14 Jul 2019

Easy Rider: a ground-breaking film soundtrack

From Access All Areas, 1:21 pm on 14 July 2019
Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider

Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider Photo: SONY Home Entertainment

The film Easy Rider produced by Peter Fonda and directed by Dennis Hopper, two counterculture Hollywood rich kids, opened on July the 14th 1969 and roared across America's screens. And the rock music soundtrack was born.

Fifty years on, Trevor Reekie recalls it's impact.

Back in 1969 nobody had heard the rock music they loved used in movies, let alone seen people like them portrayed on film. As Dennis Hopper said, at every love-in across the country young people were smoking grass and dropping acid, while back home audiences were watching Doris Day and Rock Hudson.

Previous films has music scores - often orchestral - written for them. During the production of Easy Rider, Fonda and Hopper used found music from their own record collections and from listening to the radio, to make watching hours of bike footage more interesting during editing.

Crosby, Stills and Nash were supposed to write an original score for the movie, but after seeing the rough cut with the found music in place they told the production team they couldn't better it.

The groundbreaking soundtrack featured songs from established groups like The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, and the Electric Prunes, as well as giving one-hit-wonder status to a couple of acts who would never have broken through without their inclusion in the movie.

Easy Rider was not only the fourth highest grossing American movie of 1969, but also catalyzed a shift in power between the old guard Hollywood film business and the new independent producers. Made on a budget of under a half a million non-studio dollars, most of it using Peter Fonda's Diners Club credit card, Easy Rider grossed over 19 million in 1969.

Peter Fonda reputedly said that when the movie industry started to comprehend those numbers, Columbia executives (who distributed the movie) “Stopped shaking their heads in non-comprehension and started nodding their heads in non-comprehension.”

After Easy Rider became a success, it was decided to release a soundtrack album. The songs were sequenced in the same order as they appear in the film. The result was a commercial bonanza. Easy Rider was everywhere.

Easy Rider was a profit-making movie that stung the counterculture with a shock of recognition. With it, the rock soundtrack album came of age and gave the music industry an additional income stream: synchronization. And these days that's what it's all about, man.

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  • Music details for the audio version of this story:

    Song:  Born To Be Wild
    Artist:  Steppenwolf

    Song:  Born To Follow
    Artist:  The Byrds

    Song : The Pusher
    Artist:  Steppenwolf

    Song :  When The Saints Go Marching In
    Artist:   annon         

    Song:  Kyrie Eleison
    Artist:  The Electric Prunes

    Song:  If Six Was Nine
    Artist:  The Jimi Hendrix Experience

    Song:  If You Want to Be A Bird
    Artist:  Holy Modal Rounders         

    Song:  Don’t Bogart That joint My Friend
    Artist:  Fraternity of Man

    Song:  Its Alright Ma Im Only Bleeding
    Artist:  Roger McGuinn

    Song:  Ballad of Easy Rider
    Artist:  Roger McGuinn

    Song:  The Weight
    Artist:  Smith

    Album: Easy Rider Soundtrack
    Label:  MCA  Universal
    Cat no:11153-2