Rewinding the Charts: 50 Years Ago, The Byrds Flew to No. 1
The band topped the Hot 100, gave Bob Dylan his only leader and essentially launched the 'jingle-jangle' folk-rock sound.
When the Byrds released their debut single for Columbia Records, few could've guessed the scope of history that would follow. "Mr. Tambourine Man" entered the Billboard Hot 100 dated May 15, 1965 and rose to No. 1 on the June 26 list, just six weeks later. Not only did the band score a Hot 100 leader on its first try, but the song's writer, Bob Dylan, landed what stands as his sole No. 1 as a writer. (As an artist, he has risen to No. 2 peaks twice: with 1965's "Like a Rolling Stone" and 1966's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.")
The Byrds, who'd follow with further Dylan-penned hits like 1965's "All I Really Want to Do" and 1967's "My Back Pages," also effectively kicked the folk-rock movement into high gear with the success of "Mr. Tambourine Man," thanks largely to frontman Roger (then Jim) McGuinn's jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar virtuosity. Bands like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, R.E.M. and Mumford & Sons have followed in the group's innovative sonic footsteps.
After forming in 1964, the Byrds broke up in 1973 (with McGuinn remaining the only constant member in that span). McGuinn and longtime group members David Crosby and Chris Hillman reunited as the Byrds, playing concerts and releasing new songs, in 1989-90 and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. On Aug. 8, 2000, the trio performed at a Los Angeles benefit under the Byrds billing for the last time.
McGuinn, 72, continues to tour solo. On July 15, he'll appear at the launch gala for astronaut Buzz Aldrin's ShareSpace Foundation. It's not yet confirmed if he'll perform another Byrds classic apt for the occasion: 1966's "Mr. Spaceman."
A version of this article first appeared in the July 4 issue of Billboard magazine.