February 27, 2009

NT's greatest hits, vol. 4

Yet another entry from my list of favorite songs of all time. I'm like a Facebook meme, but with superfluous detail."Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds
Someone (else) is going to get on me for this, but I far prefer this version of the song to Bob Dylan's original. It's a folk-rock masterpiece, a soaring, sharp-edged song with a palpable folk grounding; I love Dylan, sure, but at least in his early incarnation, it's hard to find genuine examples of him rocking out. (Hence, "Judas!")

Roger McGuinn's guitar in this cover version, a jangling 12-string electric Rickenbacker, packs an incredible amount of texture into its recurring riff, giving a lot of fire to what's really a fairly simple song. And then, of course, the lyrics are Dylan at his best: concise and beautiful psychedelia, wide-eyed but not naive. The Byrds excise an entire verse from the Zimmy's lyrics, but I think the tune really benefits from the economy (it runs only 2:20); by making this trip upon a magic swirling ship a brief one, it avoids a slide into pretension.

"Mr. Tambourine Man" was a monster hit in 1965, became a staple of forward-thinking oldies radio (where I discovered it in the '90s), and is a strong testament to what a lot of people were calling the Byrds the American Beatles for several years of the '60s. Far out, in all the best ways.

Earlier editions of NT's greatest hits:
"OK Apartment" and "Just What I Needed"
"Objects of My Affection" and "Crimson and Clover"
"Reelin' in the Years"