The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll: "Mr. Tambourine Man"

Wednesday, June 20: 11 a.m.
Posted by Rock Hall
The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" is one of the Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll

Folk rock didn't necessarily begin here. Four months before the Byrds recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man," the Animals were topping the pop charts with "The House of the Rising Sun." But this combination of song and performance epitomized the genre, with the happy effect of giving Bob Dylan – as songwriter, at least – a Number One hit, peaking on Billboard's Hot 100 on the week of June 26, 1965. The Byrds' debut gave them a powerful lift-off. The only Byrd playing on it, though, was electric 12-string guitarist Jim (later Roger) McGuinn. Producer Terry Melcher, doubtful of the new band's abilities, hired top session musicians (including Leon Russell) to back up the vocals of McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark. Perhaps Melcher had heard the group's originally private 1964 recording of the tune, which sounds like an arrangement for a music box. The Byrds recorded and released "Mr. Tambourine Man" neck and neck with Dylan's own (album-only) acoustic version. "We didn't really like [the song] or even understand it at the time," bassist Chris Hillman later admitted; their manager had pushed it on them. Drenched in the 12-string jangle of McGuinn's Rickenbacker guitar and with its lush harmonies, the presence of "Mr.Tambourine Man" on mid-Sixties AM radio indicated that the times, indeed, were a-changin'. As McGuinn once said of the Byrds, “It was Dylan meets the Beatles.” The Byrds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and are among the artists featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland's Cities and Sounds exhibit, specifically the Los Angeles – I Love LA: 1965 - 1979 section that focuses on the era of the singer/songwriter and country-rock, the troubadour scene, older folk scene and electric folk rock. 

WATCH: The Byrds perform "Mr. Tambourine Man" live at the 1991 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions ceremony.

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