*8.18-HURDY GURDY MAN (Donovan)




Thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peep
To find that I was by the sea
Gazing with tranquility.

        'Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
        Came singing songs of love.
        Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
        Came singing songs of love.

                Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy he sang. (3x)

Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity.

        'Tis then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
        Comes singing songs of love,
        Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
        Comes singing songs of love.

                [Chorus (3x), with slight lengthening second reiteration]



                Here comes the roly poly man and he's singing songs of love.
                Roly poly, roly poly, roly poly, poly he sang.

                [Chorus (2x) and fade]

Donovan reported to NME back on June 15, 1968 that Hurdy Gurdy Man was written for a friend and early guitar playing mentor named Mac MacLeod, who had formed a Danish group called “Hurdy Gurdy” that was beginning to emulate the sounds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It turned out, however, that MacLeod and Donovan had different ideas about the production of the song, so Donovan ended up recording it for himself. The song was to bring Donovan up to date and form a bridge between Donovan’s folk interests and the emergence of hard rock, while maintaining the psychedelic aesthetic. He chose Eddie Kramer, the engineer for Jimi Hendrix Experience, for the recording technician, and hired John Paul Jones (who would later be a member of Led Zeppelin) as musical director. (Mickie Most is given production credit, though he seemed to have had little to do with the record.) Donovan wanted to hire Jimi Hendrix himself for the hard rock break in the song, but he was unavailable. According to several sources, both Jimmy Page (of the Yardbirds, and later, Led Zeppelin) and Jeff Beck (of the Yardbirds) recorded versions of the break, but they were scrapped in favor of the guitar solo performed by session man Alan Parker. The new sound introduced by Hurdy Gurdy Man was to be called, according to Donovan, “Celtic Rock”.

Donovan was writing Hurdy Gurdy Man in early 1968, just before joining the Beatles in India for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's instruction in transcendental meditation. While in India, George Harrison wrote a third verse for the song, which was reportedly recorded, but dropped before final production. The verse went like this:

        When the truth gets buried deep
        Beneath a thousand years of sleep
        Time demands a turn-around
        And once again the truth is found

        Awakening the Hurdy Gurdy Man
        Who comes singing songs of love.

This excluded verse implies that the Roly Poly Man may be the Maharishi himself, a bodhisattva come to salvage mankind from ignorance. In any event, the psychedelic belief in spiritual wisdom to be gained by following a spiritual leader is certainly implied. Though Mr. Tambourine Man and the Hurdy Gurdy Man both lead the listener through music and song, they differ in purpose. In 1965, Mr.Tambourine Man celebrated hedonism while three years later the Hurdy Gurdy Man promised enlightenment.

Sonically, Hurdy Gurdy Man begins almost like a lullaby, with gentle chords and a slightly distorted humming that makes Donovan’s voice sound as if it is warbling a bit, adding a further tenderness and vulnerability to the sound. With the B section a groan of the electric guitar is heard, and at the end of the B section (on both of its occurrences) there is a broad and prominent strum of a tambura, a voice of India. Going into the chorus, the tambura is brought into juxtaposition with a hard rock lead guitar crunching chords. The break shares an amplified acoustic guitar with a lengthy improvisation on a lead electric guitar that buzz-saws through the melody like in the Yardbirds’ Over Under Sideways Down, indeed sounding a great deal like the work of Jeff Beck. There follows a lengthy chorus that somewhat shuffles the rhythm in the second lengthening line and changes up the words up a little while continuing the lead electric guitar, heavily percussive amplified acoustic strumming, and various frantic drum rolls until the song fades.