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For The Byrds' album of the same name, see Mr. Tambourine Man .

"Mr. Tambourine Man" is a song written and performed by Bob Dylan and featured on his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, produced by Tom Wilson (see 1965 in music). The Byrds also recorded a version that was their first single on Columbia Records and the title track of their first album, and which reached #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the UK Singles Chart. The Byrds had access to a recording of the song by Dylan and Ramblin' Jack Elliot, from when Dylan attempted to record it during the session for his Another Side of Bob Dylan album, before it was released on Bringing It All Back Home. As a result, The Byrds were able to release their own version just two weeks after Dylan's. The Byrds' recording of the song was influential in initiating the musical subgenre of folk rock, leading many contemporary bands to mimic its fusion of jangly guitars and intellectual lyrics in the wake of the single's success.

The song has also been covered by many other artists, including Judy Collins, Odetta, Melanie, and William Shatner. The song's popularity led to Dylan recording it live many times, and it has been included in multiple Dylan and Byrds compilation albums. It has been translated into several languages, and has also been used in television shows and films, and referenced in several books.

The song has a bright, expansive melody and has become famous in particular for its surrealistic imagery, influenced by artists as diverse as French poet Arthur Rimbaud and Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. The lyrics call on the title character to play a song and the narrator will follow. Interpretations of the lyrics have included a paean to drugs such as LSD, a call to the singer's muse, a reflection of the audience's demands on the singer, and even religious interpretations. Dylan sings the song in four verses, but only one of these was recorded by The Byrds. The song is one of just three that was included twice in Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, since both The Byrds' version and Dylan's own version are included. Both versions also received Grammy Hall of Fame Awards.

Bob Dylan's version

Composition and recording

"Mr. Tambourine Man" was written in early 1964, about the same time as "Chimes of Freedom", which Dylan recorded later that spring for his last acoustic album, Another Side of Bob Dylan. Dylan began writing "Mr. Tambourine Man" in February 1964, after partying in New Orleansmarker during Mardi Gras while on a cross-country road trip with several friends, completing it sometime between mid-March and late April after returning to New York. Journalist Al Aronowitz claimed that Dylan completed the song at his home but folk singer Judy Collins (who later covered the song) has also claimed that Dylan completed the song at her home. Dylan premiered the song the following month during a visit to England in what is considered one of the landmark concerts of the 1960s, his solo May 17 appearance at London's Royal Festival Hallmarker.

Dylan first recorded "Mr. Tambourine Man" a few weeks later, on June 9, with Tom Wilson producing, during the Another Side of Bob Dylan session. The take, recorded with Ramblin' Jack Elliott, was cut from the album because Dylan felt the song was special and their performance did not do it justice. More than six months passed before Dylan re-recorded the song, again with Tom Wilson in the producer's chair, during the final Bringing It All Back Home session on January 15, 1965, the same day as "Gates of Eden", "It's Alright, Ma ", and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" were recorded. It was long thought that the four songs were all recorded in one long take. However, in the biography Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades, Clinton Heylin relates that the song required six attempts, possibly because of difficulties in working out the playoffs between Dylan's acoustic guitar and Bruce Langhorne's electric lead. The final take was selected for the album which was released on March 22, 1965.

The song has a bright, expansive melody, with Langhorne's electric guitar accompaniment, which provides a countermelody to the vocals, being the only instrument besides Dylan's acoustic guitar. Dylan plays a harmonica solo that evokes the narrator's internal daydream. Unusually, rather than beginning with the first verse, the song begins with an iteration of the chorus:

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you.

The four verses expand on the narrator's situation using heavily embroidered imagery. Though weary, the narrator is unable to sleep and wants to hear Mr. Tambourine Man's song, believing that the song will fulfill his desire to be set free.

There has always been speculation that the song is about drugs such as LSD or marijuana, particularly with lines such as "take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship" and "the smoke rings of my mind." However, Dylan always denied the song is about drugs, and though he was using marijuana at the time the song was written, he was not introduced to LSD until a few months later. Other commentators have interpreted the song as a call to the singer's spirit or muse, or the singer's search for transcendence. The singer is praying to his muse for inspiration; ironically the song itself is evidence that the muse has already provided the sought-after inspiration. Mr. Tambourine Man has also been interpreted as a symbol for Jesus Christ and for the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The song may also reference gospel music, with Mr. Tambourine Man being the bringer of religious salvation.

Dylan cited the influence of Federico Fellini's movie La strada on the song, while other commentators found echoes of the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. The lyrics "in the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you" are taken from a Lord Buckley recording. In addition to providing the electric guitar accompaniment for the song, Dylan has said that Bruce Langhorne was the inspiration for the tambourine man image in the song. Langhorne used to play a giant, four-inch-deep Turkish tambourine, and had brought it to a previous Dylan recording session.

Other releases

"Mr. Tambourine Man" was included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits in 1967 and several later Dylan compilation albums, including Biograph, Masterpieces, and The Essential Bob Dylan. The song has always been a personal favorite of Dylan's, and he has said that "it's the only song I tried to write 'another one'", although he did not succeed.

The song has been in Dylan's live concert repertoire ever since it was written. At Dylan's appearance at the Newport Folk Festival on July 29, 1965, after he was heckled by acoustic folk music fans during his electric set, Dylan returned to play acoustic versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". That performance of "Mr. Tambourine Man" is included in Murray Lerner's film The Other Side of the Mirror., and in Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home. Dylan also played it as part of his evening set at the August 1, 1971, Concert for Bangladesh, a benefit concert organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. That performance is included on The Concert for Bangladesh album, although it was excluded from the film of the concert. A live version from Dylan's famous May 17, 1966, concert in Manchester, Englandmarker (popularly but mistakenly known as the Royal Albert Hall Concert) is included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert. Another live version from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975 is on The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue, and yet another live version from 1978 is on Bob Dylan at Budokan.

Two 1964 recordings of the song by Dylan have been made available on compact disc. A live performance at New York's Philharmonic Hallmarker dating from October 31, 1964, was released on The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall. A version recorded with Ramblin' Jack Elliott on backing vocals during sessions for Another Side of Bob Dylan was included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home.

The Byrds' version

Release and the birth of folk rock

"Mr. Tambourine Man" was the debut single by the American folk rock band The Byrds, released on April 12, 1965, by Columbia Records. The song was included on the band's debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, released on June 21, 1965. The single, along with the album of the same name, was influential in originating the musical style known as folk rock, with the single becoming the first folk rock smash hit. Indeed, the term "folk rock" was first coined by the U.S music press to describe the band's sound at the same time as "Mr. Tambourine Man" peaked at #1 on the Billboard chart.

The single initiated the folk rock explosion of 1965 and 1966, with many acts imitating the band's hybrid of a rock beat, jangly guitar playing and poetic or socially conscious lyrics. This hybrid had its antecedents in the folk revival of the early 1960s, The Animals' recording of "The House of the Rising Sun", the folk-influenced songwriting of The Beau Brummels, and the twelve-string guitar jangle of The Searchers and The Beatles. However, it was The Byrds who first melded these disparate elements into a unified whole, creating the template for folk rock heard around the globe during the mid-1960s. Although Dylan's recording of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was not itself a direct influence on the genre, his recordings with an electric rock backing on the albums Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited certainly were.


Most of the members of The Byrds had a background in folk music, since Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark, and David Crosby all worked as folk singers during the early 1960s. They had also spent time, independently of each other, in various folk groups, including The New Christy Minstrels, The Limeliters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, and Les Baxter's Balladeers. In early 1964, McGuinn, Clark and Crosby formed The Jet Set, and started developing a fusion of folk-based lyrics and melodies with arrangements in the style of The Beatles. While the band rehearsed at World Pacific Studios, their manager, Jim Dickson, managed to acquire an acetate disc of "Mr. Tambourine Man" from Dylan's publisher, featuring a performance by Dylan and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Although the band were initially unimpressed with the song, they eventually agreed to begin rehearsing and demoing it. In an attempt to make it sound more like The Beatles, the band and Dickson elected to give the song a full, electric rock band treatment, effectively creating the musical subgenre of folk rock. To further bolster the group's confidance in the song, Dickson invited Dylan to hear the band's rendition at World Pacific. Dylan was impressed, enthusiastically commenting "Wow, You can dance to that!" and his endorsement erased any lingering doubts the band had about the song. During this period, drummer Michael Clarke and bass player Chris Hillman joined and the band changed their name to The Byrds over Thanksgiving 1964. The two surviving demos of "Mr. Tambourine Man" recorded at World Pacific feature an incongruous marching band drum part from Clarke but overall the arrangement, which utilized a 4/4 time signature instead of Dylan's 2/4 configuration, is very close to the later single version.


The master take of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was recorded on January 20, 1965, at Columbia Studios in Hollywood, prior to the release of Dylan's own version. The song's jangling, melodic guitar playing (played by McGuinn on a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar) was immediately influential and has remained so to the present day. The group's complex harmony work, as featured on "Mr. Tambourine Man", became another major characteristic of their sound. Due to producer Terry Melcher's initial lack of confidence in The Byrds' musicianship, McGuinn was the only Byrd to play on "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its B-side, "I Knew I'd Want You". Rather than using band members, Melcher hired The Wrecking Crew, a collection of top L.A. session musicians, who (with McGuinn on guitar) provided the backing track over which McGuinn, Crosby, and Clark sang. By the time the sessions for their debut album began in March 1965, however, Melcher was satisfied that the band was competent enough to record its own musical backing.

The Byrds' recording of the song opens with McGuinn's distinctive, Bach-inspired guitar introduction and then, like Dylan's version, goes into the song's chorus. Although Dylan's version contains four verses, The Byrds only perform the song's second verse, before repeating the chorus, followed by a variation on the song's introduction which then fades out. The Byrds' arrangement of the song had been shortened during rehearsals at World Pacific in 1964, at the suggestion of Jim Dickson, in order to accommodate commercial radio stations which did not want to play songs that were over two-and-a-half minutes long. Thus, while Dylan's version is five-and-a-half minutes long, The Byrds' runs just short of two-and-a-half minutes. The lead vocal on The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was sung by McGuinn, who attempted to modify his singing style to fill what he perceived as a gap in the popular music scene of the day, somewhere between the vocal sound of John Lennon and Bob Dylan. The song also took on a spiritual aspect for McGuinn during the recording sessions, as he told The Byrds' biographer, Johnny Rogan, in 1997: "I was singing to God and I was saying that God was the Tambourine Man and I was saying to him, 'Hey, God, take me for a trip and I'll follow you.' It was a prayer of submission."


The single reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the UK Singles Chart. "Mr. Tambourine Man" thus became the first recording of a Dylan song to reach #1 on any pop music chart. In the wake of "Mr. Tambourine Man" the influence of The Byrds could be heard in many recordings released by American acts, including The Turtles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Lovin' Spoonful, Barry McGuire, The Mamas & the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, We Five, Love, and Sonny & Cher. In addition, by late 1965 The Beatles themselves were assimilating the sound of folk rock and in particular The Byrds into the material found on their Rubber Soul album, most notably on the songs "Nowhere Man" and "If I Needed Someone". As the 1960s came to a close, folk rock changed and evolved away from this jangly template but the influence of The Byrds could still be heard in the early 70's music of bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle. The Byrds folk rock sound has continued to influence bands from the 1970s through to the present day, including Big Star, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, R.E.M., The Long Ryders, The Smiths, The Bangles, The Stone Roses, Teenage Fanclub, The Bluetones, and Delays.

In addition to appearing on The Byrds' debut album, the song is included on several Byrds' compilation and live albums, including The Byrds Greatest Hits, Live at Royal Albert Hall 1971, The Original Singles: 1965–1967, Volume 1, The Very Best of The Byrds, The Essential Byrds, The Byrds Play Dylan, and the live disc of The Byrds' album. The Byrds' version of the song also appears on compilation albums that include hit songs by multiple artists. Two earlier demo recordings of the song, from the World Pacific sessions, can be heard on The Byrds' archival albums Preflyte, In the Beginning, and The Preflyte Sessions.

Other covers and references

"Mr. Tambourine Man" has been covered by many artists, and at least 13 times in 1965 alone, including versions by Odetta, Judy Collins, The Four Seasons, The Barbarians, and Chad and Jeremy. Other artists who have covered the song include The Beau Brummels (1966), The Lettermen (1966), Kenny Rankin (1967), Melanie (1969), Gene Clark (1984), Les Fradkin (2007), and Bob Sinclar (2009). William Shatner also covered the song in a spoken-word recitation on his 1968 album, The Transformed Man. Indie bands, such as Cloud Cult, have also covered the song. A reunited line-up of The Byrds, featuring Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman, and David Crosby, performed "Mr. Tambourine Man" with Dylan at a Roy Orbison tribute concert on February 24, 1990. This live performance of the song was included on the 1990 box set, The Byrds. At the October 1992 Bob Dylan 30th anniversary tribute concert at Madison Square Gardenmarker, McGuinn performed the song, backed by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench, among others.

The song has been translated and recorded in several languages. Müslüm Gürses has covered the song with different lyrics written in Turkish. The Turkish version of the song was called Hayat Berbat. It was translated into Romanian by Florian Pittiş, and sung by Pasărea Colibri on their 1995 album "În căutarea cuibului pierdut".

The song has appeared in films and television shows. Former American Idol contestant Jason Castro covered this song on the show in 2008, forgetting one line. He later mentioned in an interview that, "Someone told me I Shot the Tambourine Man"; a reference to him also singing "I Shot the Sheriff" by Bob Marley that same week. The students in the movie Dangerous Minds study the poetry of "Mr. Tambourine Man", and possible drug-related meanings are discussed.

"Mr. Tambourine Man" has also been referenced in books. In Tom Wolfe's non-fiction novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, "Mr. Tambourine Man" is referenced regarding Dylan's "raunching and rheuming." In Stephen King's book Carrie, the song is mentioned as one of the songs to be sung as the entertainment portion of the famous prom scene alongside "500 Miles", "Cabaret", "Lemon Tree", "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head", and "Bridge over Troubled Waters".

The song has been played at funerals. Journalist Hunter S. Thompson requested the song be played at his funeral while his ashes were shot out of a cannon, and also dedicated his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Dylan because of the song. And Pete Townshend played this song at the funeral of Neil Aspinall, The Beatles' road manager and personal assistant.


The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was listed as the #79 song on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and Dylan's version was ranked #106. It is one of three songs to place twice, along with "Walk This Way" by both Aerosmith and Run-DMC with Perry and Tyler, and "Blue Suede Shoes" by both Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. The Byrds version was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998, and Dylan's version was honored with the same award in 2002.

In 1989 Rolling Stone listed The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" as the #86 single of the prior 25 years. That same year, music critic Dave Marsh listed it as #207 in his list of the top 1001 singles ever made. In 1999, National Public Radio in the United States listed this version as one of the 300 most important American records of the 20th century. In the UK, music critic Colin Larkin listed The Byrds' version as the #1 single of all time. Other UK publishers that have listed this song as one of the top songs or singles include Mojo, New Musical Express, and Sounds. Australian music critic Toby Creswell included the song in his book 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them.

In a 2005 reader's poll reported in Mojo, Dylan's version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was listed as the #4 all-time greatest Bob Dylan song, and a similar poll of artists ranked the song #14. In 2002, Uncut listed it as the #15 all-time Dylan song.


  1. Jason Castro's American Idol performance: * * * *
  2. Dangerous Minds references: * * *
  3. Relevant other parts of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time are at: * * * *
  4. UK publishers that listed "Mr. Tambourine Man" on top singles lists: * * *

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