Okay, let me get this out of the way right up front. The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man is one of my favorite albums of all time...for sure in my Top 10. Known as The American Beatles, with this album The Byrds literally invented folk-rock and jangle-guitar rock. Not bad for their first album! Of course, the fact that most of the album covers Dylan tunes (which Jim McGuinn hated doing at the time) surely gave it more than a few steps up the ladder...taking some of the rough-voiced bard's best and turning them into sweet, sweet harmony-filled nuggets for eternity.
After immediately purchasing this vinyl disc the day it was released (1965), I remember seeing the band on a Saturday afternoon television show (in black and white), and, man, nothing since The Beatles' Ed Sullivan Show introduction had ever moved me nor impressed me as much! McGuinn with his "granny glasses" and full mop-head of hair and his Rickenbacker electric 12-string, Gene Clark's Saturday matinee good-looks, the solo singer with the tambourine, drummer Michael Clarke's perfect long blond hair...it was truly magical. Although, as I remember, they were lip-syncing. It didn't matter. Back then, rock stars looked like rock stars should, and The Byrds not only looked like rock stars, they also delivered the goods in spades! I had the everlasting pleasure of seeing The Byrds live in 1967, b/w Steppenwolf!
Now comes a very truncated history: Gene Clark was the best songwriter in the group (his I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better on this disc is still a classic). McGuinn was jealous not only of Clark's songwriting ability, but also of his being the only band member not playing an instrument, which, to McGuinn, made him look like the "lead-singer". And, although McGuinn and Clark were both lead singers, McGuinn was jealous of the appearance of Clark as "the" lead-singer. Gene Clark left The Byrds after three albums, due to his morbid fear of flying (no pun intended), and, perhaps, the friction with McGuinn. (I maintain to this day that Gene Clark is the most under-appreciated singer/songwriter ever. He went on to some other group projects, but his numerous solo releases, arguably, prove my point. Gram Parsons has been credited as the long-lost great country-folk-rock artist of all-time. I disagree. Clark's work shames Parsons' work. I have two friends who are Parson fanatics, but when pressed, they admit that Clark is the better of the two. I get my Gene Clark admiration in when I can!) (Little known fact: The Byrds did not play the instruments on this album, save for McGuinn's guitar and Clark's tambourine. Columbia wanted all studio musicians on this first disc. The band does, however, do all of the singing here...Even littler known fact: Michael Clarke was added to the band for his looks. He had never played drums before joining The Byrds.)
Okay, then, now to the disc at hand: Mobile Fidelity (MoFi) has, thankfully, re-released Mr. Tambourine Man as a mono/stereo high-resolution hybrid SACD. (God bless 'em! Someone needs to keep this format alive!) First, to clear up any confusion, the original 12 tracks are presented here in mono from the orginal mono master tapes. The additional tracks are in stereo, the same as on the 20 Bit Mastered Columbia/Legacy re-release, which also offers all original songs in stereo. I'll say this right now: if you must have stereo with a lateral soundstage and a judiscious amount of Dolby ProLogic II or IIx, stick with the Columbia/Legacy release. There is no fiddling with any type of sound processing when it comes to SACD.
The first 12 tracks are mono, and that's it.Since the 1970s, MoFi has prided themselves at seeking out the "Original Master Recordings" of any album they've rereleased. Audiophilia, don'cha know. And I am an audiophile. I own every version of this disc ever released, and, by far, the best fidelity, the truest sound (until now) has been the Columbia/Legacy release.
I A-B'd that disc with this new MoFi SACD for comparison. Is the SACD worth the price? Let's see. The Columbia/Legacy disc has a warmer sound than the SACD, but only slightly...and I attribute this to a clipped high end. The high highs, if you will, aren't really there on the CD when compared to the SACD's shimmering highs (especially McGuinn's guitar, cymbals and tambourine). Winner: the SACD. Now, remember, we're talking about master tapes from 1965, and, quite honestly, this recording was never the audiophile's dream. The album suffers from far too much compression, eliminating both the highest highs and the lowest lows. The SACD, as already mentioned, opens up the sound (re: bandwidth) by offering extended treble. The real problem enters when it comes to the low end. There is bass on both the Columbia/Legacy disc and the SACD...but both lack more than a muddy, thuddy bass guitar. Even MoFi can't extract more than is there on the original master tape. I would question MoFi's decision to go with the original mono recordings, but I was not there when the decision was made. I trust MoFi's engineers to make the best choice. The sound is as clean, crisp and clear as we're ever likely to hear, with transients popping and plucking nicely. And so it is.
Much like the Beatles' original CD releases on EMI, the MoFi SACD release of Mr. Tambourine Man gives it to you in the way it was originally recorded and intended...in mono, with no processing whatsoever. The sound is more open (even in mono) on the SACD...the added tracks, in stereo, are well worthwhile. With copius liner notes, in addition to the way The Byrds heard the tracks when originally recorded...and the added fidelity, I am very proud, and a bit like a child at Christmas-time, to own a piece of audio history. If you love The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man as much as I do, this is a must-have!
Editor's Note: It has since been brought to our attention that The Byrds did, in fact, play all instruments on The Mr. Tambourine Man album, except for the title track, which featured studio musicians.
We apologize for the error on George's part.