‘Cast Your Dancing Spell My Way . . .’

So how many covers are out there of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”? Who knows?

There are sixty versions – including Dylan’s – listed at Second Hand Songs. There are more than 500 mp3s – with much duplication – offered at Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve found covers at YouTube not listed in either place.

(I checked at both BMI and ASCAP, as I’m not sure which organization administers Dylan’s songs. I found no listings for Dylan at either place, which eithers means I’m doing something wrong while searching or his compositions are administered elsewhere. Either way, it’s no help.)

The listing at Second Hand Songs starts with Dylan’s original and the Byrds’ ground-breaking cover in 1965 and goes on to the 2012 version by Jack’s Mannequin, which was included in the four-CD set Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. The first cover listed after the Byrds’ cover is a 1965 misspelled offering of “Mr. Tambourin Man” from a group called the Finnish Beatmakers. Except for the Finnish accent – which I kind of like – it’s a copy of the Byrds’ version, starting right from the guitar introduction.

And that’s the case for many of the covers I’ve listened to this week: they’re warmed-over fowl. One of the few with an original sound came, interestingly, from Gene Clark, one of the members of the Byrds when they recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man.” His version of the Dylan tune – with a reimagined (and very nice, to my ears) introduction – was included on his 1984 album, Firebyrd.

The originator of the Byrds’ classic guitar lick, Roger McGuinn, shows up on a 1989 version of the tune recorded live in Los Angeles with Crowded House. As might be expected in that circumstance, it’s pretty much a copy of the Byrds’ version, with the Finn brothers et al. backing McGuinn.

Other early versions of note came from the Brothers Four and Johnny Rivers in 1965, from a young Stevie Wonder (with, one assumes, the Funk Brothers behind him), the Lettermen, the Beau Brummels and Noel Harrison in 1966, and from the Leathercoated Minds and Kenny Rankin in 1967. Versions from 1966 that I’d like to hear came from Billy Lee Riley and Duane Eddy. Odetta, as might be expected, offered an idiosyncratic and austere take on the tune in 1965.

Easy listening folks got hold of the tune, too. Billy Strange is listed at Second Hand Songs as having recorded a cover in 1965; I haven’t found that one (though my digging is not yet done), but I did find an easy listening version – with banjo, no less – recorded in 1965 by the Golden Gate Strings. And Johnny Harris & His Orchestra recorded the tune for the Reader’s Digest’s Up, Up & Away collection, which seems to have been released in 1970.

Speaking of banjo, the bluegrass/country duo of Flatt & Scruggs took on the song for their 1968 album, Changin’ Times. It’s nicely arranged with some nice harmonica in the background, but they’re too, well, square for the song, and that’s true right from the start, when they drop the “ain’t” and sing “there is no place I’m goin’ to.”

We’ll look at a few more versions of the tune – some of them quite nice – next week, but we’ll close today with a foreign language version of the tune. (Did you honestly think I would not drop one of those in?) Titled “Hra tampuurimies,” it’s a 1990 version from the irresistibly named Finnish group Freud, Marx, Engels & Jung.

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3 Responses to “‘Cast Your Dancing Spell My Way . . .’”

  1. porky Says:

    Billy Strange cut at least two LP’s of 60’s covers but they are probably not out in the digital realm.

    Glen Campbell also did “Mr. Tambourine Man” on his excellent LP, “The Big, Bad Rock Guitar of Glen Campbell,” a master class of wild, twangy 60’s guitar, arranged and conducted no less by Billy Strange.

    The tune is also on The Harmonicats’ “What’s New Harmonicats?” LP, an attempt to snag the youth crowd with many Dylan covers as well as “Ring Dang Doo,” “Get Off My Cloud,” etc. Great cover with a Carnaby Street garbed femme on a gleaming red motorcycle.

    Gerry Mulligan also cut a similar grab-the-youth-market LP, “If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em” featuring “Mr. Tambourine Man” as well as “King of the Road,” “Downtown,” etc.

  2. Paco Malo Says:

    For my money, you can’t beat Dylan’s original. I saw him open the New Orleans show from the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour and it was pure magic.

    Great post, Whiteray.

  3. Boursin Says:

    Dylan was with ASCAP early on in his career, but in 1995 he switched to SESAC, the third and smallest of the US performing rights organisations.

    I’m a Finn, by the way, but I had completely forgotten about “Hra tampuurimies”. The quite funny lyrics are actually unrelated to the original – it’s a drunk begging a bouncer to let him in, and denying repeatedly but unconvincingly that he’s drunk. The word tampuurimies ‘vestibule man’ does not exist outside this song – it’s a variant of an archaic term for a bouncer, tampuurimajuri ‘vestibule major’ (coming from the Swedish tambur).

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