“You know Billy, we blew it.” – Wyatt (Easy Rider)
Chronicling a modern American odyssey perpetuated by the ideals of the bohemian subculture, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider is one of the 1960s most iconic films and one that would forever change the makeup of the ‘movie soundtrack’.
Prior to 1969, orchestral music scores were the usual soundtracks of choice, though during the production of Easy Rider, editor Donn Cambern and director Dennis Hopper added contemporary music to their initial cuts in order to reflect the sentiment of the contemporary time. As Hopper recalled, “No one had really used found music in a movie before, except to play on radios or when someone was singing in a scene. But I wanted Easy Rider to be kind of a time capsule for that period, so while I was editing the film I would listen to the radio”.
Including the likes of Steppenwolf, The Band, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, the soundtrack for Hopper’s film became as influential as the film itself, standing as a powerful declaration of the rebellious counterculture. This iconic collection of artists was close to including another significant name in the American cultural icon Bob Dylan, if it wasn’t for a dispute he had with Dennis Hopper and his dislike of Easy Rider.
The dispute came about when Peter Fonda requested the use of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright, Ma’ for use in Easy Rider’s cemetery scene when Fonda talks to the statue of Madonna as if it’s his mother. Reluctant to use his own recording of the song, Dylan allowed a version to be performed by Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn instead and also refused to write a full song for use in the film. Alternatively, Dylan wrote out the first verse of ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’ and told Hopper: “Give this to McGuinn, he’ll know what to do with it”.
Realising the gravity of including a name as significant as Bob Dylan’s on the film’s credits, however, Hopper included the singer as a co-writer of the film’s theme against his own will. As a result, Dylan demanded that his name be removed from the film’s closing credits, along with any subsequent releases of the ‘Ballad of Easy Rider’. Reports were highly rumoured to suggest that he had made the decision due to his strong dislike of the film itself, particularly its conclusion, resulting in his name being removed from the credits of the iconic movie.
With a pertinent legacy on American subculture, it’s a shame that Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider doesn’t credit the political and social weight of one of the 1960s most countercultural voices, though at least it includes his beatnik spirit.