Mr. Tambourine Man
Writer(s): Bob Dylan (see lyrics here)
Released: April 12, 1965
First Charted: May 8, 1965
Peak: 11 US, 11 CB, 11 GR, 11 HR, 1 CL, 12 UK, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): --
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 14.88 video, 71.04 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
“Mr. Tambourine Man” “elevated [Bob] Dylan from folk hero to bona fide star.” RS500 He pecked “out the lyrics on a typrewriter in the back of a station wagon” BR “during a drug-fueled cross-country trek in 1964,” RS500 which included “wild scenes they had witnessed at Mardi Gras” SS and incorporated the influence of the Federico Fellin film La Strada. SS Some people interpreted “Tambourine” as being about a drug pusher, but Dylan said the song was inspired by Bruce Langhorne, a guitarist who brought a tambourine to the recording session which he said was “as big as a wagon wheel.” SJ
Dylan recorded the “hallucinatory ramble” BR during sessions for Another Side of Bob Dylan, but left it off the album. He re-recorded it and released it on Bringing It All Back Home, the album which began his transition from acoustic to electric. SS In the meantime, however, a Columbia Records promotions man gave a recording to Jim Dickson, the Byrds’ manager. BR The band was “resistant to a song with such abstract imagery,” SS but eventually gave it a shot.
After an attempt with Gene Clark singing lead, they recorded a version with Roger McGuinn assuming vocal duties. SS He said he was trying to sound like a mix of Dylan and John Lennon. BR They recorded their own version five days after Dylan. RS500 The original “was a multi-versed acoustic meander through typically elliptical wordplay,” TB but the Byrds whittled it down to a one-verse, more conventional three minute single. HL “If nobody sings Dylan like Dylan, the Byrds at least came close.” DM Dylan said of their recording, “Wow, man. You can even dance to that!” RS500
Roger McGuinn said, “I just rearranged it into a Beatles song.” TC Not only did the recording tap into the Beatles harmonies, but a Beach Boys’ beat, and a bit of Bach in the guitar intro. RP Terry Melcher, who’d also worked with the Beach Boys, gets credit for the “influence on the harmonies, tempo, and overall sound.” PW He also decided that, other than McGuinn, the Byrds “were too rough and unpolished to play on their own single” BR and tapped session musicians instead.
The Byrds’ David Crosby and Gene Clark contributed backing harmonies but only McGuinn played on the hit. Inspired by George Harrison’s electric twelve-string on the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” BR McGuinn’s played the “chiming twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar [which] became folk rock’s defining sound.” RS500
“The Tambourine Man was the Pied Piper for others to follow.” HL It “started the folk-rock movement” SJ “and the whole singer/songwriter tradition.” TC McGuinn said, however, that “We weren’t really thinking about the folk background. In fact, we were trying to subdue it and become legitimate rock & roll people. Fortunately, we weren’t able to shake it, and the residue is what made us sound interesting.” TC
First posted 4/18/2020; last updated 4/13/2023.