Released on this day in 1965, the Byrds’ debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, marked the beginning of the folk-rock revolution. In just a few months, the Byrds had become a household name, with a #1 single and 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 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.