(Pictured: the Byrds on The Ed Sullivan Show in December 1965; L to R, Crosby, Hillman, Clark, Clarke, and McGuinn.)
It is the last week of August in 1965. The Billboard Hot 100 is top-heavy with songs that will be considered classic for decades to come. Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” is #1, ahead of the Beatles’ “Help” and “California Girls” by the Beach Boys. The Top 10 also includes hits by the Righteous Brothers, Four Tops, Bob Dylan, and James Brown.
The list of songs that have already reached #1 in 1965 is astounding to an observer from the distant future. It includes “Satisfaction,” “I Can’t Help Myself,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Stop in the Name of Love,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Eight Days a Week,” “My Girl,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Back in My Arms Again.” And also “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, which spent the week of June 26, 1965 at #1. In a summer of ridiculous musical bounty, “Mr. Tambourine Man” was in the Top 10 for most of June and July. The Byrds harmonize beautifully on a truncated version of Bob Dylan’s original lyric over a track that’s mostly played by the Wrecking Crew; only lead guitarist Roger McGuinn (then still known as Jim) was deemed musician enough to play on the band’s debut single. The original plan was for studio musicians to make the entire album, but producer Terry Melcher relented, and the other Byrds, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, Michael Clarke, and David Crosby, both played and sang on Mr. Tambourine Man, which was released the week before the title song hit #1.
But back to the last week of August. “Mr. Tambourine Man” has been out of the Hot 100 for a couple of weeks. The album of the same name sits at #12 on Billboard‘s Top LPs list, down from its peak of #6 the week before. A second Byrds single, Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do,” is at #47, down from #40 in the previous week, a disappointing performance for a band just off a #1 hit. A version of the song by Cher, which she and Sonny decided to record after hearing the Byrds perform it earlier in the year, has run the charts at exactly the same time, and it’s the bigger hit, at #15 in this week. But Cher had the best of it only in the States. In the UK, the Byrds’ “All I Really Want to Do” went to #4, and in fact the band spends two weeks of August 1965 playing shows up and down the sceptered isle.
Thousands of miles from the UK, in the last week of August in 1965, I go off to kindergarten. I can still see myself standing at the screen door waiting for the school bus on the first day. I’ve written about Lincoln School before: “I know now that it was a normal, human-sized building, but in my memory, perspective is distorted—ceilings are a mile high, hallways are yards wide, and I’m a tiny creature looking up from very close to the floor. Which, in fact, I was.” My mother says that when she asked me how I had found my way to the right room on that morning, I told her, “They opened the door and I just walked in.”
My kindergarten teacher was Miss Morgan. Honesty compels me to report that I do not have specific memories of Miss Morgan, a woman in her early 30s then. I am certain that she had the traits all kindergarten teachers require—unfailing kindness and endless patience—but at the same time she was taskmaster enough to get 30 half-feral five-year-olds to go willingly in something like the same direction every day. And I am also certain that to the extent I am capable of learning and growing today, I still walk the path that Miss Morgan put me on.
Now, 57 years and some months past the end of August in 1965, it happens that David Crosby, who became the most famous member of the Byrds, and Miss Morgan of Lincoln School, who taught kindergarten for 40 years, should leave the planet in the same week.
The coincidence of the Byrd and the Teacher feels like it ought to mean something, and maybe it’s this: as we all sail our respective oceans, we have people who stand like beacons on the shore, whether we know them personally or only at a distance, whether they lit up our lives for years or for only a brief time. Even after those beacons wink out, we still use the light they gave us to help us fare forward on our way.
6 thoughts on “In the Jingle Jangle Morning I’ll Come Following You”
Beautifully written as always, JB.
What mikehagerty said. And a happy belated Disk Jockeys Day to you as well, jb.
What I’d like to know about the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, & Nash is, were they naturally that good at harmonizing or did it take years of singing together to get to be that good?
I began Kindergarten only one year after you had, and my teacher was a tyrant, failing me in June 1967, around the time the hippies congregated in Monterey. Once I entered first grade, however, I did much better. My book about 1960s and ‘70s music has many intermingling memories of music and scholastic ups and downs. Your Miss Morgan seemed like a good person.
I third what mikehagerty said. Got me thinking about lots of things, as good writing often does.
Wow! Way to late in getting here, but wow!