Genre: Folk Rock
Preceded by: –
Followed by: Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965)
The Byrds are called a source of inspiration for several bands a number of times here, and I’ve declared that it’s time for one of their own albums now: Mr. Tambourine Man. Just like with The Doors, the sublime debut album is the perfect starting point in this case. It’s an absolute must-have for all Beatles-fans out there, as this album is the missing link between Bob Dylan (which is covered four times) and The Beatles, being the American forerunner of Rubber Soul.
The Byrds formed in Los Angeles about a year before releasing their first album. It all started when core members Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark started to perform together in California, mainly covering early Beatles songs. They originally played in different folk bands, just like David Crosby, who joined them a little later. They called themselves The Jet Set and tried to mix this traditional folk music with the sound of the then emerging British Invasion bands. This resulted eventually in the band’s distinct trademark: the wonderful vocal harmonies of McGuinn, Clark and Crosby combined with McGuinn’s jangly Rickenbacher guitar. Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke were recruited on bass an drums respectively, they changed their name to The Byrds and defined the new genre of ‘folk rock’ with the album Mr. Tambourine Man.
The album opens of course with the famous title track, one of the four Dylan covers. However, the song immediately introduces you to that specific Byrds-sound, with the typical guitar intro followed by the vocal harmonies of the chorus instead of a first verse. McGuinn is the only Byrd playing an instrument here, as the rest of the band was not yet adapted to each other at the moment of recording. You can ask yourself what Dylan exactly wanted to tell with the lyrics, but Mcguinn turned them into a kind of psychedelic prayer. The other Dylan song on side 1 is ‘Spanish Harlem Incident’. Dylan would have written it about a gypsy girl he once saw, but the remarkable thing about his song for me is that McGuinn sounds like the perfect mix of Dylan’s and John Lennon’s voices here.
Other Dylan compositions on side 2 are ‘All I Really Want to Do’ (b-side of the single ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’) and ‘Chimes of Freedom’. The latter one is the longest track on the album, on which McGuinn shows another good effort to match his voice with the one of the original songwriter while singing about a lightning storm. This was the last song of the album to be recorded as Crosby initially refused to sing on it, wanting to leave the recording studio. After being physically forced to stay they recorded the song after all, luckily for us, as the harmonies are really awesome on this track.
So what is this, some kind of release of a Dylan coverband? Certainly not, this thing has way more to offer you. Listen for example to ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’, one of the songs from Gene Clark (who was the band’s primary songwriter) and for me personally the ultimate Byrds song. It’s an upbeat song, very Beatlesque and with the geniusly added word ‘probably’ into the line ‘I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better’. Talking about Beatles, listen to ‘The Bells of Rhymney’ and ask yourself where George Harrison got that sweet guitar riff from ‘If I Needed Someone’.
And there’s more. You can already hear on this album how The Byrds would evolve later on the sixties. ‘Here Without You’ lyrically is a kind of love song, but reminds me of the group’s later psychedelic anthem ‘Eight Miles High’ with it’s typical intro. On side 2 there are two similar songs: ‘I Knew I’d Want You’, sounding like Jefferson Airplane would do a few years later, and ‘It’s No Use’, with that British Invasion ingredient. The last two songs are covers again, ‘Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe’ even adds a little fifties rock ‘n roll to the album and ‘We’ll Meet Again’ is a reinterpretation of Vera Lynn’s classic war song.
In the years following Mr. Tambourine Man The Byrds (with Roger McGuinn being the only consistent member) would release another number of excellent albums in the genres of psychedelic rock and country, but on this one they define the genre ‘folk rock’ for the first time in rock history. Besides, it’s a great example of how bands were propelling themselves to unique heights by continuously influencing each other. It’s well known that Brian Wilson made Pet Sounds in reaction to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, but those guys were inspired themselves by an American band that once originated as… a Beatles coverband.
Preceded by: Help! (1965)
Followed by: Revolver (1966)
We’re still in the middle of our ‘basics’ and here’s our second Beatles album already. This is explicable by the fact that their oeuvre is essential for exploring rock history. And the fact that I love them, obviously. I talked about their last album earlier, when they had developed as a mature band already, exploring their limits as talented musicians. We’ll now return to the point where they were ‘growing up’, to Rubber Soul. The announcement of what would become a legendary sequence of albums from the world’s biggest band.
It was 1965 and the world had just experienced ‘Beatlemania’, a sort of mass hysteria around a band that dominated the charts with one hit single after another and was touring all over the world. With Rubber Soul, this band decided to record an album in a period without touring. This resulted in a number of technical innovations which can be found throughout the album, going beyond the traditional instruments of a rock band. Besides, The Beatles were heavily influenced back then by American acts like Bob Dylan (lyrically, moving from positive love stories to more abstract notions of love and even negative portrayals) and The Byrds (musically, absorbing elements of folk rock).
Let’s just run over this gem. The album is opened by McCartney’s ‘Drive My Car’, an awesome upbeat track on which McCartney actually plays the guitar solo and Harrison the bass part. It’s followed by ‘Norwegian Wood’, a pioneer song concerning the introduction of non-Western instruments in a pop song, as Harrison plays the sitar on this one. His interest in this instrument was stimulated by Harrison’s friend David Crosby, who was a big fan of Indian music. ‘You Won’t See Me’ was the Beatles first experiment with a song lasting longer than three minutes and ‘Nowhere Man’ was among the first songs that were unrelated to romance or love whatsoever, doors that were opened by Dylan on Highway 61 Revisited.
What follows are the two really rocking tracks from the album: ‘Think For Yourself’ and ‘The Word’, according to the legend the first song Lennon and McCartney wrote after they had smoked pot. Side one of the original LP is closed by ‘Michelle’, an oh so typical poppy love song of McCartney.
Side two starts with ‘What Goes On’ and ‘Girl’ (Lennon’s own version of Dylan’s ‘Just Like A Woman’?), after which a real musical orgasm starts. ‘I’m Looking Through You’ is one of my personal McCartney favorites and is followed by an all-time Beatles favorite: ‘In My Life’. This is pure beauty in it’s simplest form, including an awesome baroque piano bridge in the middle of the song. ‘Wait’ was initially recorded for their previous album Help!, but was released on this one because they were one song short with the release deadline looming.
Another personal favorite is Harrison’s ‘If I Needed Someone’. You can very clearly hear the musical friendship between Crosby and Harrison on this song: it could have been released on a Byrds-album without anyone noticing. Besides, it’ s the only song from Harrison The Beatles ever played live. The final track is ‘Run For Your Life’: a slight preview of what Lennon was about to write during his solo career with ‘Jealous Guy’. Maybe he just wanted to write a remake because of the fact that this song was one of his least favorite Beatles songs.
Certainly check out this one if you liked Abbey Road, and also if you didn’t: Rubber Soul shows us The Beatles as a developing band, but still in a pure form. Maybe the album will inspire you to great things, as it did to Brian Wilson as he started to record Pet Sounds after hearing Rubber Soul for the first time.
Genre: Folk Rock
Preceded by: Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Followed by: Blonde on Blonde (1966)
You have to start somewhere, so somewhere must be Dylan. Bob Dylan is one of America’s most influential musicians of all time and influenced many many musicians all over the world. Especially this album marks a turning point in rock history.
Back in 1965, Dylan was known as a very successful folk artist. But at that point he decided he didn’t want this to be for the rest of his life and exchanged his acoustic guitar for an electric one on the A side of the album Bringing It All Back Home. He completed this transition on his next album: Highway 61 Revisited.
The name of the album was derived from one of North America’s great highways. This road had a special meaning for Dylan, as it connected his birthplace Minnesota with places in the south like Memphis and New Orleans. It were those places where some of Dylan’s heroes like Elvis Presley and Muddy Waters came from.
What makes this album a perfect starting point is it’s ‘revolutionary’ character which had a great influence on a lot of other music to be discussed here later on. Not only the transition to electric rock, but also for example the introduction of songs lasting longer than three minutes. Every song lasts about 5-6 minutes and the epic final track ‘Desolation Row’ even lasts 11 minutes. On top, the songs are not mainly about love anymore and they don’t have the traditional sing along choruses which were standard those days. Last but not least, the emphasis on this album lies on the lyrics, not the voice which sings them. That’s by the way the main reason that Jimi Hendrix started to sing after all: if Dylan could sing, Hendrix could at least give it a try.
Hendrix even covered the famous opening track of the album: ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. This track in particular avoids all traditional themes of a pop song, expressing resentment and revenge instead. This song was even listed number ONE on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, could you imagine a better start for your discovery? Enjoy the album!