“Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship”

Fifty six years ago this week, specifically June 21, 1965 The Byrds’ debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, hit your local record store and marked the beginning of the folk-rock revolution. In just a few months, the Byrds had become a household name, with a #1 single followed by a smash-hit album that married the ringing guitars and backbeat of the British Invasion with the harmonies and lyrical depth of folk to create an entirely new sound.

Perhaps someone else could have listened to the bright guitar lines of the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride” and to Bob Dylan’s original “Mr. Tambourine Man” and had the idea of somehow combining the two, but neither of those recordings existed when the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn devised his group’s new sound. Newly signed to Columbia Records, the Byrds had access to an early demo version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” even before their label-mate Bob Dylan had had a chance to record it for his own upcoming album. On January 20, 1965, they entered the studio to record what would become the title track of their debut album and, incidentally, the only Bob Dylan song ever to reach #1 on the U.S. pop charts. Aiming consciously for a vocal style in between Dylan’s and Lennon’s, McGuinn sang lead, with Gene Clark and David Crosby providing the complex harmony that would, along with McGuinn’s jangly electric 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, form the basis of the Byrds’ trademark sound.

That sound, which would influence countless groups from Big Star to the Bangles and Tom Petty, in decades to come, had an immediate and profound impact on the Byrds’ contemporaries, and even on the artists who’d inspired it in the first place. “Wow, man, you can even dance to that!” was Bob Dylan’s reaction to hearing what the Byrds’ had done with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Just days before the hugely influential album of the same name was released to the public on June 21, 1965, Dylan himself would be in a New York recording studio with an electric guitar in his hands, putting the finishing touches on “Like A Rolling Stone” and setting the stage for his controversial “Dylan goes electric” performance at the Newport Folk Festival just one month later.

Lets listen one more time..


  1. I remember when it was first released & I heard it on school bus to Oakwood (located in Malibu at the time). The late, super-talented Andrew Gold quickly mastered it, wore the McQuinn glasses and became super cool overnight.

    • Hey Denise!
      Thanx so much for sharing the Andrew Gold story! For those of us who knew Andrew, I think we’d all agree that your story is “So Andrew”
      Thanx again!
      Rick / SMS

  2. Let us not forget to tip our hats to The Wrecking Crew for cutting such a cool track! As well as the 12 string Ricky, there is that cool bass lick by Larry Knechtel at the beginning. Love it!

    • Hey Mike,
      Couldn’t agree with you more! However I have a question for you. It certainly is widely know that the Mr. Tambourine track was indeed performed by “The Wrecking Crew, but I always believed that it was McGunn who played that great 12 string part!
      Are you saying even the 12 string was played by a “Crew” member?
      Thanx Mike!

      • I honestly don’t know Rick. I believe Roger has said he did play on the session, but I don’t know if he came up with that riff or not. I’m sure there are experts out there who could tell us who played what, what brand of guitar they used, what type and gauge of strings they used, their amps and microphones, etc. But as Mr. Dylan said, it ain’t me babe! I mostly just like to listen. You know, at the time, who played what wasn’t really considered that important. For the session musicians it was just another day at the office. What mattered was to get the record out. In any event, it was a hit, and launched the careers of some amazing artists. And aren’t we all better off for it? Cheers!

  3. RICK

    I want to say two things about your article, one personal, one factual:

    1. THE FACTUAL: “Mr. Tambourine Man” was certainly NOT “the only Bob Dylan song ever to reach #1 on the U.S. pop charts.” It may have been the only Dylan song to reach #1 on Billboard but “Like a Rolling Stone” was #1 for one week (September 18, 1965) on the Cash Box Top 100.

    2. THE PERSONAL: While PET SOUNDS has been my personal all-time faverave album for fifty years, I have never had a second fave album. I have about forty albums that have long vied for that spot (including BLONDE ON BLODE, SGT. PEPPER, THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES REQUEST, MUSIC FROM BIG PINK, ARTHUR, and FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS) but never winnowed them down to a Top 10.

    Yesterday, while slurping coffee and playing 500 Rummy on our back porch, for no apparent reason, I turned to my wife and said, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

    “What’s that, dear?” she replied.

    “It suddenly dawned on me that the Byrds’ first album is my second favorite album of all time,” I exclaimed.

    “But hasn’t it always been?” she said.

    “Yes, by Jove!” I exclaimed again. “But I just now consciously realized it!”

    “That’s wonderful, dear,” she replied, “but I just played my last card and I’m out and you’ve lost again and I have to do my daily walk around the block.”

    “That’s okay,” I replied. “I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone and I’m not losing at cards anymore…”

      • Hey Curtis!
        I agree, it’s an excellent and fascinating post, but it’s not mine! That great piece is from the pen of Neal Umphred!

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