[Review] The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)

With the blessed benediction of the Bard himself, The Byrds set out to change the shape of American rock music.

Kronomyth 1.0: The Byrds and The Beatles.

I’m not saying that The Beatles didn’t influence The Byrds. I’m not saying that at all. But The Byrds influenced The Beatles too. It’s in the countryish sections of Rubber Soul and the psychedelic experimentation of Revolver. When The Byrds released their first single, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Bob Dylan had just dropped a bomb on the music world with Bringin’ It All Back Home. The Byrds were the blitzkrieg that followed, taking Dylan’s vision for the future to new electric heights.

The opening moments of “Mr. Tambourine Man” are more than a mere introduction, they’re a musical manifesto that brought the intellect and irony of the folk movement kicking and screaming into the realm of rock & roll. What follows are a few more Dylan songs to establish the new band’s pedigree: a great version of “Chimes of Freedom,” a good if straight version of “All I Really Want To Do” and a forgettable version of “Spanish Harlem Incident.” It’s a bit much, but the benediction of Bob Dylan wasn’t something to slight. Even on the remaining material, Jim McGuinn affects a nasally twang that instantly evokes Dylan.

If the Dylan covers were all the band had to offer, Mr. Tambourine Man would still be an historically important album. But the original material is even better, featuring some of the most beautiful vocal harmonies this side of The Everly Brothers. As a songwriter, Gene Clark suggests a slightly younger Roy Orbison in the dark observations of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” and “Here Without You.” McGuinn’s songwriting is more clearly patterned after The Beatles, particularly the rocking “It’s No Use.” Rounding out the record are three very different and very interesting covers: Pete Seeger’s “The Bells of Rhymney” (the album’s most serious moment), Jackie De Shannon’s “Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe” and a playful reading of “We’ll Meet Again,” popularized in the film, Dr. Strangelove.

The Byrds, like Bob Dylan before them, saw music as a platform for big ideas. They also sought to connect their generation’s voice to the folk protesters of the previous generation (e.g., Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie). Mr. Tambourine Man quickly vaunted The Byrds into the rarefied ranks of serious musical artists. Half a century later, listeners still return to come under its dancing spell once more.

Original LP Version

A1. Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan) (2:20)
A2. I’ll Feel A Whole Letter Better (Gene Clark) (2:31)
A3. Spanish Harlem Incident (Bob Dylan) (1:58)
A4. You Won’t Have To Cry (Gene Clark/Jim McGuinn) (2:07)
A5. Here Without You (Gene Clark) (2:36)
A6. The Bells of Rhymney (Idris Davies/Pete Seeger) (3:30)
B1. All I Really Want To Do (Bob Dylan) (2:02)
B2. I Knew I’d Want You (Gene Clark) (2:14)
B3. It’s No Use (Gene Clark/Jim McGuinn) (2:23)
B4. Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe (Jackie DeShannon) (2:46)
B5. Chimes of Freedom (Bob Dylan) (3:50)
B6. We’ll Meet Again (Ross Parker/Hughie Charles) (2:07)

CD reissue bonus tracks
13. She Has A Way (Gene Clark) (2:25)
14. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better (alternate version) (Gene Clark) (2:28)
15. It’s No Use (alternate version) (Gene Clark/Jim McGuinn) (2:24)
16. You Won’t Have To Cry (alternate version) (Gene Clark/Jim McGuinn) (2:07)
17. All I Really Want To Do (single version) (Bob Dylan) (2:02)
18. You And Me (instrumental) (Jim McGuinn/Gene Clark/David Crosby) (2:11)

The Players

Gene Clark (rhythm guitar, tambourine, vocals), Mike Clark (drums), David Crosby (rhythm guitar, vocals), Chris Hillman (electric bass), Jim McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals). Produced by Terry Melcher.

The Pictures

Cover by Barry Feinstein.

The Plastic

Released on mono and stereo elpee on June 21, 1965 in the US (Columbia, CL 2372/CS 9172) {for stereo version, “360 sound” appears in black type on label}, in August 1965 in the UK (CBS, BPG 62571) and in 1965 in Australia (CBS, SBP 233234) and New Zealand (CBS, BP-473205); reached #6 on the US charts and #7 on the UK charts. Re-issued on elpee in 1974 in the UK (CBS Embassy) and in July 1978 in the UK.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1966 in Taiwan (Chung Sheng, CSJ-244) with cover variation.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Malaysia (CBS, CS 9172).
  3. Re-issued on stereo elpee in 1967 in the US (Columbia, CS 9172). {“360 sound” appears in white type on label}
  4. Re-issued on 8-track in the US (Columbia, 18 10 0062) with different track order.
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1969 in Japan (CBS Sony, SOPL-254).
  6. Re-issued on elpee in 1970 in the Netherlands (CBS, CBS 62571).
  7. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in the US (Columbia, PC/PCT 9172).
  8. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (CBS Sony, 20AP-1983).
  9. Re-issued on elpee in the UK (CBS Embassy, S EMB 31057) with cover variation.
  10. Re-packaged with Turn! Turn! Turn! on 2-for-1 2LP in 1975 in the US (Columbia, CG 33645) and Europe (CBS, CBS 22016) with gatefold cover.
  11. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Columbia, CK 9172).
  12. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1996 in the US (Columbia Legacy, CK 64845) with 6 bonus tracks.
  13. Re-packaged with Turn! Turn! Turn! and Fifth Dimension on 3CD in 1998 (Columbia, 492732-2).
  14. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 1999 in the US (Sundazed, LP 5057).
  15. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in Japan (Sony, SRCS-9222).
  16. Re-released on expanded, super audio compact disc in 2005 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2014).
  17. Re-packaged with Turn! Turn! Turn!, Fifth Dimension, Younger Than Yesterday and The Notorious Byrd Brothers on 5CD in 2008 (Columbia).
  18. Re-issued on 180g vinyl elpee in 2012 in the US (Music on Vinyl).
  19. Re-released on Blu Spec remastered compact disc on May 30, 2012 in Japan (Sony, SICP-20372).

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