Hurdy Gurdy Man
|"Hurdy Gurdy Man"|
|Single by Donovan|
|Recorded||3 April 1968|
|Donovan UK singles chronology|
|Donovan US singles chronology|
"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 US and number 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
Donovan wrote "Hurdy Gurdy Man" while in Rishikesh in India, where he was studying Transcendental Meditation with the Beatles. 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 UK single 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'd become friends with Small Faces 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. In the chapter dedicated to the song in Donovan's autobiography, he says that he originally wanted it to be recorded by Jimi Hendrix.
Musicians for the song
There is some dispute over 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. This line-up was confirmed by Cattini. In Donovan's autobiography, he credits Cattini (spelled as "Catini") and Bonham for the drums. 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.
On Jimmy Page's website, he lists this song as one on which he plays. Engineer Eddie Kramer also cites Jimmy Page as playing on the track, but says that John Bonham did not. 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 four-string tambura that Donovan plays on the track had been given to him in India by George Harrison, who also helped write the lyrics. 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. Donovan also says that with the drone of the tambura on the song, he had created "Celtic Rock".
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. 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" 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".
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
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.
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 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 song has been covered by many musicians over the years, including:
- Progressive rock musician Steve Hillage, on his 1976 album L.
- Eartha Kitt in 1972 as a B-side to "Catch the Wind".
- Neil Pye, the hippie character from British comedy series The Young Ones in 1984 for an album called Neil's Heavy Concept Album.
- Alternative rock band the Butthole Surfers, on their 1991 album piouhgd.
- Sleaze rock band L.A. Guns on their 2004 covers album Rips the Covers Off.
- American alternative band Wild Colonials on their "Life As We Know It EP 1/4" (2007).
- The Losers, Howard Stern's band, performed the song on The Howard Stern Show (2008)
- Viva Voce included a cover of the song on the vinyl edition of their 2009 album, Rose City.
"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 song opens and closes the film)
- The 2011 German TV melodrama Familiengeheimnisse (Family Secrets)
- The 2012 Fringe episode "Black Blotter" (season 5 episode 9)
- The 2013 horror film The Conjuring
- The 2016 film Milton's Secret
- The 2018 British TV fantasy drama Britannia
- The 2018 film American Animals
- "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.
- Unterberger, Richie. "Hurdy Gurdy Man" at AllMusic. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
- 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.
- Donovan UK chart history, The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
- 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". 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.
- "The Donovan Interview". VintageRock.com. 2013. Retrieved 2017-04-23.
- "Sessions - JimmyPage.com". JimmyPage.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- "Eddie Kramer tells the story of Led Zeppelin's iconic sound on "Whole Lotta Love"".
- 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.
- Leitch, 2005, p. 207.
- 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)