The star and script writer of Easy Rider, Peter Fonda, had wanted Bob Dylan to write the film's theme song. However, when he approached the king of folk-rock, he declined. Instead, Dylan quickly scribbled a lyric fragment on to a napkin, before telling Fonda to give it to Roger McGuinn. The Byrds frontman took Dylan's lines turning them into the first verse then expanded upon them with his own lyrical and musical contributions.
When Dylan saw a private screening of Easy Rider and realized that he had been credited as co-writer on its theme song, he telephoned McGuinn and demanded that his name be removed from the credits. It's believed that Dylan disowned the tune as he hated the film's ending.
The version of the country-tinged tune used in the film and included on the Easy Rider soundtrack album is McGuinn singing and playing acoustic guitar whilst fellow Byrd Gene Parsons accompanies him on harmonica. The version that The Byrds would later release as a single and include on their Ballad of Easy Rider album is a completely different take performed at a quicker tempo.