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Hurdy Gurdy Man

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"Hurdy Gurdy Man"
Single by Donovan
from the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man
B-side"Teen Angel"
ReleasedMay 1968
Recorded3 April 1968
StudioCBS, London[1]
Producer(s)Mickie Most
Donovan UK singles chronology
"Jennifer Juniper"
"Hurdy Gurdy Man"
Donovan US singles chronology
"Jennifer Juniper"
"Hurdy Gurdy Man"

"Hurdy Gurdy Man" is a song by the Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan. It was recorded in April 1968 and released the following month as a single. The song gave its name to the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man, which was released in October of that year in the United States. The single reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and number 4 on the UK Singles Chart.[6]

Donovan wrote "Hurdy Gurdy Man" while in Rishikesh in India, where he was studying Transcendental Meditation with the Beatles.[7] The recording features a harder rock sound than Donovan's usual material, supplying a range of distorted guitars and aggressive drums. It also features an Indian influence with the use of a tambura, a gift to Donovan from George Harrison, who also helped write the lyrics. The song may have been influenced by "Green Circles", a psychedelic 1967 song by Small Faces. The similarity is in the melody of the descending verse, the strange vocal delivery, and the topic of being visited by an enlightened stranger. In 2012, Donovan revealed that he had become friends with Small Faces in 1965.[8]

According to some sources, the song was written for the band Hurdy Gurdy (which included Donovan's old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod[9][10]), with Donovan intending to be the producer, but the collaboration was cancelled due to creative disagreements, leading Donovan to record the song himself.[11] In the chapter dedicated to the song in Donovan's autobiography, he says that he originally wanted it to be recorded by Jimi Hendrix.[7]

Musicians for the song


There is some dispute regarding the musicians who performed on 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. John Paul Jones, who arranged and played bass on the track (and also booked the session musicians), was reported to have said by email that Clem Cattini played the drums and Alan Parker played the electric guitar.[12] This line-up was confirmed by Cattini.[13] In Donovan's autobiography, he credits Cattini (spelled as "Catini") and Bonham for the drums.[7] In a published interview circa 2013, Donovan is quoted as primarily crediting Cattini for the drums but saying he wasn't sure whether Bonham was also involved, and said he and Jones both credit Holdsworth for the guitar.[14]

On Jimmy Page's website, he lists this song as one on which he plays.[15] Engineer Eddie Kramer also cites Jimmy Page as playing on the track, but says that John Bonham did not.[16] In Hannes Rossacher's 2008 documentary Sunshine Superman: The Journey of Donovan, Donovan said that Page was the guitarist; 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.[7] However, he also says that "Hollsworth" had played with Blue Mink, which was a band that Alan Parker had played in.[7] In the autobiography, Donovan said that perhaps this session inspired the creation of Led Zeppelin.[7]

The four-string tambura that Donovan plays on the track has been given to him in India by George Harrison, who also helped write the lyrics.[17] In his autobiography, Donovan recalls that he began writing "Hurdy Gurdy Man" on the tambura after Harrison discussed the sitar scales he had learned from Ravi Shankar.[18] Donovan also says that with the drone of the tambura on the song, he had created "Celtic Rock".[7]

The session was produced by Mickie Most and engineered by Eddie Kramer. Donovan had originally hoped Jimi Hendrix would play on the song, but he was unavailable.[7][11] 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.[7][14]

Lyrics and music


The lyrics recount the tale of a nameless narrator being visited in his dreams by the "hurdy gurdy man" and his close associate, the "roly poly man", who come "singing songs of love". 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".[19]

Additional verse


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:[7]

When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath the thousand years asleep
Time demands a turnaround
And once again the truth is found

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 were together in Rishikesh, and Harrison offered to write a verse for the song, which he recorded. Since the running time had to be kept 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 ended up keeping just the solo.[7]

Donovan has said that the additional verse is a summary of the explanation given by their meditation teacher (or guru), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, on the way in which transcendental consciousness is eventually reawakened 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 reawakens this knowledge – in this case, the Maharishi.[citation needed]



Billboard described the song as "a groovy and infectious rhythm item."[20] Cash Box said that the "lyric presents a transcendental love & word play message, but the musical backing has shifted from the small jazz combo style of 'Wear Your Love Like Heaven' and 'Jennifer Juniper' to an easy folk + electric rock & sitar blend."[21] Record World said that "Donovan's reedy voice is absolutely hypnotic on 'Hurdy Gurdy Man', a eerie, magic-like side."[22]



In the Beastie Boys song "Car Thief", the first drum break is sampled following the lyrics "Space cake cookies I discover who I am / I'm a dusted old bummy Hurdy Gurdy man". Donovan's daughter Ione Skye used to be married to bandmember Adam Horovitz.[23]

Soundtrack appearances


"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:


  1. ^ "Donovan recording sessions listing". Sabotage.demon.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Hurdy Gurdy Man" at AllMusic. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  4. ^ Marvin E. Paymer (July 1993). Facts Behind the Songs: A Handbook of American Popular Music from the Nineties to the '90s. Garland Pub. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-8240-5240-9.
  5. ^ Segretto, Mike (2022). "1968". 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Minute - A Critical Trip Through the Rock LP Era, 1955–1999. Backbeat. pp. 173–174. ISBN 9781493064601.
  6. ^ Donovan UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k 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.
  8. ^ "Donovan". Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  9. ^ (15 June 1968). Donovan's More Down to Earth, New Musical Express.
  10. ^ Altham, Keith (December 1968). Coming Down From the Clouds Archived 2017-02-14 at the Wayback Machine, Hit Parader.
  11. ^ a b (6 July 1968). Don Wants to Spin a Film Legend, Melody Maker.
  12. ^ "Clem Cattini - Drummer On 45 Number 1 Hit Singles". Coda-uk.co.uk. 2003-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  13. ^ "Email from John Paul Jones to Clem Cattini". Coda-uk.co.uk. 2003-08-29. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  14. ^ a b "The Donovan Interview". VintageRock.com. 2013. Retrieved 2017-04-23.
  15. ^ "Sessions - JimmyPage.com". JimmyPage.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  16. ^ "Eddie Kramer tells the story of Led Zeppelin's iconic sound on "Whole Lotta Love"". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-13.
  17. ^ Paytress, Mark (2003). "A Passage to India". Mojo Special Limited Edition: 1000 Days of Revolution (The Beatles' Final Years – Jan 1, 1968 to Sept 27, 1970). London: Emap. p. 15.
  18. ^ Leitch, 2005, p. 207.
  19. ^ Donovan, "Hurdy Gurdy Man" song lyrics, 1968.
  20. ^ "Spotlight Singles" (PDF). Billboard. June 15, 1968. p. 70. Retrieved 2021-02-22.
  21. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. June 15, 1968. p. 13. Retrieved 2022-01-12.
  22. ^ "Single Picks of the Week" (PDF). Record World. June 15, 1968. p. 1. Retrieved 2023-06-02.
  23. ^ "Car Thief". Paul's Boutique Samples and References List. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g Wickman, Forrest (3 April 2013). "How the 'Hurdy Gurdy Man' Got Creepy". Slate. Retrieved 2015-07-17.
  25. ^ Vincentelli, Elisabeth. "Zodiac [Soundtrack]". Amazon. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  26. ^ "music from Fringe". Retrieved 15 December 2012.