Last spring I happen to be in Hollywood on a work gig and got a Sunset Gower Studio tour. Sunset Gower has been part of the Hollywood film history since there was a Hollywood.
While wandering through the writers’ suites and the studio lot I walked down this hallway and came across an Easy Rider poster. The Sunset Gower sound stages were used for the movie.
No one could have predicted that Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s small budget film, fueled by motorcycles and amazing music would redefine pop culture.
In fact, it’s impossible to even think about this film without the opening riff of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” echoing in your head. In the movie industry, it’s rare that a film and its soundtrack break through to the masses. Easy Rider was an incredible success commercially and culturally (it inspired an entire genre and a hundred knockoffs), and the impact of the soundtrack was revolutionary.
“The idea was to have the music which accompanies the cross-country cycling scenes reflect current times,” Peter Fonda told Rolling Stone in 1969. By compiling prerecorded tracks and music specifically created for the film to make a “musical commentary” and companion to the movie.
Additionally, the Easy Rider soundtrack laid the groundwork for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Pink Floyd-led Zabriske Point the following year and nearly every classic film soundtrack of the next four decades, from Singles to Forrest Gump to Drive.
The soundtrack paints a picture of the counterculture on the brink of the Seventies. Steppenwolf’s get-on-your-bike-and-ride anthem along with the bluesy dealer epic “The Pusher,” and the classic cuts from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Holy Modal Rounders and the Byrds (whose Roger McGuinn also scored the film) makes an epic film.
As the story goes, Bob Dylan was recruited by Peter Fonda to pen the film’s theme “Ballad of Easy Rider,” (soundtrack) and after jotting out a few lines, told the actor to give the lyrics to McGuinn to flesh out.
Photos taken by author and courtesy of Sunset Gower Studio and Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive.
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