The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

xxx.jpg

  • An outstanding vintage Columbia pressing, earning solid Double Plus (A++) sonic grades on both sides
  • Lively, balanced and vibrant, with a healthy dose of the Tubey Magical richness these recordings need in order to work
  • Listen to how breathy Jim (later Roger) McGuinn’s vocals are – his vocals are key to the better sounding Byrds records
  • 5 stars: “One of the greatest debuts in the history of rock … nothing less than a significant step in the evolution of rock & roll itself, demonstrating that intelligent lyrical content could be wedded to compelling electric guitar riffs and a solid backbeat.”

Tubey Magic? This copy has a healthy dose of it on both sides.

Want to hear exactly what I’m talking about? Play Chimes of Freedom, one of the best sounding tracks on side two, if not THE best. Listen to how breathy Jim (later Roger) McGuinn’s vocals are. Byrds records almost never sound like that.

I Knew I’d Want You is another one that sounds amazingly Tubey Magical on the best pressings.

By the time you get to track two on side one you’re hearing one of my favorite Byrds song of all time: I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better. It’s energetic and very present on this copy.

Notice that Gene Clark’s vocals usually sound better than Roger McGuinn’s. For some reason they tend to brighten up his vocals, and the last thing you ever want to do with a Byrds recording is make it brighter. But having said that, most of the reissues are too thin and bright compared to the best originals.

What the best sides of Mr. Tambourine Man have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1965
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

More Black Swans

Years ago we wrote that the 360 Label original pressings were the only ones with the rich, warm sound of tubes:

Looking for Tubey Magic? The best 360 pressings are the only way to go, and even those are often lacking. (Forget most red label copies; they have nice qualities but tubey magic is not among them.) But the best pressings of The Byrds’ albums — those with truly Hot Stampers — are swimming in it.

Now we regularly find exceptionally good sounding Red Label reissues with plenty of lovely Tubey Magic. We cannot tell the originals from the reissues during the shootout, because they sure don’t fit with our idea of what a reissue would sound like. Lots of originals can sound thin and bright the way some Columbia Red Label pressings do.

Fortunately we can’t see the labels of the records that we’re auditioning, which helps make the admittedly subjective evaluation of records somewhat more objective than might otherwise be the case.

What We’re Listening For on Mr. Tambourine Man

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Mono Vinyl

None of the Columbia monos we’ve played have ever done much for us. Congested and compressed, with no real top, who in his right mind could possibly tolerate that kind of sound on modern equipment?

Although, to be fair, we’ve stopped buying them, so there may actually be a good copy or two out there in used record land that we haven’t heard. In our defense, who really has the time to play records with so little potential for good sound?

Sundazed Mono

This is probably the best of all the Sundazed mono reissues. I never thought I would hear a Sundazed record with this kind of richness and sweetness. It reminds me of a good 360 pressing, and that has virtually never happened before. Side one is a tad better than side two, which is slightly brighter than it should be. But both sides are exceptionally good considering the modern mastering.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Mr. Tambourine Man
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
Spanish Harlem Incident
You Won’t Have to Cry
Here Without You
The Bells of Rhymney

Side Two

All I Really Want to Do
I Knew I’d Want You
It’s No Use
Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe
Chimes of Freedom
We’ll Meet Again

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

One of the greatest debuts in the history of rock, Mr. Tambourine Man was nothing less than a significant step in the evolution of rock & roll itself, demonstrating that intelligent lyrical content could be wedded to compelling electric guitar riffs and a solid backbeat. It was also the album that was most responsible for establishing folk-rock as a popular phenomenon, its most alluring traits being Roger McGuinn’s immediately distinctive 12-string Rickenbacker jangle and the band’s beautiful harmonies.