BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles



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MR. TAMBOURINE MAN
(Columbia CL-2372 / CS-9172 / CK-9172, 1965)
Reissued: (Columbia/Legacy CK 64845, 1996)

Track Listing

Credits:
Released June 21, 1965. Produced by Terry Melcher. Engineered by Ray Gerhardt. Recorded at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, January - April 1965.

Personnel:
The Byrds v. 1.0
Jim McGuinn: vocals, 12 string lead guitar, 6 string guitar
Gene Clark: vocals, tambourine
David Crosby: vocals, 6 string guitar, some 12 string guitar
Chris Hillman: bass
Michael Clarke: drums, percussion

Except:
On "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "I Knew I'd Want You":
Jim McGuinn: vocals, 12 string guitar
Gene Clark: vocals
David Crosby: vocals
Leon Russell: electric keyboards
Jerry Cole: rhythm guitar
Larry Knechtel: bass
Hal Blaine: drums

Singles from album sessions:
"Mr. Tambourine Man" / "I Knew I'd Want You"
Columbia 43271.
Released April 12, 1965

"All I Really Want To Do" (alt.) / "Feel A Whole Lot Better"
Columbia 43332
Released June 14, 1965

The voices of McGuinn and Crosby:
Clark sang along with McGuinn and Crosby, but he was almost completely mixed out of the final version. Because his vocals bled into the others' mikes, he can be heard very faintly, doubling up on McGuinn's part. Mixing Clark's voice out would not be the usual practice, but while Clark was with the band, he and McGuinn usually sang in unison during the harmonies. Only occasionally would the three sing in true three-part harmony.

"Mr. Tambourine Man":
Manager Dickson had heard Dylan perform the song live, and obtained a demo from Dylan's publishers, on which Dylan sang with fellow New York folkie Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Dylan's own version, redone without Elliott, would not be released until a month after the Byrds' April single release, on Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, 1965).

In certain quarters:
While McGuinn was the only Byrd to play his instrument on both sides of the first single, all five Byrds definitely played on the rest of the first LP. Despite unambiguous denials from all parties involved in the first album, the notion that session men played on the entire first album refuses to die. (No bit of erroneous rock lore has so stubbornly resisted correction, except perhaps the equally false belief that Jimmy Page played the Dave Davies guitar solo on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me.") Even the brilliant critic Lester Bangs has perpetuated this canard. Ironically, Bangs wondered how an album recorded by "standard high-priced hack L.A. session guys" could be a "classic that sounds almost as fresh today as the day it was released."*

Dylan covers:
The originals of the three remaining Dylan songs, "All I Really Want To Do," "Spanish Harlem Incident," and "Chimes of Freedom," can all be found on Another Side of Bob Dylan (Columbia, 1964), released the previous fall.

Perfect:
Well, almost perfect; check out those flubbed bass notes near the beginning of the third verse on "Harlem." In an age where almost any mistake can and will be redone, or fixed in the mix, today this flaw sounds kinda charming.

"The Bells of Rhymney":
Fans of Gram Parsons might be interested in his version of "The Bells of Rhymney." Recorded in 1965 with his folk group The Shilos, the Parsons arrangement of the song was much like Seeger's original, although the band's fondness for the Journeymen is also discernible. The track can be heard on Gram Parsons: The Early Years 1963-65 (Sierra, 1979).

Circling, hypnotic riff:
So hypnotic was Jim McGuinn's "Rhymney" riff that George Harrison was compelled to swipe it. (Even when Peter Buck was in short pants, great bands were nicking from Byrds. Of course, in this case the Byrds were certainly in no position to complain, considering how much their sound owed to the Fab Four.) With some minor adjustments, the "Rhymney" riff formed the basis for Harrison's tribute to the Byrds sound, "If I Needed Someone," which appeared on Rubber Soul (Capitol, 1965) six months after the first Byrds album. The quiet Beatle sent a copy of his tune to the Byrds with a note saying "This is for Jim."



"Mr. Tambourine Man" / "I Knew I'd Want You"

Jim McGuinn really could play the guitar just like ringin' a bell. The unmistakable opening notes of "Mr. Tambourine Man" chimed from McGuinn's heavily-compressed Rickenbacker to the car radios of first America and then the world. Even today, almost thirty years later, it's not difficult to imagine how exciting this song must have sounded in April of 1965.
McGuinn's opening guitar figure is answered by Larry Knechtel, playing a distinctive bassline concocted by producer Terry Melcher. Hal Blaine's martial drum fill announces the vocals, and then the voices of McGuinn and Crosby entwine: "Hey..."
In their first outing under their own name, the Byrds realized the ambition they had shared for months with their manager Jim Dickson: to marry the beat, the energy, and the harmonies of the Beatles with the sophisticated song structure and lyrical content of Bob Dylan. Its obscure subject matter was construed as being drug-related by some, adding subversive appeal for the blossoming counterculture. Though his original had not yet been released, Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" would prove the perfect vehicle for the Byrds' new sound.
To be sure, the elements of the Byrds' sound were not original. The harmonies came from the Beatles and from the Everly Brothers. McGuinn's vocals were a playful imitation of Dylan's. Even McGuinn's trademark Rickenbacker sound shows the influence of the Searchers. Yet, the synthesis of these familiar elements yielded something remarkably fresh -- so much so that the song remains a revelation today.
Those who flipped their 45 were treated to another side of the new band. "I Knew I'd Want You" was a tender ballad by Gene Clark. Clark's lead vocal is out front. McGuinn doubles his part on the melody, while Crosby adds an angelic harmony above them. Leon Russell's scratchy electric keyboard, mixed almost entirely out of the A-side, dominates the instrumental track here, while McGuinn's Rick percolates softly beneath. An earlier demo of this song on In The Beginning makes clear that Clark aimed for a Beatlesque ballad, but in this performance the Liverpudlianisms are muted -- until the conclusion: "I knew I'd want you... Oh yeah, oh yeeaaaaah..." Clark's vocals, as usual, are clean, but there's an appealing tinge of sadness in his voice, and in the melody, that adds a dark and ambiguous undercurrent to this apparently optimistic profession of love.


Mr. Tambourine Man LP

Two months later, as the single topped the US charts, the LP hit the stores. Aside from the two single cuts, the session men do not play on it at all, notwithstanding mistaken statements to the contrary in certain quarters. The album continues the dichotomy of the two single sides: counting the two single tracks, it has four Dylan songs and five Gene Clark numbers. For good measure the band also covers folksinger Pete Seeger, pop singer-songwriter Jackie deShannon and wartime standard "We'll Meet Again."
The album leads off with a one-two punch: "Tambourine Man" followed by one of Gene Clark's finest compositions and best performances, "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better." This upbeat Clark number might just be the Platonic ideal of a Byrds song. It's all there -- the jangly guitar solo, the "aaahhhh" harmonies that would become their trademark, Crosby's propulsive rhythm guitar, and the inventive, nimble bass work of Hillman. The song contains several of Clark's strongest melodic hooks, and the word "probably" (though possibly added just to make the line scan) adds an intriguing suggestion that the narrator is still trying to convince himself he'll feel a whole lot better when she's gone.
The other standout among the Clark originals is the ethereal ballad "Here Without You." The vocal blend here could almost be a practice run for "Eight Miles High." The melody doesn't grab you -- it's the kind that insinuates itself into your hindbrain, never to be dislodged. This version is a huge improvement over the attempt captured on In the Beginning with its tentative harmonies and overbearing drums. Many critics and fans have cited "Here Without You" as one of the more glaring omissions from the boxed set.
The two remaining originals are Clark/McGuinn collaborations, both among the weaker tracks on the LP. "You Won't Have to Cry" shows more Beatle influence than any other song on the album. (Check out the version on In the Beginning on which Clark's voice is a dead ringer for Paul McCartney's.) "It's No Use" is Beatly, too, with echoes of "I Saw Her Standing There" in the chorus and more McCartney-esque singing. The harmonies on the word "give" laid down a template followed by Fairport Convention and the Bangles, to name a few. The best thing about the song may be McGuinn's guitar work, much wilder than on most songs from this era. The solos have a sound that would reappear on the punkier folk rock records by bands like the Leaves and Love.
Omitted from the original album, presumably to make room for more covers, is the pleasant but slight Clark number "She Has A Way." Unlike most of the songs recorded earlier at World Pacific in 1964, the more polished version found on Never Before and The Byrds Boxed Set does not improve on its prototype (found on In the Beginning). The demo version has a certain charm and considerably more energy than either the Never Before version or a third version with different vocals that turned up as a bonus track on the 1996 reissue.
The remaining three Dylan covers follow the "Tambourine Man" formula: ersatz Dylan lead vocals by McGuinn, exuberant group harmonies on the choruses, medium tempos, abbreviated song lengths. This paradigm is most effective on the anthem "Chimes of Freedom," but each of the Dylan songs is a perfect piece of folk rock. (A less polished, more aggressive version of "All I Really Want To Do" was released as the band's second single and also became a bonus track on the 1996 reissue.)
The Jackie DeShannon number, "Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe," is a wonderful pop song, notable for Mike Clarke's valiant but not entirely sucessful attempts to slip into and out of a Bo Diddley beat -- lifted from the Rolling Stones' version of "Not Fade Away." Manager Dickson insisted on the inclusion of a deShannon song to repay the already well-known singer and songwriter for being an early and vocal supporter of the Byrds.
"We'll Meet Again" is a standard dating from the war years, the most famous version being Vera Lynn's, but as the original liner notes to Tambourine Man make clear, this tongue-in-cheek rendition is a salute to Stanley Kubrick, who used the song in his cold war classic, Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) (1964). The film evidently made a big impression on McGuinn and Crosby, each of whom lists Peter Sellers as one of his favorite actors in the 1965 promo profile "Life-Lines of the Byrds."
The real stand-out among the covers is "The Bells of Rhymney." Pete Seeger adapted the lyrics from a lament by Welsh poet Idris Davies inspired by a Welsh mining disaster. The Davies poem in turn borrowed its structure from the British nursery rhyme that begins "Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement's." At first listen, the grisly subject matter stands in stark contrast with the Byrds' radio-friendly arrangement. But McGuinn's circling, hypnotic riff evokes the echo of distant church bells while Clarke's insistent cymbal suggests clanging alarms. The sensitive vocals, in particular Crosby's harmony work, convey empathy but never descend into bathos; and after each line, Crosby's chunky rhythm guitar and Hillman's deliberate bass build the tension level. McGuinn's banjo-style picking on the bridge, though upbeat, has an edgy, almost frantic quality. And as the song concludes, the three voices unite, first in a low, mournful series of aaaahhhhs, and then another round, this time soaring like a choir. The effect is riveting, and the aesthetic success of this arrangement doubtless encouraged the band to attempt another Seeger number on their next album. It would prove to be a wise choice.

To Turn! Turn! Turn!...




Notes

"...Standard high-priced hack session guys..." Bangs, "Untitled" at 375.


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Tracks from album sessions:
Original album tracks:
"Mr. Tambourine Man":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: January 20, 1965

"I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: April 14, 1965

"Spanish Harlem Incident":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: April 14, 1965

"You Won't Have To Cry"
Gene Clark & Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: April 14, 1965

"Here Without You":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: April 22, 1965

"The Bells of Rhymney":
Music by Pete Seeger; lyrics adapted
by Pete Seeger from a poem by Idris Davies
Rec. date: April 14, 1965

"All I Really Want To Do":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: March 8, 1965

"I Knew I'd Want You":
Gene Clark
Rec. date: January 20, 1965

"It's No Use":
Gene Clark & Jim McGuinn
Rec. date: April 14, 1965

"Don't Doubt Yourself, Babe":
Jackie DeShannon
Rec. date: April 22, 1965

"Chimes of Freedom":
Bob Dylan
Rec. date: April 22, 1965

"We'll Meet Again":
R. Parker and H. Charles
Rec. date: April 14, 1965
1996 Bonus Tracks:
"She Has A Way":
Rec. date: March 8, 1965
Previously unissued version with
vocal overdub/take 2

"I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better"
(alternate version):
Rec. date: April 14, 1965
Previously unissued version with
alternate vocal track/take 2

"It's No Use"
(alternate version):
Rec. date: March 8, 1965
Previously unissued version with
alternate lead guitar overdub

"You Won't Have To Cry"
(alternate version):
Rec. date: April 14, 1965
Previously unissued version with
alternate vocal track/take 2

"All I Really Want To Do"
(single version):
Rec. date: March 8, 1965
Different version, also mono,
used on single.

"You and Me"
(instrumental):
Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby
Rec. date: March 8, 1965
Previously unissued backing track/take 13


Other tracks from album sessions:
"She Has A Way":
Rec. date: March 8, 1965
Appears on Never Before
and The Byrds Boxed Set.


Unreleased tracks from album sessions:
"Words and Pictures"
"I Love the Life I Live"

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Byrds Albums | Mr. Tambourine Man

Welcome | News | LPs | History | Members | Spinoffs | Related | Reference | Sanctuary | About | NEXT SECTION

Mr. Tambourine Man | Turn! Turn! Turn! | Fifth Dimension | Younger | Notorious | Sweetheart | Dr. Byrds | Ballad | (Untitled) | Byrdmaniax | Farther Along | Byrds | Beginning | Never Before | Box | NEXT CHAPTER





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