Ballad of Easy Rider

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"Ballad of Easy Rider"
Song by Roger McGuinn
from the album Easy Rider
ReleasedAugust 1969
RecordedFebruary 1969
StudioColumbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
GenreFolk rock, country rock
Songwriter(s)Roger McGuinn
Bob Dylan (uncredited)

"Ballad of Easy Rider" is a song written by Roger McGuinn, with input from Bob Dylan (although Dylan is not credited as a co-writer), for the 1969 film, Easy Rider.[1] The song was initially released in August 1969 on the Easy Rider soundtrack album as a Roger McGuinn solo performance.[2] It was later issued in an alternate version as a single by McGuinn's band the Byrds on October 1, 1969.[3][4] The Byrds' single reached number 65 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was issued in most international territories, although it was not released in the United Kingdom.[5][6]

Senior editor for Rolling Stone magazine, David Fricke, has described the song as perfectly capturing the social mood of late 1969 and highlighting "the weary blues and dashed expectations of a decade's worth of social insurrection."[7]

Roger McGuinn's version[edit]

The star and script writer of Easy Rider, Peter Fonda, had initially intended to use Bob Dylan's song "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" in the film, but after failing to license the track, Fonda asked Roger McGuinn of the Byrds to record a cover version of the song instead.[8] Fonda also wanted Dylan to write the film's theme song, but Dylan declined, quickly scribbling the lines - "The river flows, it flows to the sea/Wherever that river goes, that's where I want to be/Flow, river, flow" - on to a napkin, before telling Fonda to "give this to McGuinn. He'll know what to do with it."[7][9] The lyric fragment was dutifully passed on to McGuinn, who took the lines and expanded upon them with his own lyrical and musical contributions to produce the finished song.[7]

When Dylan saw a private screening of Easy Rider and realised that he had been credited as co-writer of the film's theme song, he telephoned McGuinn and demanded that his name be removed from both the film's closing credits and all subsequent releases of the song.[3] McGuinn has theorised in interviews that Dylan disowned the song because "he didn't like the movie that much. He didn't like the ending. He wanted to see the truck blow up in order to get poetic justice. He didn't seem to understand Peter Fonda's anti-hero concept."[3] Other critics have speculated that Dylan's reason for insisting his co-writing credit be removed was the belief that his name was being exploited to boost the film's street credibility.[10]

The version of "Ballad of Easy Rider" used in the film and included on the Easy Rider soundtrack album is listed as a solo performance by McGuinn and features the singer accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, with fellow Byrd Gene Parsons playing harmonica.[2][8] This McGuinn solo version is a completely different take from the version that McGuinn's band the Byrds would later release as a single and include on their Ballad of Easy Rider album.[10]

In the 21st century, McGuinn continues to perform the song during his solo concerts and consequently a recording of it appears on his 2007 live album, Live from Spain.[11]

The Byrds' version[edit]

"Ballad of Easy Rider"
1969 Norwegian picture sleeve.
Single by The Byrds
from the album Ballad of Easy Rider
ReleasedOctober 1, 1969
Format7" single
RecordedJune 18, 1969
StudioColumbia Studios, Hollywood, CA
GenreCountry rock
Songwriter(s)Roger McGuinn
Bob Dylan (uncredited)
Producer(s)Terry Melcher
The Byrds singles chronology
"Wasn't Born to Follow"
"Ballad of Easy Rider"
"Jesus Is Just Alright"

The Byrds' version of the song was recorded on June 18, 1969, and is performed at a quicker tempo than the soundtrack version.[3][12] The song was also lengthened by producer Terry Melcher by editing a copy of the first verse onto the end of the second, effectively creating a third verse.[3] In addition, Melcher added an orchestral overdub to the track in an attempt to emulate recent hit singles like Glen Campbell's "Gentle on My Mind" and Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'".[3]

As recording sessions for the Byrds' eighth studio album continued, interest in the band mounted as a result of their involvement with the Easy Rider film, leading McGuinn to announce in interviews that the band's next album would be titled Captain America, in honor of Peter Fonda's character in the film.[8] However, this idea was discarded and ultimately the song "Ballad of Easy Rider" gave the new Byrds' album its title.

The B-side of the Byrds' single was the traditional song "Oil in My Lamp", although there are copies of the single known to exist with the Goffin-King song "Wasn't Born to Follow" on the B-side instead.[6] The Byrds' recording of "Wasn't Born to Follow" first appeared on their 1968 album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but since it had been featured prominently in Easy Rider, Columbia Records saw fit to include the song on some copies of "Ballad of Easy Rider". CBS Records in the United Kingdom went a step further by reissuing "Wasn't Born to Follow" as the A-side of a single in September 1969, in the hopes that it might provide the Byrds with a fluke hit (although it failed to chart).[4][8]

"Ballad of Easy Rider" was first introduced into the Byrds' live concert repertoire during February 1969 and would go on to be performed relatively frequently throughout the rest of the year and into 1970.[9][13] However, the song was played only rarely between 1971 and the band's break-up in 1973.[13] In addition to its appearance on the Ballad of Easy Rider album, the song can also be found on several Byrds' compilations, including The Best of The Byrds: Greatest Hits, Volume II, History of The Byrds, The Very Best of The Byrds, and The Essential Byrds.[14]

An extended, alternate mix of the song, featuring more prominent percussion and Clarence White's lead guitar solo (which had been edited out of the version found on the album), was included as a bonus track on the 1997 Columbia/Legacy reissue of Ballad of Easy Rider.[1][10] In addition, a live performance of the song, recorded at the Felt Forum in New York City on March 1, 1970, was included as a bonus track on the remastered (Untitled) album in 2000.[15]

Cover versions[edit]

"Ballad of Easy Rider" has been covered by the British folk rock band Fairport Convention and their version of the song was included as a bonus track on the 2003 re-release of the band's 1969 album, Unhalfbricking.[16] Folk and blues singer Odetta also recorded a version of "Ballad of Easy Rider" for the 1969 various artists compilation, The Original Hits Of Right Now Plus Some Heavies From The Motion Picture "Easy Rider".[17] Additionally, the arranger and composer Percy Faith released a recording of the song on his 1970 album, Held Over! Today's Great Movie Themes.[18]

Bruce Springsteen covered the song during his August 20, 1981 performance at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, a concert that was entitled A Night for the Vietnam Veteran.[19] A live cover by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from 1987 was featured on the deluxe edition of their career-spanning set, The Live Anthology.[20]

Grant McLennan included a recording of the song on his 1994 album Horsebreaker Star and British singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams covered "Ballad of Easy Rider" on her 2004 album, Relations.[21][22]


  1. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1997). Ballad of Easy Rider (1997 CD liner notes).
  2. ^ a b "Easy Rider Soundtrack review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 298–299. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  4. ^ a b Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965–1973). Jawbone Press. pp. 222–223. ISBN 1-906002-15-0.
  5. ^ "The Byrds Billboard Singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  6. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 542–544. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  7. ^ a b c Fricke, David. (1997). Ballad of Easy Rider (1997 CD liner notes).
  8. ^ a b c d Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 290–291. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  9. ^ a b Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965–1973). Jawbone Press. pp. 201–203. ISBN 1-906002-15-0.
  10. ^ a b c "Ballad Of Easy Rider". ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles. Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  11. ^ "Live from Spain product information". Sundazed. Archived from the original on 2009-01-03. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  12. ^ Hjort, Christopher. (2008). So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star: The Byrds Day-By-Day (1965–1973). Jawbone Press. p. 214. ISBN 1-906002-15-0.
  13. ^ a b Rogan, Johnny. (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. pp. 591–615. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  14. ^ "Ballad Of Easy Rider album appearances". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  15. ^ Rogan, Johnny. (2000). (Untitled)/(Unissued) (2000 CD liner notes).
  16. ^ "Unhalfbricking (UK Bonus Tracks) review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  17. ^ "The Original Hits Of Right Now". Discogs. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  18. ^ "Held Over! Today's Great Movie Themes/Leaving On a Jet Plane review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  19. ^ "Bruce Springsteen – 1981 Concerts". Brucebase. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  20. ^ "The Live Anthology (2009 UK 'Limited Deluxe Collectors Edition') product information". Esprit International. Retrieved 2010-02-03.
  21. ^ "Horsebreaker Star (Two Disc)". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-09-23.
  22. ^ "Relations". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-09-23.

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