The Essential Donovan by Donovan

May 2, 2012

At one time Donovan was mentioned in the same breath as Bob Dylan. While those comparisons have long since ceased, his catalogue of releases, especially his body of work from the 1960s, remains some of the best and more creative music of the era. He was a 2012 inductee into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

In conjunction with his latest honor, the Legacy/Epic label has released a two-CD, 36 song collection titled The Essential Donovan. It features every one of his songs to chart on the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart in the United States and the U.K. National Singles Chart. Also included are 14 additional album tracks, which delve a little deeper into his legacy. Remaining true to the original intent of the music, many of the songs are presented in mono.

The early part of Donovan’s career found him as a fairly traditional folk artist. Gentle songs such as “Catch The Wind,” “Colours,” and “Summer Day Reflection Song” presented the gentle side of the 1960s folk revival movement. While his cover of “Universal Soldier” was a biting criticism of war in general, his early music was more peaceful than a lot of the folk music being issued at the time.

Donovan’s fortunes, both artistically and commercially, changed when he formed a relationship with legendary British producer Mickie Most. Together they would produce some of the more memorable and better psychedelic pop of the 1960s. While psychedelic music is usually associated with rock, no one was better at defining its sound than Donovan. Songs such as “Sunshine Superman,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Jennifer Juniper,” “Atlantis,” and “Mellow Yellow” continue to be a reminder of 1960s culture. Slower and reflective material such as “Wear Your Hair Like Heaven,” “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting,” and “Lalena” continued to show his softer side.

As the 1970s dawned, Donovan was in transition again. His music was more eclectic and less commercially successful. Some British rock and classical poetry combined with one last reunion album with Most, 1973’s Cosmic Wheels, made for an interesting, if inconsistent musical journey.

The Essential Donovan captures him not only at his best but also the essence of an era. For any fan of Donovan, or if you just want to explore the 1960s psychedelic era from a different perspective, this release is indeed essential.

Article first published as Music Review: Donovan – The Essential Donovan on Blogcritics.

Greatest Hits by Donovan

September 20, 2011

Donovan is a sometimes forgotten figure in today’s music world, but during the 1960s many ranked him second only to Bob Dylan in the pantheon of folk poets. His series of hit singles and successful albums made him a superstar during the second half of the decade

His mystical prose, for want of a better definition, and quiet music explored the gentle side of the violent sixties. His place in the upper echelon of folk artists and troubadours made him a 60s icon.

He released his Greatest Hits album during 1969 at the height of his popularity. It was the most successful album release of his career in the United States, reaching number four on the Billboard’s Pop Album Chart.

The original album gathered together 11 of his best known tracks including the number one hit “Sunshine Superman” and the number two “Mellow Yellow.” The CD reissue included such extra hits as “Atlantis,” “Barabajagal,” and “Riki Tiki Tavi.” The problem with some of the CDs was “Colours” and “Catch The Wind” were re-recorde; “Sunshine Superman” was a different length; and the sound was spotty in places, so beware. Despite these problems, the album remains the best short overview of his music and career.

His early, pre-superstar days are represented by “Colours,” “Josie,” and “Catch The Wind,” but for some unknown reason there was no “Universal Soldier.” These simple folk songs were part of his early career and have held up well down through the years.

The meat of the album was his psychedelic folk hits. “Sunshine Superman” was the perfect song for a summer day back in 1966, and Jimmy Page’s guitar work is often overlooked. Many have guessed at the meaning of “Mellow Yellow’s” lyrics, including the use of vibrators and smoking bananas, which added to the song’s charm. It had an addictive percussion, Paul McCartney’s backing vocal, and Donovan’s whispers, which made it memorable. “Epistle To Dippy” was actually a peace song if you sift through the psychedelic imagery. There really was a “Dippy” to whom the song was dedicated, and he survived his time in the service. “Jennifer Juniper” made use of such instruments as a flute, oboe, and bassoon. It was written for Jenny Boyd, sister of Patti, who married and divorced Eric Clapton and George Harrison.

One of the treats was the inclusion of “Season Of The Witch.” It was an album track on an album of singles and was one of the few true rock songs of his career. Al Kooper and Stephen Stills released a definitive 11-minute version on their Super Session album. Donovan’s original was simpler but it contains one of the best vocal performances of his career.

Some of the material may have aged a bit, but that’s OK. At its worst Greatest Hits was whimsical fun. At its best, it was well-produced, and contained creative music from a bygone era that is still worth a listen now and then.

Article first published as Music Review: Donovan – Greatest Hits on Blogcritics.

Lalena 45 by Donovan

September 10, 2011

“Lalena” was released right in between two of Donovan’s bigger hits; “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (#5) and “Atlantis” (#7). It was a gentle ballad that was somewhat different from his big psychedelic folk hits.

It would be a moderarte hit during 1968, reaching number 33 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

His commercial viability was coming to an end as he would only have one more top 40 hit after this string of releases.

Lalena remains a nice if somewhat forgotten song of the late 1960s.

To Susan On The West Coast Waiting/Atlantis 45 by Donovan

June 12, 2011

Donovan was just about at the end of his string of top 40 hits when “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting/Atlantis” was released during 1968. In fact, he would only have one more song reach the top 50.

“To Susan On The West Coast Waiting” was the A side of the single in The United States, while “Atlantis” was the A side in Europe. In the United States the single reached number 23 and in England it reached the top ten, peaking at number seven.

I prefer the U.S. A side as “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting” was a gentle song that looked back to his folk period. Sometimes simple is best. “Atlantis,” on the other hand, was psychedelic folk, but not of the quality of “Mellow Yellow” or “Sunshine Superman.” I found it a tad repeditive for my taste.

Mellow Yellow 45 by Donovan

May 24, 2011

Once upon a time, during the 1960’s, Donovan was spoken about in the same breath as Bob Dylan. He began his career as a gentle folk singer, but by the mid-1960’s was producing what can best be described as psychedelic folk music.

1966 was his most successful commercial year, as his “Sunshine Superman,” and “Mellow Yellow” were both huge hits in The United States.

“Mellow Yellow”, with the famous “electrical banana” line, was released November 12, 1966 and would spend three weeks as the number two song in America. If you listen real close you can hear Paul McCartney providing the whispers.

Donovan would chart 17 singles, 1965-1973, before fading into obscurity. He considers to tour down to the present day, but all the Dylan analogies are long gone. Still, “Mellow Yellow” remains a nice relic of the 1960’s.

Universal Soldier 45 by Donovan

March 31, 2011

Before Donovan became a full fledged star during the mid to late 1960’s, he released a series of gentle folk singles for the Hickory label. “Catch The Wind,” “Colours,” and “Universal Soldier” all received some chart action in The United States.

The third of the three singles, “Universal Soldier,” was written by folk icon Buffy Sainte Marie and was released September 25, 1965. It would reach number 53 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

While I have never like the abrupt ending, the song is a biting anti-war song that has been covered by numerous artists down through the years. Donovan was wise to present it in a stripped down version.

While not as well know as many of his hits, it remains one of his finer performances.

The Donovan Concert: Live In LA by Donovan

July 29, 2009

Watching this concert is like being caught in a time warp, or at least an episode of the original Star Trek.

David: Scotty, beam me up! I’m caught in the flower-power 60s!
Scotty: Captain, we’ve lost main power. It’ll be an hour before we can get the transporter back online!
David: That’s about all the Donovan I can take. Help!

Some artists produce music that is eternal and remains relevant and listenable as the years pass. Donovan does not fit into that category. His classic songs are products of their time and remain artifacts of the era. What seemed creative and interesting 40 years ago is now quaint.

Donovan Concert: Live In
L.A. was recorded January 21, 2007 at the Kodiak Theatre in Hollywood. Proceeds from this DVD of the concert are being donated to the David Lynch Foundation for consciousness-based education and world peace. In short, the foundation establishes stress reduction transcendental meditation programs for inner city youth at risk. Good luck with that.

Donovan strums his acoustic guitar throughout the performance and is backed by bass and percussion. Donovan also keeps up a constant patter between songs that ranges from historically interesting to self serving. The self-serving part is especially true when talking about transcendental meditation with the Beatles, in what seems like an attempt to make Donovan seem more relevant and cool than he actually is.

“Catch The Wind,” “Colours” and Universal Soldier” are performed well. The lyrics are straightforward, unlike some Donovan material. His themes of love and protest can still strike a receptive chord today. These songs are re-produced just about note for note and word for word live and are pleasant reminders of a bygone era.

But the psychedelic stuff comes off poorly. A lack of instrumental backups hurts, but the worst part is the lyrical content; what sounded profound in the 60s seems awfully quaint and makes little sense today. As such, formerly decent songs like “Jennifer Juniper,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Sunshine Superman” are poorly done and just don’t matter anymore. The only redeeming song from this part of the concert is a folkish rendition of “Season Of The Witch.”

For the encore (yes, there is one), Donovan brings out Mike Love of the Beach Boys to sing “Mellow Yellow” with him. Love looks good but apparently doesn’t know the words …and so he stands there for several minutes looking embarrassed and a little foolish. As would anyone in line at Best Buy with this DVD in hand, I might add.

Scotty: Captain Dave, the transporter is fixed. Ready to beam you back to the present.