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 number 6 on the Billboard Top LPs chart and reached number 7 in the United Kingdom. The Bob Dylan penned “Mr. Tambourine Man” single was released ahead of the album in April 1965, reaching number 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 in 1964, most of the members of the band had come from a folk and roots music background, rather than a rock and roll one. Lead guitarist Jim McGuinn had been a solo folk singer and sideman with various professional folk groups, as had singer and songwriter Gene Clark. Clark and McGuinn first met in early 1964 at The Troubadour folk club in Los Angeles and, after discovering a mutual love of the Beatles, 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 another folk singer, David Crosby, to the line-up and named themselves the Jet Set. Over the coming months, bass player Chris Hillman, whose musical background was more oriented towards bluegrass music than folk, and drummer Michael Clarke were both added to the group. The Jet Set were signed to Columbia Records on November 10, 1964 and changed their name to the Byrds over Thanksgiving that year.
On January 20, 1965, the band, along with a group of L.A. session musicians later known as the Wrecking Crew, entered Columbia Recording Studios in Hollywood to record the Bob Dylan song “Mr. Tambourine Man” as their debut single. Released in April 1965, with the Clark-penned song “I Knew I’d Want You” on its B-side, the single was an immediate hit, reaching number 1 on both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and the UK Singles Chart. In addition, the electric rock band treatment that the Byrds and producer Terry Melcher had given “Mr. Tambourine Man” effectively created the template for the musical subgenre of folk rock.
For the most part, Mr. Tambourine Man consisted of two types of songs: band originals, primarily penned by Clark, who was the group’s main songwriter during its first eighteen months of existence, and covers of modern folk songs, composed primarily by Dylan. The album opens with its Dylan-penned title track, which had been a big international hit for the group, prior to the album’s release. Band biographer Johnny Rogan has noted that the two most distinctive features of the Byrds’ rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” are the vocal harmonies of Clark, McGuinn and Crosby, and 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 work and complex harmony singing became the band’s signature sound during their early period. Music critic Richie Unterberger has also noted that the success of the Byrds version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” saw an explosion of Byrds imitators and emulators having hits on the American and British charts during 1965 and 1966.
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. Melcher felt confident that the band’s then-unissued 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 re-recorded on April 14, and it was this later take that graced the A-side of the band’s second Columbia single release.
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 material. 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 recordings.
Another cover which stressed the band’s folk music roots was Idris Davies and Pete Seeger’s “The Bells of Rhymney”. The song, which told the sorrowful tale of a coal mining disaster in Wales, was a relative newcomer to the band’s repertoire at the time of recording, having only been worked up in March 1965, during the Byrds’ residency at Ciro’s nightclub on the Sunset Strip. 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 band’s cover of “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 composition “If I Needed Someone” from the Rubber Soul album.
The album’s distinctive front cover fisheye lens photograph of the band was taken by Barry Feinstein and has, according to author Christopher Hjort, become an acknowledged classic since its release. The 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 the Byrds’ manager Jim Dickson, of the band on stage with Bob Dylan at Ciro’s nightclub in L.A. (by wikipedia)
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. It was also the album that was most responsible for establishing folk-rock as a popular phenomenon, its most alluring traits being Roger McGuinn’s immediately distinctive 12-string Rickenbacker jangle and the band’s beautiful harmonies. The material was uniformly strong, whether they were interpreting Bob Dylan (on the title cut and three other songs, including the hit single “All I Really Want to Do”), Pete Seeger (“The Bells of Rhymney”), or Jackie DeShannon (“Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe”). The originals were lyrically less challenging, but equally powerful musically, especially Gene Clark’s “I Knew I’d Want You,” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” and “Here Without You”; “It’s No Use” showed a tougher, harder-rocking side and a guitar solo with hints of psychedelia. (by Richie Unterberger)
Gene Clark (guitar, tambourine, vocals)
Michael Clarke (drums)
David Crosby (guitar, vocals)
Chris Hillman (bass)
Jim McGuinn (lead guitar, vocals)
on “Mr. Tambourine Man” + “I Knew I’d Want You “:
Jerry Cole (guitar)
Larry Knechtel (bass)
Leon Russell (piano)
Hal Blaine (drums)
01. Mr. Tambourine Man (Dylan) 2.34
02. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” (Gene Clark) 2.36
03. Spanish Harlem Incident (Dylan) 2.01
04. You Won’t Have To Cry (Clark/McGuinn) 2.12
05. Here Without You (Clark) 2.40
06. The Bells Of Rhymney (Davies/Seeger) 3.35
07. All I Really Want To Do (Dylan) 2.08
08. I Knew I’d Want You (Clark) 2.18
09. It’s No Use (Clark/McGuinn) 2.29
10. Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe (DeShannon) 2.59
11. Chimes Of Freedom (Dylan) 3.55
12. We’ll Meet Again (Parker/Charles) 2.19
13. She Has A Way (Clark) 2.29
14. I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better (alternate version) (Clark) 2.32
15. It’s No Use (alternate version) (Clark/McGuinn) 2.24
16. You Won’t Have To Cry” (alternate version) (Clark/McGuinn) 2.07
17. All I Really Want To Do (Single version) (Dylan) 2.02
18. You And Me (Instrumental) (Crosby/Clark/McGuinn) 2.11