It was the trip that changed everything, man. Easy Rider was one of the films that launched the New Hollywood revolution, in which young filmmakers rejected the studio system and sought to make movies that reflected the tumult of the times. A psychedelic road-trip hit that depicted the counterculture in full flower, Easy Rider also captured the sound of an era. With songs from the Band, Jimi Hendrix and the Byrds (as well as Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” now forevermore linked to men on motorcycles), “this was one of the first times a movie was yoked to the driving power of ’60s rock ‘n’ roll,” writes film journalist Peter Biskind in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, his history of the New Hollywood.
The sound track happened almost by accident. Director Dennis Hopper recalled that Crosby, Stills & Nash were initially going to score the film, an idea he quickly nixed. In an interview with MovieMaker magazine, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs said that editor Donn Cambern used many of the songs as a temporary background sound track for the film. “But the music became inseparable from the pictures,” said Kovacs. “When the film was cut, there was a discussion about who was going to score it. They ended up licensing the music Donn was using. They spent $1 million licensing music, which was about three times the budget for shooting the rest of the film.”