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.