The Byrds’ 20 best songs

Famous fans and The Byrds themselves choose their greatest tracks

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2 MR TAMBOURINE MAN
From Mr Tambourine Man (June 1965). Single April 1965. UK chart: 1. US chart: 1
Folk-rock goes boom in a 140-second starburst blending Dylan’s poetry, The Beatles’ pop jangle and heavenly harmonies.

ROGER McGUINN: Dylan wasn’t able to use his original recording of “Mr Tambourine Man” because Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was singing on it, and he was a little tipsy and off key. The way Dylan worked was that whatever happened happened, he wouldn’t go back and fix it. So we heard this recording of the song that wasn’t commercially viable but was a great demo. Our manager, Jim Dickson, was convinced it was a hit record. His job was to convince The Byrds of that fact! Crosby hated it. He didn’t like Dylan’s voice, he didn’t like the 2/4 time signature and he didn’t like its length. So we pared it down to AM radio time, put on the Rickenbacker intro and outro, added the harmonies, and basically conditioned it for radio while still maintaining some of the original folk integrity. Finally, David got behind it.

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I remember us having to audition for Dickson about who would get the lead vocal. We all tried singing it and for some reason, I won. When it came to recording we were all shocked that the band wasn’t going to be allowed to do the backing track. The label had hired the Wrecking Crew. The only reason I was allowed to play was that I had a few years of session experience behind me in New York working for Bobby Darin. Understandably, the rest of the guys were quite upset, and campaigned to be able to play on all our tracks after that. But the Wrecking Crew were really tight. We knocked out “Mr Tambourine Man” and the flipside “I Knew I’d Want You” in one three-hour session, whereas it took The Byrds 77 takes to nail the “Turn! Turn! Turn!” backing track!

Dylan and Bobby Neuwirth came to rehearsals to hear us do it, and their comment was, “Wow, you can dance to it!” Dylan wasn’t a pop star at that point, he was a folk hero. So it was probably an eye opener for him that he could do his songs in that way. I realised later that we’d missed a few nuances in his original melody, but overall it came out well. It was a No 1 and it really did launch us.

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