Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Lee, Jonathan Rhodes. “Texts, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll: Easy Rider and the Compilation Soundtrack.” Journal of Musicology 38 (Summer 2021): 296-328.

The soundtrack for Easy Rider (1969), compiled by director/writer/actor Dennis Hopper and producer/writer/actor Peter Fonda, illustrates the complexity of rock compilation soundtracks and their potential to generate both inter- and intratextual meaning. When used as film music, rock and popular songs behave differently from traditional underscoring in that they are not easily manipulated and tend to create audiovisual “set-pieces.” Throughout Easy Rider there is a tight integration of song lyrics and images, suggesting a conscious intertextual negotiation by the filmmakers. For example, the shots that accompany Wasn’t Born to Follow by the Byrds mirror the forest imagery and “clear and jeweled waters” presented in the lyrics. This kind of deliberate intertextuality through citation and reference is a hallmark of New Hollywood cinema, of which Easy Rider is an early example. The rock soundtrack also resonates with the countercultural themes and social consciousness of the film. The soundtrack generates meaning through intratextual means; the musical set-pieces interact with the narrative structure of the film as well as each other. For example, in one segment, Fraternity of Man’s country-styled Don’t Bogart Me, accompanied by shots of a bucolic countryside, is interrupted sonically by Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9 and visually by shots of Louisianan imagery: a river bridge, grand Southern homes, and African American workers, the only black faces in the film. The sonic elements of the soundtrack also mirror the geographical progression of the film West to East, starting in Los Angeles with electric rock (Steppenwolf), then shifting to country rock (The Byrds), faux-country music (Fraternity of Man), and finally ending in Louisiana with blues-tinged electric rock (Jimi Hendrix). The central tragedy and theme of the film—that the idealism of the 1960s was doomed to be corrupted by its commodification—is expressed through song lyrics and is heightened by the self-awareness exemplified in its compiled rock soundtrack.

Works: Dennis Hopper (director), Peter Fonda (producer): compiled soundtrack to Easy Rider (303-28)

Sources: The Byrds: Wasn’t Born to Follow (303-5, 317-19); Fraternity of Man: Don’t Bogart Me (305-6, 313, 316-17); Electric Prunes: Kyrie Eleison (306); Steppenwolf: Born to Be Wild (306, 312-13), The Pusher (313, 323-25); The Jimi Hendrix Experience: If 6 was 9 (313, 315-17); Bob Dylan (songwriter), Roger McGuinn (performer): It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (325); Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn (songwriters), Roger McGuinn (performer): Ballad of the Easy Rider (325-26)

Index Classifications: 1900s, Popular, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
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