Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Mr. Tambourine Man

Recorded (as a demo) by The Jet Set (1964).
First album release by Bob Dylan (March 1965).
Hit version by The Byrds (US #1/UK #1/CAN #2/IRE #1 April 1965).
Also recorded by The Brothers Four (recorded 1964, released May 1965).

From the wiki: “In 1964, The Byrds – then known as The Jet Set – first recorded ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ as an audition demo prior to being signed to Columbia Records. Two other songs from the session (but not ‘Tambourine Man’) were released by Elektra Records in a one-off deal and had no chart impact. For the Columbia Records recording session leading to their first hit record, The Byrds did the vocals and lead guitar on the recording but session musicians (the infamous ‘Wrecking Crew‘) were brought in to play the other instruments. Hal Blaine, Larry Knechtel and Glen Campbell were among the assorted session players used for The Byrds’ first recordings.

“The very first recording ever of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was a 6+-minute demo completed by Bob Dylan (along with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) during a marathon session for the Another Side Of Bob Dylan album (on June 9th, 1964). The song had been written by Dylan while driving cross-country from New York to San Francisco via New Orleans. He wrote the song and recorded the demo with Elliot that eventually found its way to The Jet Set née The Bryds. (Dylan’s demo would later resurface on the soundtrack to the Dylan bio-doc No Direction Home.)

“‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ was originally set to be issued in a version that Dylan had recorded live at a folk festival, but Dylan wasn’t happy with the results. Unfortunately, his contract with Columbia didn’t give him the right to decide on what material the company released, so Bob didn’t seem to have much of a choice. But then, he remembered he had first-issue rights and denied a mechanical license to his own record company. The album was killed.

“Meanwhile, the Brothers Four had recorded a highly commercial cover version of the song – a guaranteed comeback for the languishing folk group. But, when Dylan’s anticipated first version failed to appear, the group was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, unable to release their dynamite single. It sat in the vaults until Dylan re-recording ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ in the studio and then released his approved version in early March 1965. The Brothers Four were then able to release their arrangement – in May 1965 – but, by then, the Byrds had already recorded their own historic arragement (in Los Angeles with members of the Wrecking Crew, a week after Dylan’s New York City session in January 1965) and released it as the promotional single for the album Mr. Tambourine Man, in April 1965, a month before the Brothers Four’s The Honey Wind Blows album release.

“Who was this ‘Tambourine Man’? According to Dylan biographer Howard Sounes, in Down The Highway, Bruce Longhorne was the man. Dylan later explained: ‘Bruce was playing with me on a bunch of early records. On one session, [producer] Tom Wilson had asked Bruce to play tambourine. And he had this gigantic tambourine. It was, like, really big. It was as big as a wagon wheel. He was playing and this vision of him playing just stuck in my mind.’

“The Byrds’ version of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ is listed as the #79 song on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Bob Dylan, “Mr. Tambourine Man” live performance at The Newport Folk Festival (1964):

The Brothers Four, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1964):

The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965):

The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” live TV performance (1965):