Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)


The Hurdy Gurdy Man
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“Hurdy Gurdy Man” is so blithely trippy that it’s bound to bring a chuckle and plenty of memories of cigarette tip tracers from days of future passed. You can almost feel your skull reverberate while listening.

Donovan and his band – a line-up that is not ever going to be fully finalized because of crediting mistakes – crank out a grinding, gear-busting meditation on, well, meditation.

We know for sure that future Zepper, John Paul Jones, played bass.

We’re not sure if John Bonham or Clem Cattini played drums, but the evidence leans to Cattini. In his career, Cattini played with a laundry list of artists so long it suffices to say the artists range from Englebert Humperdinck to The Kinks to Nirvana.

Jimmy Page may have played electric guitar, a fact he doesn’t acknowledge or deny.

The Hurdy Gurdy Man is some kind of yogi who visits sleeping humans. His sometime companion is The Roly Poly Man. (A scary thought right there.) The inspiration flowed from a trip Donovan made to India. While there, Donovan and George Harrison met, and George actually contributed a verse, (not part of the single release version), to “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

Donovan was practically crushed under the burden of being (yet another) “next Bob Dylan.” But the Scottish singer/songwriter managed to crank out some very commendable work nonetheless, little of which is very Dylanesque, ironically.

The insertion of the Indian tambura into the long, acid-soaked break along with the wobbling electric guitars, the distortion, the whole atmosphere of the period, is perfect. The repetition of “Hurdy hurdy hurdy gurdy hurdy gurdy gurdy” in the lyric becomes a mantra.

Interestingly, Donovan had been intent on giving the song to Jimi Hendrix but his producer, master hit-maker Mickey Most, nixed the thought. (Donovan also wanted Hendrix to play lead guitar on the song, a move that didn’t pan out, either.)

It’s best just to say that “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is a trip. What the hell is it with the Brits and India? The sun never set on the British Empire. Until it did.

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

Histories of ages past
Hung in light and 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

“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang
“Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy gurdy” he sang