Happy 80th Martin Carthy. And Eliza's greeting to her dad tops all
Dylan neat or Dylan beat. Blowin' in the Wind by the master or by Peter, Paul and Mary

Dylan at 80: a respectful comparison of Mr Tambourine Man, by Bob and by the Byrds


Mike Amos, the man responsible for my start in journalism (his apology to the world is in the post), insists that the best Bob Dylan cover version is the Byrds' Mr Tambourine Man. I'll grant that it's a contender for inclusion in the best, say, 10 covers but would put others ahead of it. And still reserve the right to prefer, as I do, the Dylan original.

Back in February I had a quick, approving look at the Byrds  and their pioneering role in folk-rock. That piece is there to see if you wish. Rather than just repeat it in the context of Dylan's milestone birthday looming, with Salut! Live's Dylan at 80 series in full flow, I will just add this a shortened version to the mix.

There is more to come, including Bill Taylor's appreciation, well worth waiting for, on Saturday - two days before Dylan's big day - and a round-up of what others music folk, indeed folk music folk, are saying about the bard and his work, due to appear on Sunday.

Bob Frazer at the Bob Dylan Fan Club Facebook group takes me to task: "This is the reason I rarely read these things now - no such thing as 'best' version, just the one the listener likes the most. It's just the writer's opinion, stand by it all you want, but it's just opinion."

I do not quarrel with that; many of the 60+ Cover Story instalments so far published here have made it clear that the exercise is not a competition, just a series of comparisons. Of course I and my contributors state a preference, but it is - as Bob implies - no more valuable than anyone else's opinion. We may well say "this is the best" but, as I observed in that Facebook exchange, extending the phrase to "I think this is the best" is arguably tautologous.

And this, for the purposes of our Dylan birthday build up is the abbreviated version of what I wrote three months ago ....


"John and Michi were getting kind of itchy, just to leave the folk music behind."

As every 1960s schoolboy probably knew, the line opened Creeque Alley, a quirkily pleasing Mamas and Papas song which, when not bidding farewell to folk, generally name dropping or commenting on Cass Elliot's weight, told us of the effects of exotic substances on Roger McGuinn and Barry McGuire.

It may or may not have been possible McGuinn and McGuire to get higher in LA ("you know where that's at") than as described in the song. But to fans of 1960s West Coast music, they didn't come much cooler. Already into folk and folk-rock, I liked McGuire and loved McGuinn's Byrds.

And recently I was reminded of how much I loved them when Eileen Jennifer, administrator of a Facebook group I belong to, 60s 70s Folk Music, posted an audio clip of the band's track Just a Season. This appeared on the 1970 Untitledalbum and as the flip side to Chestnut Mare, a great single cruelly overlooked in the USA, where it didn't even make the top 100, though it reached 19 in the UK. I was reminded again by Bill Taylor's stronger memory (see Comments below) that, with him and another friend, Alan Sims, I actually saw the band at Newcastle City Hall. I do remember Rita Coolidge opening for them but recall nothing else of the event.

The_Byrds_in_1965 From Wikipedia which acknowledges copyright as held by Sony Music Entertainment, 1965 (then CBS, Inc)

Here, I shall concern myself mainly with the folk-rock material the Byrds pioneered.

The debut album, Mr Tambourine Man, naturally included that terrific Dylan song or the shortened version of it that, as a single, would be hailed as folk-rock's earliest mega-hit, preceding the album and topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. 

I would always choose the original. But by making it almost another song altogether, the Byrds deserved their success. I say "their" although, as an American reader, Stan Wilson, once pointed out here, McGuinn was alone among band members to be trusted by Terry Melcher, its producer, to play on the single.

McGuinn's jangling 12-string Richenbacker was crucial to the performance and, happily enough, Melcher accepted in time for the album's recording that the rest of the band were competent enough to be heard, too. 

That first album had three other Dylan songs: Chimes of Freedom, All I Really Want To Do and Spanish Harlem Incident.

To make this piece appear different from what has already appeared, and to please Mike Amos, here are clips of all three ....



Here they are:


Bill Taylor

There's probably a book to be written about "Mr Tambourine Man." So many people have covered it (without getting into odious comparisons, let's at least agree that William Shatner's spoken version shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence as any of the others).
It's a shining example of Dylan's brilliance but I would argue that the Byrds' take had a far wider influence on music in general, leaving aside the fact that it was the first Dylan song to top the pop-singles charts - No. 1 in both the U.K. and U.S.
Folk-rock probably would have happened without it, but not in the same way. Even Dylan loved it - "You can dance to that!" he's said to have exclaimed when he first heard it - and it may well have been a factor in his own decision to go electric.
He and Roger McGuinn have been friends for years with a lot of musical collaboration, including "Ballad of Easy Rider" from the movie. Dylan is uncredited but actually wrote the opening lines - "The river flows, it flows to the sea, Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be,Flow, river, flow" - telling Peter Fonda: "Give this to McGuinn. He'll know what to do with it."

John McCormick

The Dylan version would be the one on my desert island and I quite like the Byrds' version but I spent a lot of time trying to work out how Judy Collins picked it and never quite succeeded

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