Hurdy Gurdy Man
|"Hurdy Gurdy Man"|
|Single by Donovan|
|from the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man|
|Released||May 1968 (UK)
June 1968 (US)
|Recorded||April 3, 1968, CBS Studios, London, England|
|Donovan UK singles chronology|
"Hurdy Gurdy Man" is a song by the Scottish singer/songwriter Donovan. It was written during a trip to India, was recorded in early 1968, and was released in May 1968 as a single. It gave its name to the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which was released in October of that year in the U.S. The single reached No.5 in the U.S. and No.4 in the UK pop charts.
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 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.
According to some sources, 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 the collaboration was cancelled due to creative disagreements, leading Donovan to record the song himself. However, there is no mention of this story in the chapter of Donovan's autobiography that is devoted to the song – there he says that he originally wanted it to be recorded by Jimi Hendrix.
Musicians for the song
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 (spelled as "Clem Clatini") 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.  In Donovan's autobiography, he credits Cattini (spelled as "Catini") and Bonham for the drums.
On Jimmy Page's website, he lists this song as one on which he plays. Donovan said that Page was the guitarist in Hannes Rossacher's 2008 documentary Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan, where he also asserted that the song ushered in the Celtic rock sound which would lead to Page, Jones, and Bonham forming Led Zeppelin soon afterwards. In Donovan's autobiography, he credited both Page and "Allen Hollsworth" as the "guitar wizards" for the song. However, he also says that "Hollsworth" had played with Blue Mink, which was a band that Alan Parker had played in. In the autobiography, Donovan said that perhaps this session inspired the creation of Led Zeppelin.
The tambura which Donovan himself plays on the track had been given to him in India by George Harrison, and in his autobiography, Donovan said that with the drone of the tambura he had created "Celtic Rock".
Donovan had originally hoped Jimi Hendrix would play on the song, but he was unavailable. In fact, Donovan said he wanted to give the song to Hendrix for him to record, but that Mickie Most "flipped out" when he heard the song and insisted that Donovan should record it himself as his next single.
The lyrics recount the tale of a nameless narrator being visited in his dreams by the eponymous "hurdy gurdy man" (presumably a man who plays the stringed musical instrument known as the hurdy gurdy), who comes "singing songs of love". Also referred to is a "roly poly man", which may be an alternative way of referring to the same man or may be someone accompanying the hurdy gurdy man. The song invokes "histories of ages past" with "unenlightened shadows cast" and the "crying of humanity" through "all eternity", and says "'tis then when the hurdy gurdy man comes singing songs of love".
On his 1990 live album The Classics Live and in his autobiography, Donovan has said that there is also an additional verse that had been written by George Harrison that was not included on 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 maximum generally allowed for singles at the time, the producer had to choose between the extra verse and the guitar solo, and chose the solo. Donovan has said 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.
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" has been used as a framing device or otherwise appeared on the soundtrack or trailer of various films and television shows, including:
- The 1994 film Dumb and Dumber (using a cover version by Butthole Surfers)
- The 1996 Barry Levinson film Sleepers
- The 2001 Michael Cuesta film L.I.E.
- The 2002 independent film Spun
- The 2005 film Edison
- The 2006 film Man of the Year (starring Robin Williams)
- The 2006 film Bobby
- The 2007 David Fincher film Zodiac
- The 2011 German TV melodrama Familiengeheimnisse (Family Secrets)
- The 2012 Fringe episode "Black Blotter" (season 5 episode 9)
- The 2013 horror film The Conjuring
- "Donovan recording sessions listing". Sabotage.demon.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- James E. Perone (2012). The Album: A Guide to Pop Music's Most Provocative, Influential, and Important Creations. ABC-CLIO. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-313-37906-2. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
- Leitch, Donovan, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Century, an imprint of Random House, London, 2005 (published in the U.S. as The Autobiography of Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005, ISBN 0-312-35252-2.), pp. 218–219.
- Donovan UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- "Donovan". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
- (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.
- "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.
- Donovan, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" song lyrics, 1968.
- "Catch the Wind / Hurdy Gurdy Man - Eartha Kitt". Earthakittfanclub.com. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
- Wickman, Forrest (3 April 2013). "How the 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' Got Creepy". Slate. Retrieved 2015-07-17.
- Vincentelli, Elisabeth. "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)