The Byrds had an unmistakable sound when their debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, burst upon the music world in 1965. The jangle of guitars, including the 12-string of Jim (soon to be) Roger McGuinn, and their high soaring harmonies combined to establish a new musical type known as folk rock. Jim McGuinn (guitar), Gene Clark (tambourine), David Crosby (guitar), Chris Hillman (bass), and Michael Clarke (drums) combined their voices and talents to produce some of the finest music of the era.
Gene Clark would only appear on their first two albums before leaving, but would make his mark as he wrote or co-wrote five of the songs. He also tended to be the center of attention when the group appeared live. His song, “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” remains a classic of the time period. This anti-romantic love song featured sensitive and intelligent lyrics and is equal to just about anything written during the sixties. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it number 234 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. “Here Without You” features haunting poetry backed by a memorable melody.
The early Byrds will always be best remembered for their connection to the music of Bob Dylan. They did not so much interpret his songs as they re-created them. Dylan also owes a debt of gratitude to the Byrds for presenting his music to the masses and expanding his fan base.
“Mr. Tambourine Man,” as played and sung by The Byrds, is one of the signature songs of the sixties, and is hopefully instantly recognizable to any fan of rock music. It bridges the gap between folk and rock and between such artists as Bob Dylan and The Beatles. The 12-string guitar, which underpins the sound and the multi-layered harmonies, is perfection. It was a deserved number one hit. Interestingly, the Byrds’ version would rank higher on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time than Dylan’s original at 76 vs. 106.
Three other Dylan tunes grace the album. “Chimes Of Freedom” is another sixties-defining song and is almost on a par with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” “All I Really Want To Do” features more of their signature harmonies, while “Spanish Harlem Incident” shows just how different a journey a song can takes when interpreted by the right artist.
The Byrds turned to Pete Seeger’s tune, “The Bells Of Rhymney,” for another classic interpretation. The McGuinn guitar solo is probably the best on the album.
The album concludes with the old Vera Lynn World War II song, “We’ll Meet Again.” I can’t help but think this was a joke of some type as this song was used in the finale of the movie Dr. Strangelove.
Mr. Tambourine Man is a close to perfect album. The production and the harmonies were more advanced than just about anything being produced at the time. It remains a landmark of sixties artistry and an essential listen for any fan of American music history.