|"Ballad of Easy Rider"|
1969 Norwegian picture sleeve.
|Single by The Byrds|
|from the album Ballad of Easy Rider|
|B-side||"Oil in My Lamp"
"Wasn't Born to Follow"
|Released||October 1, 1969|
|Recorded||June 18, 1969, Columbia Studios, Hollywood|
Bob Dylan (uncredited)
|The Byrds singles chronology|
"Ballad of Easy Rider" is a song by the American rock band The Byrds, written by Roger McGuinn and Bob Dylan (although Dylan is not credited as a co-writer) for the 1969 film, Easy Rider. The song was initially released in August 1969, on the Easy Rider soundtrack album as a Roger McGuinn solo performance, but was later issued as a single by The Byrds on October 1, 1969. The Byrds' single reached #65 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was issued in most international territories, although it was not released in the United Kingdom. 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, the desire to shed old skin and forget recent wounds."
The B-side of the "Ballad of Easy Rider" single was the traditional song, "Oil in My Lamp", but there are copies of the single known to exist with the Goffin-King song, "Wasn't Born to Follow", on the B-side instead. The Byrds' recording of "Wasn't Born to Follow" initially appeared on the band's 1968 album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, but having been featured prominently in the film Easy Rider, Columbia Records saw fit to include the song on some copies of the single. 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 single.
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 The Byrds' frontman, Roger McGuinn, to record a cover version of the song instead. 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 that to McGuinn." The lyric fragment was dutifully passed on to Roger McGuinn, who took the lines and expanded upon them with his own lyrical and musical contributions to produce the finished song.
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 itself. 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." Others 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.
Although 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 Roger McGuinn, it actually features McGuinn accompanying himself on acoustic guitar with fellow Byrd, Gene Parsons, playing harmonica. It should be noted that this Roger McGuinn solo version is a completely different take to the version that The Byrds would later release as a single and include on their Ballad of Easy Rider album.
The Byrds' version of the song was recorded on June 18, 1969 and is performed at a somewhat quicker tempo than the soundtrack version. The song was also lengthened by producer, Terry Melcher, by editing the first verse onto the end of the second, effectively creating a third verse. In addition, Melcher also 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'". 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, named after the film's central character. However, this idea was discarded and ultimately the song "Ballad of Easy Rider" gave the new Byrds' album its title.
Following its appearance on the Ballad of Easy Rider album, the song would go on to be performed relatively frequently during The Byrds' late-1969 and 1970 concerts, but was played only rarely between 1971 and the band's break-up in 1973. The song also appears 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. An extended, alternate mix of The Byrds' recording 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. 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. As of 2009, Roger McGuinn continues to perform the song during his solo concerts and consequently a recording of it appears on his 2007 album, Live from Spain.
"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.
Folk and blues singer, Odetta, 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".
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.