Easy Rider Soundtrack – Dunhill Records DSX 50063 (1969)/MVD Audio MVD8151LP (2017) – stereo vinyl, 37:38 ****:
(Featuring the music of Steppenwolf; Smith; The Birds; The Holy Modal Rounders; Fraternity Of Man; The Jimi Hendrix Experience; The Electric Prunes; and Roger McGuinn)
As the 1960’s cinema evolved, the anti-hero dominated the narratives. Movies like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Bonnie And Clyde, Hud, and Midnight Cowboy examined the social mores (of the absence) of the counterculture. But it took a long time to shed a light on the peculiar “Hippie” movement. Mike Nichols’ The Graduate was a shrewd glimpse into the angst of suburban disaffection. But in 1969, Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda tackled the complex, idyllic world of sex drugs and rock and roll in Easy Rider. With a meager budget (allegedly around $60,000) , the saga of two dope dealers (Fonda and Hopper) cruising across America on motorcycles became a smash hit. It elevated Jack Nicholson (a late replacement for Rip Torn) to stardom. The crossover appeal was a boom for independent films and more importantly, rock music in films.
The soundtrack for Easy Rider was also trend-setting. The various songs represented a visceral connection to the individual scenes and appeared in sequence. MVD has released a vinyl reissue of this classic album. Side A opens with Steppenwolf performing Hoyt Axton’s “The Pusher”. The bluesy groove progression is matched by singer John Kay’s gritty vocals. Anyone who has ever seen this flick can visualize the two protagonists sliding rolled up currency into the gas tanks. This type of music represents the edgier counterculture. Another Steppenwolf gem, “Born To Be Wild” follows as the ultimate road tune. Some have credited the origin of the expression “heavy metal” to these lyrics. And now some of the anecdotal mysteries of Easy Rider surface. The Band had two songs in the film, but neither made in onto the record. The album notes reference a dispute over “licensing”, but there are several theories. Consequently Smith covers “The Weight” with faithful reverence. The gospel vocals and soulful piano work are effective, but no one has ever duplicated the unique essence that was The Band.
The Byrds were a pioneer of country. rock in the 60’s. Their vocal harmonies shine on the Carole King/Gerry Goffin sprightly “Wasn’t Born To Follow”. The travel imagery and spacey guitar effects will remind the listener that they are in 1969. Perhaps no shot in Easy Rider is more smile-inducing then Jack Nicholson in his high school football helmet on the back of Peter Fonda’s bike. And underground legendary band The Holy Modal Rounders bring this scene to life with their folky musical ditty “If You Want To Be a Bird”. This clever reinvention of Ray Price’s “You Done me Wrong” encapsulates the wild hybrid of this era’s music.
Side B gives a nod to weed culture on “Don’t Bogart Me” by Fraternity Of Man. The steel guitar riffs and goofy (especially the extra long”….rooooooooll”) vocals are infectious with a rousing group finish. No other artist transformed the year 1969 like Jimi Hendrix. “If Six Was Nine” is electrifying and displays the sheer power of Jimi and his trio. His vocal phrasing is uncanny and the sonic-driven guitar is timeless. In the LSD-fueled New Orleans scene, “Kyrie Eleison” (by The Electric Prunes) uses piercing guitar, sound effects, a dialogue snippet and “The Saints Come Marching In” to weave a surreal ambiance. McGuinn finishes the album with a hard-driving, talking blues version of Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”. The Byrds frontman is considered among the best interpreters of classic Dylan. Their co-writing effort on the gently rolling “Ballad Of Easy Rider” (started by Dylan who famously said “…give it to Roger, he’ll know what to do with it!”) brings a satisfying conclusion to a very good soundtrack.
This vinyl re-issue of Easy Rider Soundtrack seems like the best way to experience classic 60’s music. The guitars, vocals and arrangements have great stereo separation. There is a steady, organic sound mix that is effective on both simple folk and psychedelic, swirling flourishes. Good music and fun!
Born To Be Wild
Wasn’t Born To Follow
If You Want to Be a Bird
Don’t Bogart Me
If Six Was Nine
It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
Ballad Of Easy Rider