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.

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.