folk rock. Pretty much sums this album up. It’s good if you’re in the mood for it. Most of you might remember the song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!…” from Forrest Gump. If you dug that song, you’ll probably dig the rest of The Byrds catalog. I usually prefer something more electronic or brutal, or both. Anyway, not bad, but not high on the list of things I’d put on outside this project.
Mr. Tambourine Man is the debut album by the American folk rock band The Byrds and was released in June 1965 on Columbia Records (see 1965 in music). The album, along with the single of the same name, established the band as an internationally successful rock act and was also influential in originating the musical style known as folk rock. The term “folk rock” was, in fact, first coined by the U.S. music press to describe the band’s sound in mid-1965, at around the same time that the “Mr. Tambourine Man” single reached the top of the Billboard chart. The single and album also represented the first effective American challenge to the dominance of The Beatles and the British Invasion during the mid-1960s.
The album peaked at No.6 on the Billboard Top LPs chart and reached No.7 in the United Kingdom. The Bob Dylan penned “Mr. Tambourine Man” single was released ahead of the album in April 1965, reaching No.1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart. A second single from the album, “All I Really Want to Do“, also a Dylan cover, was moderately successful in the U.S. but fared better in the United Kingdom, where it reached the Top 10.
Prior to forming The Byrds, most of the members of the band had come from a folk androots music background, rather than a rock and roll one. Lead guitarist Jim McGuinn[a]had been a folk singer at various New York and Los Angeles folk clubs during the early 1960s and had also served as a sideman with the “collegiate folk” groups The Limelitersand the Chad Mitchell Trio. Additionally, he had spent time as a professional songwriter at the Brill Building under the tutelage of Bobby Darin. Gene Clark had also worked as a solo folk singer and as part of The New Christy Minstrels, while David Crosbyhad spent time in New York’s Greenwich Village as a folk singer and had also been a member of Les Baxter’s Balladeers. Chris Hillman‘s background was more oriented towards bluegrass music than folk, having been a member of the Scottsville Squirrel Barkers, the Golden State Boys (who later renamed themselves The Hillmen), and concurrently with his recruitment into The Byrds, The Green Grass Group. DrummerMichael Clarke‘s musical pedigree was less auspicious, having played congas in a semi-professional capacity in and around San Francisco and L.A. since leaving his home in Spokane, Washington at the age of 16.
McGuinn and Clark initially met at The Troubadour club in Los Angeles and soon formed a Peter and Gordon style duo, playing Beatles’ covers, Beatlesque renditions of traditional folk songs, and some self-penned material. The duo soon added Crosby to the line-up and named themselves The Jet Set in mid-1964. Crosby introduced McGuinn and Clark to his associate Jim Dickson who had access toWorld Pacific Studios. Dickson was impressed enough by the trio to take on management duties for the group, utilizing World Pacific as a rehearsal studio and recording the band as they honed their craft and perfected their blend of pop and folk. Over the coming months Hillman and Clarke were recruited to The Jet Set on bass guitar and drums respectively. During this period, Dickson managed to acquire an acetate disc of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, a song written by Bob Dylan that had not been released at that time. The Byrds were initially unimpressed with the song but they eventually warmed to it and began to rehearse and record demos of it at World Pacific.
After seeing The Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night in August 1964, the band equipped themselves with similar instruments to The Beatles: a Rickenbacker 12-string for McGuinn, a Gretsch Tennessean for Clark (although Crosby commandeered it soon after) and Ludwigdrums for Clarke. The band were signed to Columbia Records on November 10, 1964 and finally changed their name to The Byrds over Thanksgiving that year. The band, along with the group of L.A. session musicians later known as The Wrecking Crew, entered Columbia Recording Studios in Hollywood on January 20, 1965 to record the “Mr. Tambourine Man” single. The Byrds continued to record the Mr. Tambourine Man album without the help of session musicians from March 8 through to April 22, 1965.
Mr. Tambourine Man opens with the Dylan-penned title track, which had been a huge international hit for the group and had initiated the folk rock boom of the mid-1960s. Due to producer Terry Melcher‘s lack of confidence in The Byrds’ musicianship at the time, most of the band had been replaced by session musicians (known later as The Wrecking Crew) for the “Mr. Tambourine Man” single and its B-side “I Knew I’d Want You”, with only McGuinn being allowed to play on these tracks. The most distinctive features of The Byrds’ rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” were the vocal harmonies of Clark, McGuinn and Crosby, as well as McGuinn’s jangling twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar playing (which complemented the phrase “jingle jangle morning” found in the song’s lyric). This combination of 12-string guitar and complex harmony work became the band’s signature sound during their early period. Another notable element of the band’s rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” was the melodic bass playing of session musician Larry Knechtel, standing in for The Byrds’bassist, Chris Hillman.
Another Dylan cover, “All I Really Want to Do”, was the first song to be recorded for the album following the “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “I Knew I’d Want You” session and it would go on to become the band’s second single release. Producer Terry Melcher felt confident that the band’s debut single would be, at the very least, a regional hit and so he brought The Byrds back into the studio on March 8, 1965 to record a follow-up. This March 8 recording session yielded the version of “All I Really Want to Do” that appears on the album but the song was later re-recorded on April 14 and it was this later take that graced the A-side of The Byrds’ second single.
Although the band’s musicianship had improved since the recording of their debut single, it was assumed by both Columbia Records and the band’s manager that the entire album would be recorded with session men providing the musical backing. However, the band had other ideas and insisted that they be allowed to perform the album’s instrumental accompaniment themselves. Melcher felt satisfied that the group had polished their sound enough to be able to produce professional sounding backing tracks and thus, The Byrds were allowed to play on all of the remaining songs on the album without any help from outside musicians. However, a persistent myth about the album is that all of the playing on it was done by session musicians. This misconception is likely due to confusion between the “Mr. Tambourine Man” single and the album of the same name. Chris Hillman has noted that the contrast between the smoother, more polished sound of the two tracks featuring session musicians and the rawer sound of the rest of the album is quite noticeable.
For the most part, the Mr. Tambourine Man album consisted of two types of songs: band originals, primarily penned by Clark, the group’s central songwriter during its first eighteen months of existence, and covers of modern folk songs, composed primarily by Bob Dylan. The Clark-penned songs included “Here Without You”, a song detailing a bittersweet trip through the city in which every landmark and physical object reminds the singer of an absent lover, and “I Knew I’d Want You”, a Beatlesque recountal of the first flushes of romance. Although “I Knew I’d Want You” had been recorded as the intended B-side of the band’s debut single, it’s interesting to note that had the band failed to secure permission to release “Mr. Tambourine Man” from Dylan and his manager Albert Grossman, “I Knew I’d Want You” would’ve been issued as the group’s first A-side.
An excerpt from the Gene Clark penned “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better“, highlighting the song’s use of criss-crossing vocals, with Clark on the lead and Roger McGuinn and David Crosby providing backing vocals.
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A third song from the pen of Gene Clark featured on the album was “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better“, an upbeat number with pounding tambourine, jangling Rickenbacker and criss-crossing vocals from Clark on the lead and McGuinn and Crosby on backing vocals. The song bore a passing resemblance to The Searchers‘ 1963 hit“Needles and Pins” and has, since its release, become a rock music standard, inspiring a number of cover versions over the years. Two of the album’s songs were co-written by Clark and McGuinn: “You Won’t Have to Cry”, which featured a lyric concerned with a woman who has been wronged in love, and “It’s No Use”, which anticipated the harder-edged, psychedelic sound that the band would begin to explore towards the end of 1965 and throughout 1966.
The abundance of Dylan material on the album, with three songs taken from the Another Side of Bob Dylan album alone, led to accusations of the band being too reliant on his work. However, the Dylan covers, including “Chimes of Freedom“, “All I Really Want to Do”, and “Spanish Harlem Incident“, in addition to the title track, remain among The Byrds’ best-known and most enduring recordings. Another enduring cover included on the album was an expansive arrangement of Idris Davies and Pete Seeger‘s “The Bells of Rhymney“, stressing the band’s folk music roots. “The Bells of Rhymney” was a relative newcomer to the band’s stage repertoire, having been worked up in March 1965, during The Byrds’ residency at Ciro’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip. The song, which told the sorrowful tale of a coal mining disaster in Wales, had originally been adapted by Pete Seeger from a lyric by the Welsh poet Idris Davies. During recording, the band paid special attention to their diction and pronunciation of the song’s lyrics but in spite of this attention to detail, the band actually mispronounced the word “Rhymney” in their recording of the song. Although the song had a somewhat sombre theme it became one of the band’s most popular numbers during their residency at Ciro’s. “The Bells of Rhymney” was also influential on The Beatles, particularly George Harrison, who co-opted McGuinn’s guitar riff and incorporated it into his own composition, “If I Needed Someone“, from the Rubber Soul album.
The band also covered two non-folk songs on the album: “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” by Jackie DeShannon, an early supporter of the band, and Vera Lynn’s World War II era standard, “We’ll Meet Again“. The latter was given a very sardonic reading, influenced by the song’s appearance in the final scene of Stanley Kubrick’s movie Dr. Strangelove. This treatment of “We’ll Meet Again”, sequenced at the end of the album, began a tradition of closing The Byrds’ albums with a tongue-in-cheek or unusual track, a policy that would be repeated on several subsequent LPs.
Release and legacy
Mr. Tambourine Man was released on June 21, 1965 in the United States (catalogue item CL 2372 in mono, CS 9172 in stereo) and August 20, 1965 in the UK (catalogue item BPG 62571 in mono, SBPG 62571 in stereo). It peaked at No.6 on the Billboard Top LPs chart, during a chart stay of 38 weeks, and reached #7 in the United Kingdom, spending a total of 12 weeks on the UK albums chart.The preceding single of the same name was released on April 12, 1965 in the U.S. and May 15, 1965 in the UK, reaching No.1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart. A second single taken from the album, “All I Really Want to Do”, peaked at No.40 on the Billboard Hot 100 but fared better in the United Kingdom, where it reached No.4. The album’s distinctive fisheye lens front cover photograph was taken by Barry Feinstein and has since become an acknowledged classic. The album’s back cover featured liner notes, written in the form of an open letter to a friend, by Columbia Records’ publicist Billy James. In addition, the back cover also featured a black and white photograph, taken by Jim Dickson, of The Byrds on stage with Bob Dylan at Ciro’s.
Upon release, critical reaction to the album was almost universally positive, with Billboard magazine noting “the group has successfully combined folk material with pop-dance beat arrangements. Pete Seeger’s “The Bells Of Rhymney” is a prime example of the new interpretations of folklore.” In its July 1965 issue, Time magazine praised the album by stating “To make folk music the music of today’s folk, this quintet has blended Beatle beats with Lead Belly laments, created a halfway school of folk-rock that scores at the cash box if not with the folk purists.” In the UK, the NME described the band and its debut album by commenting “They look like a rock group but are really a fine folk unit. They play their stringed instruments with great skill and invention against the rock-steady drumming. Their voices merge well…As the first group to bridge the gap between beat and folk, they deserve to be winners.” The UK publicationMusic Echo was also enthusiastic about the album’s contents, concluding that the record was “an album which easily lives up to the promise of their great knock-out singles.” However, not all reviews of the album were positive: Record Mirror in the UK awarded the album two stars out of five, deriding it as “The same nothingy vocals, the same jangly guitar, the same plodding beat on almost every track. The Byrds really must try to get some different sounds.” In more recent years Richie Unterberger, writing for the Allmusicwebsite, has called the album “One of the greatest debuts in the history of rock, Mr. Tambourine Man was nothing less than a significant step in the evolution of rock & roll itself, demonstrating that intelligent lyrical content could be wedded to compelling electric guitar riffs and a solid backbeat.”
The “Mr. Tambourine Man” single instantly established the band on both sides of the Atlantic, introducing the new genre of folk rock and challenging the dominance of The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion. At roughly the same time that their debut single peaked at #1 on the Billboard charts, the U.S. music press began using the term “folk rock” to describe the band’s blend of beat musicand folk. In the months following the release of the Mr. Tambourine Man album and its attendant singles, many acts imitated this hybrid of a British Invasion beat, jangly guitar playing and poetic or socially conscious lyrics. The roots of this sound were to be found in the American folk music revival of the early 1960s, The Animals‘ recording of “The House of the Rising Sun“, the folk-influenced songwriting of The Beau Brummels, and the twelve-string guitar jangle of The Searchers and The Beatles. However, it was The Byrds who first melded these disparate elements into a unified whole. The Byrds’ influence can be heard in many recordings released by American acts in late 1965 and 1966, including The Turtles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Barry McGuire, The Mamas & the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, We Five, Love, and Sonny & Cher. The Byrds’ folk rock sound, as heard on Mr. Tambourine Man, has continued to be influential on many bands, including Big Star, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, R.E.M., The Church, The Long Ryders, The Smiths, The Bangles, The Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub, The Bluetones, and Delays amongst others.
Mr. Tambourine Man was remastered at 20-bit resolution and partially remixed as part of the Columbia/Legacy Byrds series. It was reissued in an expanded form on April 30, 1996, with six bonus tracks, including three alternate versions of songs found on the original album, the outtakes “She Has a Way” and “You and Me”, and the single version of “All I Really Want to Do”.
- Side 1
- “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Bob Dylan) – 2:29
- “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” (Gene Clark) – 2:32
- “Spanish Harlem Incident” (Bob Dylan) – 1:57
- “You Won’t Have to Cry” (Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn)[b] – 2:08
- “Here Without You” (Gene Clark) – 2:36
- “The Bells of Rhymney” (Idris Davies, Pete Seeger) – 3:30
- Side 2
- “All I Really Want to Do” (Bob Dylan) – 2:04
- “I Knew I’d Want You” (Gene Clark) – 2:14
- “It’s No Use” (Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn)[b] – 2:23
- “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” (Jackie DeShannon) – 2:54
- “Chimes of Freedom” (Bob Dylan) – 3:51
- “We’ll Meet Again” (Ross Parker, Hughie Charles) – 2:07
- 1996 CD reissue bonus tracks
- “She Has a Way” (Gene Clark) – 2:25
- “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” [Alternate Version] (Gene Clark) – 2:28
- “It’s No Use” [Alternate Version] (Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn) – 2:24
- “You Won’t Have to Cry” [Alternate Version] (Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn) – 2:07
- “All I Really Want to Do” [Single Version] (Bob Dylan) – 2:02
- “You and Me” [Instrumental] (David Crosby, Gene Clark, Jim McGuinn) – 2:11
- “Mr. Tambourine Man” b/w “I Knew I’d Want You” (Columbia 43271) April 12, 1965 (US #1, UK #1)
- “All I Really Want to Do” b/w “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” (Columbia 43332) June 14, 1965 (US #40, UK #4)
|June 21, 1965||Columbia||LP||US||CL 2372||Original mono release.|
|CS 9172||Original stereo release.|
|August 20, 1965||CBS||LP||UK||BPG 62571||Original mono release.|
|SBPG 62571||Original stereo release.|
|1975||CBS||LP||UK||S 33645||Double album stereo reissue with Turn! Turn! Turn!|
|1987||Columbia||CD||US||CK 9172||Original CD release.|
|April 30, 1996||Columbia/Legacy||CD||US||CK 64845||Partially remixed stereo album plus six bonus tracks.|
|May 6, 1996||UK||COL 483705|
|1999||Simply Vinyl||LP||UK||SVLP 0032||Reissue of the partially remixed stereo album.|
|2003||Sony||CD||Japan||MHCP-66||Reissue containing six bonus tracks and the partially remixed stereo album in a replica LP sleeve.|
|2004||Sony/BMG||CD||UK||4837055003||The Vinyl Classics reissue containing six bonus tracks and the partially remixed stereo album.|
|February 7, 2006||Columbia/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab||SACD(Hybrid)||US||UDSACD 2014||Reissue of the Mono album plus stereo bonus tracks.|
|February 21, 2006||Sundazed||LP||US||LP 5197||Reissue of the original mono release.|
|February 10, 2009||Sony/Columbia||CD||US||743323||2 CD reissue with Sweetheart of the Rodeo, containing six bonus tracks and the partially remixed stereo album.|
Mr. Tambourine Man was one of four Byrds albums that were partially remixed as part of their re-release on Columbia/Legacy. The reason for the remix was explained by Bob Irwin (who produced these re-issues for compact disc) during an interview:
|“||The first four Byrds albums had sold so well, and the master tapes used so much that they were at least two, if not three generations down from the original. In most cases, a first-generation master no longer existed. They were basically played to death; they were worn out, there was nothing left of them.||”|
He further stated:
|“||Each album is taken from the original multi-tracks, where they exist, which is in 95% of the cases. We remixed them exactly as they were, without taking any liberties, except for the occasional song appearing in stereo for the first time.||”|
Irwin’s assertions that no liberties were taken have been proven false in many instances. There is a short section of “Chimes of Freedom” that exists in the stereo remix that didn’t appear in the original mix. The song “Mr. Tambourine Man” appears in a radically different, super-wide stereo remix, whereas the original stereo mix was so narrow as to almost be mono. The fades are different on almost every song as well.
Many fans enjoy the remixed album because it’s very close to the original mix in most cases and offers noticeably better sound quality. However, there are also a lot of fans who dismiss the remix as revisionist history and prefer to listen to the original mix onvinyl or on the pre-1996 CD releases.