The Best Bob Dylan songs: Mr. Tambourine Man

bob dylan mr tambourine man

My thoughts, my personal needs have always been expressed through my songs; you can feel them there even in ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.
~Bob Dylan (to Sandra Jones – June 1981)

Even a song like Mr. Tambourine Man really isn’t a fantasy. There’s substance to the dream. Because you’ve seen it, you know? In order to have a dream, there’s something in front of you. You have to have seen something or have heard something for you to dream it. It becomes your dream then.
~Bob Dylan (to Bill Flanagan – March 1985)


#12 on my list of Dylan’s 200 best songs. The original version from “Bringing It All Back Home” was recorded on January 15 – 1965 @ the third recording session.

….and proceeded to record the final versions of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “It’s Alright, Ma” & “Gates Of Eden” in a single take* with no playback between songs… it’s as though all three songs came out of him in one breath, easily the greatest breath drawn by an American artist since Ginsberg & Kerouac exhaled “Howl” & “On The Road” a decade earlier..
~Paul Williams (BD Performing Artist 1960-73)

*although this has been found not to be entirely true (after PW wrote his book).. It’s still a GREAT quote.

Bob Dylan - bringing it all back home

The specific Tambourine Man he had in mind was Bruce Langhorne, the magnificent multi-instrumentalist who would usher in Dylan’s electric era with some spellbinding guitar playing on Bringing It All Back Home (notably on “Mr. Tambourine Man” itself).
~Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the air)

Live at the Newport Folk Festival – 1964:

Live 1966, No Direction Home:

..But Mr. Tambourine Man in addition to being about freedom, is about surrender (“I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade..” Take me disappearing…”), and I can feel myself letting go of my thoughts and going under the dancing spell of the performance as a whole a little more each time it goes by.
~Paul Williams (BD Performing artist 60-73)


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 followin’ you

Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming

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 followin’ you

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it

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 followin’ you

Though you might hear laughin’, spinnin’, swingin’ madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone, it’s just escapin’ on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin’
And if you hear vague traces of skippin’ reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind
It’s just a shadow you’re seein’ that he’s chasing

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 followin’ you

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

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 followin’ you

bob dylan 1965

Live – New Orleans 1976:


“Mr. Tambourine Man” is a song written, composed, and performed by Bob Dylan, who released his original version of it on his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrds also recorded a version of the song that they released in the same year as their firstsingle on Columbia Records, reaching number 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the UK Singles Chart, as well as being the title track of their first album, Mr. Tambourine Man. The Byrds’ recording of the song was influential in initiating the musical subgenre offolk 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 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 religious interpretations. Dylan sings the song in four verses, of which The Byrds used only the second for their recording. Dylan’s and The Byrds’ versions have appeared on various lists ranking the greatest songs of all time, including an appearance by both on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 best songs ever. Both versions also received Grammy Hall of Fame Awards.

Brisbane 1978:

Composition and recording

“Mr. Tambourine Man” was written and composed in early 1964, at the same approximate time as “Chimes of Freedom,” which Dylan recorded later that spring for his album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Dylan began writing and composing “Mr. Tambourine Man” in February 1964, after attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans during a cross-country road trip with several friends, and completed it sometime between the middle of March and late April of that year after he had returned to New York. Nigel Williamson has suggested in The Rough Guide to Bob Dylan that the influence of Mardi Gras can be heard in the swirling and fanciful imagery of the song’s lyrics. Journalist Al Aronowitz has claimed that Dylan completed the song at his home, but folk singer Judy Collins, who later covered the song, has stated that Dylan completed the song at her home. Dylan premiered the song the following month at a May 17 concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

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. Sometime that month he also recorded a publisher demo of the song at Witmark Music. More than six months passed before Dylan re-recorded the song, again with Wilson in the producer’s chair, during the final Bringing It All Back Home session on January 15, 1965, the same day that “Gates of Eden,” “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” were recorded. It was long thought that the four songs were each 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.

Live – Drammen, Norway – 1981-07-09: Taken down on YouTube

..a truly spectacular Mr. Tambourine Man…

but the real genius of this version is the way Dylan alters his inflection throughout, his voice rising on a word or phrase where we would expect it to fall, and vice versa. The effect is to invite and require us to experience the song as something new.
~Paul Williams (BD – Performing artist 73-86)

Live – A Coruña, Galicia, Spain, 1993:

As was customary, “Mr. Tambourine Man” opened the acoustic segment, and while as usual this year it was outstanding, this version was even more so… Here in Manchester, on the third of April, Dylan completely nailed his spellbinding 1995 arrangement of one of his great masterpieces
~Andrew Muir (Razor’s Edge)

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One thought on “The Best Bob Dylan songs: Mr. Tambourine Man”

  1. Egil and Hallgeir; Back in the early 1960s I was interested in singing Bobby’s music. I told him I really liked “The ballad of Emmett Till.” The next day he surprised me by handing me a hand written copy of the lyrics. Then the new songs started falling like comets from space. When I first heard Mr. Tambourine Man it was sung by Odetta. She and her husband had an artists management company named Dandetta enterprises and Judy Collins and I were two of the first members of their stable. They booked each of us to sing at Folk City in 1960. It was at the Lions Head one night in 1964 when there was a gathering of the tribe. Songs were being passed around in the old fashioned “Hootenany” tradition when Odetta put up her hand and said “Has anyone heard Bobby’s new song?” It was magical. At that time it was a serious affront to the purists for a legit singer to engage in interpreting folk music so I mostly stayed within my Troubadour Style. Now , in the decade of my 80s I suffer from no such preconceptions of propriety so here’s an “Old Troubadour’s” version of ” Mr. Tambourine Man.” I think you’ll enjoy the brief introduction at the beginning of the video and a nice surprise comment tagged on after the ending of the song.

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