June 26, 1965: Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man Soars to #1

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Tambourine Man 45If the rise of folk-rock as a commercial force can be carbon dated to a single event, this would be it, 51 years ago today. The origin stories around the Bob Dylan song that was the first single by The Byrds vary. Some say “Mr. Tambourine Man” is Greenwich Village folk scene guitarist Bruce Langhorne, who would also play a Turkish hand drum with small bells attached that sounded like a tambourine. Others claim it was the nickname for Dylan’s pot dealer. The song is thought to recount a night Dylan spent at Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1964.

The recording that topped both the U.S. and U.K. charts was not played by the Los Angeles-based band formed in the wake of The Beatles by folkies Jim McGuinn (later to change his first name to Roger) Gene Clark, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and drummer Mike Clarke. Instead the L.A. studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew backed McGuinn on his Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar – one of the signature sounds of the track and band alongside the group’s luscious vocal harmonies. Hit acts like Simon & Garfunkel, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Sonny & Cher and others soon after followed the folk-rock wave begun by The Byrds onto the charts.

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If you’re wondering how Dylan’s own version scored on the Singles chart, you’re not alone. But you’ll be searching in vain; it was never released as a single. The Byrds would soon enjoy a second #1 with “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

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