Hurdy Gurdy Man
|"Hurdy Gurdy Man"|
|Single by Donovan|
|Released||May 1968 (UK)
June 1968 (U.S.)
|Format||7" 45 RPM|
|Recorded||April 3, 1968, CBS Studios, London, England|
|Genre||Psychedelic rock, folk rock, acid rock|
|Donovan UK singles chronology|
"Hurdy Gurdy Man" is a song by the Scottish singer/songwriter Donovan. It was written and recorded in early 1968 and released in May as a single. It gave its name to the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which was released in October of that year. The single reached No.5 in the U.S. and No.4 in the UK pop charts. The song was written for the band Hurdy Gurdy (which included Donovan's old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod) with Donovan intending to be the producer, but due to creative disagreements this collaboration was cancelled, and Donovan recorded the song himself. The song features a harder rock sound than Donovan's usual material, supplying a range of distorted guitars. It also features an Indian influence with the use of a tambura. The song may have been influenced by 'Green Circles', a psychedelic 1967 UK single (in green vinyl no less) by Small Faces. The similarity is in the melody of the descending verse, the strange vocal delivery, and most tellingly, the topic of being visited by an enlightened stranger. In 2012, Donovan said that he'd made friends with them in 1965.
In the booklet that came with Donovan's 1992 double CD, Troubadour: The Definitive Collection 1964-1976, Allan Holdsworth and Jimmy Page are listed as the electric guitar players and John Bonham and Clem Cattini as drummers on the recording. However, according to John Paul Jones, who arranged and played bass on the track (and also booked the session musicians), Clem Cattini played the drums and Alan Parker played the electric guitar. This line-up was confirmed by Cattini.  On Jimmy Page's website, he lists this song as one on which he plays. Page himself has never claimed to have played on the track and has also mentioned that Alan Parker was the guitarist on the session. Donovan maintains that Page was the guitarist in Hannes Rossacher's 2008 documentary Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan, where he asserts that the song ushered in the Celtic rock sound which would lead to Page, Jones, and Bonham forming Led Zeppelin soon afterwards.
The lyrics recount the tale of a nameless narrator being visited in his dreams by the eponymous Hurdy Gurdy Man and his close associate, the Roly Poly Man. Both men come "singing songs of love".
On several concert records, Donovan tells the audience that there is also an additional verse written by George Harrison that was not part of the radio single:
When the truth gets buried deep
When performing the song in concert, Donovan often relates to his audience the story of how this final verse came about. He played the song for Harrison when they met in Rishikesh, and Harrison offered to write a verse for the song. Harrison's verse was recorded: however, in order to keep the running time below the three-minute-twenty-seconds maximum allowed for singles at the time, the producer had to choose between this extra verse and a guitar solo, and chose the solo. Donovan claims the additional verse is a summary of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's explanation of the way in which the teaching of transcendental consciousness is eventually re-awakened after having been forgotten for a long period of time, and is based on part of the Maharishi's commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Donovan said the Hurdy Gurdy Man is the one who re-awakens this knowledge; in this case, the Maharishi.
The tambura which Donovan himself plays on the track was a gift to him from Harrison, given while they were both together in India.
Notable cover versions
The song has been covered by many musicians over the years, including:
- Progressive rock musician Steve Hillage, on his 1976 album L.
- Alternative rock band the Butthole Surfers, on their 1991 album piouhgd.
- Eartha Kitt in 1972 as a B-side to "Catch the Wind".
- American alternative band Wild Colonials on their "Life As We Know It EP 1/4" (2007).
- Sleaze rock band L.A. Guns on their covers album Rips the Covers Off.
- The Losers, Howard Stern's band.
- Neil Pye, the hippie character from British comedy series The Young Ones in 1984 for an album called Neil's Heavy Concept Album.
- Howard Stern on The Howard Stern Show (2008)
- Viva Voce included a cover of the song on the vinyl edition of their 2009 album, Rose City.
- Raspin - single released April 2012 in honor of Donovan's induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.
"Hurdy Gurdy Man" most recently appeared on the soundtrack for the horror film, "The Conjuring"(2013)."Hurdy Gurdy Man" was used as a framing device in 2011 German TV melodrama "Familiengeheimnisse" (Family Secrets) and David Fincher's 2007 film Zodiac; in the 2006 film Man of the Year, starring Robin Williams; in the 2006 film Bobby; in the 2005 film Edison; in the 2002 independent film Spun; in Michael Cuesta's 2001 film L.I.E.; and in Barry Levinson's 1996 film Sleepers. It was also featured in the Fringe episode "Black Blotter" (2012 Season 5 Episode 09 ). The 1994 film Dumb and Dumber featured a cover version by Butthole Surfers.
- "Donovan recording sessions listing". Sabotage.demon.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- Donovan UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- (15 June 1968). Donovan's More Down to Earth, New Musical Express.
- Altham, Keith (December 1968). Coming Down From the Clouds, Hit Parader.
- (6 July 1968). Don Wants to Spin a Film Legend, Melody Maker.
- "Donovan". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
- "Clem Cattini - Drummer On 45 Number 1 Hit Singles". Coda-uk.co.uk. 2003-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "Email from John Paul Jones to Clem Cattini". Coda-uk.co.uk. 2003-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "Sessions - JimmyPage.com". JimmyPage.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan Songfacts". Songfacts.com. 2006-05-20. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- Donovan, "Hurdy Gurdy Man", 1968.
- "Catch the Wind / Hurdy Gurdy Man - Eartha Kitt". Earthakittfanclub.com. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
- "Zodiac [Soundtrack]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "music from Fringe". Retrieved 15 December 2012.
- Hurdy Gurdy Man (Single) - Donovan Unofficial Site
- "Hurdy Gurdy Man" at Discogs (list of releases)