This is such a great song. I really dig these music posts you do man, thanks!Dave's Song of the Day
The Pusher – Steppenwolf
Tuesday song of the day: Today’s song wasn’t a hit when it was released but has endured due to its use in the movie Easy Rider.
Songwriter Hoyt Axton wrote a song about drug dealers in the mid-1960s after a friend of his died from a drug overdose. Axton was the son of Mae Boren Axton, who co-wrote Heartbreak Hotel for Elvis in the 1950s. Hoyt became quite a successful songwriter in his own right in the 1960s and 1970s, writing hits such as Never Been to Spain, Joy to the World, and No No Song for other artists. He was also a recording artist himself, but never had a big hit as a performer. Later, he had another successful career as a character actor in television and movies. One of his more well-known roles was as the inventor father of the main character in Gremlins, who brings his son the Mogwai as a Christmas present.
The song he wrote after his friend died was The Pusher, which told how dealers of hard drugs were evil, and sold their wares without any concern about the health of the user. They would happily get people hooked on drugs that would eventually kill them if there was money in it.
Canadian band The Sparrows began playing The Pusher in their shows around 1966. There were some personnel changes and a name change to Sparrow later in the year. Then in 1967, leader John Kay changed the band’s name to Steppenwolf. They released their first single in late 1967, and their first album, Steppenwolf, in January 1968. That first single went nowhere, but the second was Born to Be Wild, a huge hit that went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up to this classic was The Pusher, but that song failed to chart at all.
Then in 1969, Dennis Hopper directed the landmark film Easy Rider, about a duo who make a cross-country motorcycle trip financed by a drug sale. Both Born to Be Wild and The Pusher appeared on the soundtrack of the film. It use in the movie ensured the popularity of The Pusher for years to come, despite it not having been a hit on its initial release. Later, previously unreleased recordings of Sparrow performing The Pusher were released, in both live and studio versions. The live version was released on an album called Early Steppenwolf, although the performance on record was before the name change to Steppenwolf. The studio version was released as being performed by John Kay and Sparrow, also to cash in on the success of Steppenwolf.
As for Hoyt Axton, he didn’t record The Pusher for one of his own albums until 1971, when it appeared on his Joy to the World album. His version is considerably different than Steppenwolf’s hard rock take on the song.
Sparrow, circa 1967
Hoyt Axton, 1971
Tomorrow: Left the city in a pickup truck