Friday, 24 April 2020

Where’s My Guitar? An Inside Story of British Rock and Roll by Bernie Marsden - Book Review

by Bernie Marsden
(Published by 4th Estate, 2019)
reviewed by Stuart Penney

Sometimes the most interesting music biographies are not (ghost) written by pampered millionaire rock stars from the rich end of town.  Just occasionally you’ll find one like this.  By anyone’s standards Bernie Marsden has enjoyed a long and varied career in rock with many ups and downs.  But there are no lurid tales of private jets, model girlfriends or rehab here.  No hotel room trashing or tax exile debauchery, either.  This is the honest and captivating story of a journeyman blues guitarist toiling at the coalface of 70s and 80s rock.  
Bernie has played with countless bands, small, medium and large over the decades, culminating in Whitesnake where he enjoyed the most success.  But it’s the stories of his early years as a struggling sideman where the real meat of this book lies.  I’m a sucker for tales of the hard-working bands who inhabit the lower leagues of rock and Marsden has served time with plenty of them.  Over the years he passed through the ranks of Wild Turkey (with Jethro Tull founder Glenn Cornick); Babe Ruth; UFO; Paice, Ashton, Lord; Cozy Powell’s Hammer and others before finally hitting pay dirt in Whitesnake with David Coverdale.  There are also vague yet intriguing tales of a late 70s audition for Paul McCartney’s Wings, but that fell through as Whitesnake beckoned.

Touring in Franco’s Spain with Wild Turkey was an interesting time and Marsden tells how the band was pulled over and interrogated by the policia, who employed a zero tolerance policy when it came to troublesome longhaired British musicians.  Luckily, one of the Spanish cops turned out to be a major Jethro Tull fan.  “Ah! Living in Ze Past!” he exclaimed, pointing at the perpetually headband-wearing Glenn Cornick.  And with that Wild Turkey was given a high speed police escort to their gig.  Bernie has a seemingly endless supply of such stories of life on the road, each one more entertaining than the last. 
Big name celebrity anecdotes are plentiful as Marsden recalls time spent with the likes of George and Ringo, Ozzy Osbourne, B.B.King and a pre-fame Elton John.  But Bernie was equally thrilled to meet the ailing Johnny Winter aboard a modest tour bus in Milton Keynes as he was recording the Whitesnake album Come ‘an Get It at Tittenhurst Park, John Lennon’s palatial former home in Ascot.  
In 1982 his tenure with Whitesnake ended badly following a conflict with the management, but not before he had co-written one of their biggest songs “Here I Go Again”, thus securing his pension plan.  The easy-going guitarist is still on good terms with David Coverdale however and, in fact, has hardly a bad word for any of the musicians he has worked with over the decades, save perhaps various members of Stray and UFO.  But you’ll have to read the book to find out why that is.

Guitar aficionados will devour the penultimate chapter devoted to Bernie’s rare and vintage instruments, including his legendary 1959 Gibson Les Paul, nicknamed “The Beast”.  Titled “Guitars and the Sickness They Induce”, the chapter tells of cherished guitars bought and sold, plus some that got away.  Packed with esoteric detail, it’s the perfect way to round off the story of a self-confessed guitar addict. 
The final section “Seminal Moments in My Musical Education” catalogues important rock events the young guitarist witnessed in his formative years.  From huge outdoor shows such as the 1968 Woburn Festival featuring Jimi Hendrix and Blind Faith’s Hyde Park free concert the following year, to small gigs at the humble California Ballroom in Dunstable, close to Bernie’s hometown of Buckingham.  It was here he saw Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and other late 60s bands who would have such an influence on his playing style. 
I experienced Where’s My Guitar? as an audiobook, narrated by Bernie himself.  His relaxed delivery making it all the more enjoyable.  That meant I missed out on the photographs contained in the physical book, but I did gain some incidental guitar interludes between chapters, plus an exclusive 1978 interview with B.B.King conducted by Marsden backstage at the Hammersmith Odeon. 
Bernie may have been a member of Whitesnake, one of the biggest rock bands of the 80s, but it’s the day-to-day stories of the less well-known groups he’s been involved with which help make this one of the most captivating and enjoyable music memoirs I’ve read in a long time.  
Originally privately published in 2017 under the title Where’s My Guitar? On the Tour Bus with the Snakeman, this book received a full worldwide publication and update with a new title in late 2019.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Cream: Goodbye Tour Live 1968 - CD Review

(Polydor 779 529-9)
reviewed by Stuart Penney

Rolling Stone issue #10, dated May 11, 1968 featured a picture of Eric Clapton on the cover.  The heavily processed image (taken by Linda Eastman) shows Clapton in close-up, his 1967 Hendrix-inspired perm grown out and his hair longer than it would ever be again.  Around his neck, nestling incongruously (or perhaps ironically) alongside some hippie beads, is a football scarf. His sideburns are fashionably bushy and he is also sporting what can only be described as an impressive Tom Selleck style moustache.  No doubt about it – Eric looked great in ‘68. Every inch the guitar hero, in fact. But inside issue #10 of Rolling Stone things were about to turn very ugly.

Five weeks earlier Cream had played a concert at Brandeis University in Boston and Rolling Stone writer Jon Landau (the man who in 1975 would become Bruce Springsteen’s producer/manager) was there to review it.  What he wrote would not only spell the end of Cream it would also send Eric into a tailspin of self-doubt which would last for years to come.  Among other things Landau’s review read: “Eric Clapton is a master of the blues clichés of all of the post-World War II blues guitarists…”. There was plenty more in the same vein but that line alone was enough to make Clapton resolve to quit what was probably the biggest touring rock group in the world at that point.  It’s been said that Eric had already heard The Band’s debut album Music From Big Pink and wanted to do something similar following the Landau mauling.  But Big Pink wasn’t released until July, two months after the Rolling Stone piece, so the chain of events seemingly developed over time.  Just to complicate matters, although the seeds of Cream’s demise were irrevocably sown in May of 1968, it was later revealed that the band had secretly agreed to call it a day before Landau’s review went to press, mainly due to the ongoing tension between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
Whatever the truth behind the break-up Cream still had one more lucrative tour to complete.  This was their so-called "Goodbye Tour" consisting of 22 shows at 19 US venues from 4 October to 4 November 1968, followed by two concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 25 and 26 November.

Cream’s final album (excluding posthumous live releases) Goodbye appeared in February 1969, three months after the Albert Hall shows.  I have reason to remember it possibly more than any other Cream record from their short, 30 month career.  A close friend and talented fine artist from Sheffield, Paul Winter, had recently moved to London to work for the Alan Aldridge Ink Studios, so when Goodbye appeared with that distinctive Aldridge airbrush lettering on the front cover it was a source of great local pride.  I never did find out if Paul had very much (if anything) to do with the Cream sleeve, but I like to tell myself he did.  Pleasingly, this Goodbye Tour Live 1968 box set retains a variation of the original Alan Aldridge design as well as that delightful showbiz send-up photo by Roger Philips showing the band decked out in silver suits, with top hats and canes.  True to form, Ginger seemingly didn’t like the idea of dressing up and threatened the photographer during the shoot. No change there, then.

This lavishly presented box contains four complete shows from the last eight weeks of that final tour: Oakland, California (October 4), the Los Angeles Forum (October 19), San Diego Sports Arena (October 20) and the Royal Albert Hall, London (November 26).  Of the 36 tracks, 29 have never been released on CD before (19 are previously unreleased, plus the Royal Albert Hall show which was only available on VHS and later, DVD).  
The packaging is excellent.  It comes housed in a 10-inch hard cover box with 70 page book incorporating a wealth of colour and black and white photos showing onstage action, concert tickets, posters, music magazine cuttings and record sleeves from around the world. The book also features some entertaining liner notes by Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke.  On the downside Fricke confuses Lincolnshire with Lancashire when referencing a May 1967 UK gig in Spalding and the picture on page 17 of the book has been flipped, turning Eric into a left-handed guitarist. Not the end of the world, admittedly, but with such an expensive item, someone should have taken a second look.

Considering the band was apparently falling apart and the members eager to go their separate ways, you’d never know it from these performances.  Cream are on fire throughout with their playing as powerful and accomplished as ever. The three California shows are top-quality soundboard recordings which have been circulating as bootlegs for years so it’s good to see them finally get an official release.  The London show is presumably taken from the soundtrack of Tony Palmer’s film Cream: Farewell Concert and the sound has not improved in the transfer.  While still quite listenable (especially without the dizzying camera zooms, close-ups and annoyingly fast edits of Palmer’s film), the fourth disc is of somewhat lower fidelity.  
“White Room” was the opening song almost every night and there are four versions here.  The first thing you notice is what a great singer Jack was. The finest bass player of his generation was also blessed with a tremendous voice, the equal of anyone in rock at that time.  And, save a few fluffed lyrics and wayward harmonies here and there, the quality and power of his vocals never waivers throughout. The set list hardly varies across all four shows with the lion’s share of songs coming from the recent Wheels of Fire double album (released in August 1968) plus a couple from Fresh Cream and just “Sunshine of Your Love” from Disraeli Gears.  But Cream rarely played a song the same way twice, anyway, instead using the basic structure as a launch pad for their extended improvisations.  This is especially true of the longer pieces such as “I’m So Glad” and “Spoonful”. The four versions of “Spoonful” total over an hour in length yet all are wildly different, with only the vocal section sticking to any kind of plan.  Two tracks pre-date the formation of the band. Although “Traintime” later appeared on a couple of Cream albums Jack’s harmonica solo spot originated during his time with the Graham Bond Organisation. Likewise “Steppin’ Out” started life as Eric’s instrumental party piece with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

*1997 Cream retrospective box set Those Were The Days

Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience are often compared and although Eric and Jimi were friends, contemporaries and first among equals it’s impossible to imagine Hendrix tackling a number like “Politician”.  This lumbering monster of a song contains not a skerrick of swing or soul, but it swaggers along with feel to spare, laying waste to all before it. One of four songs on Wheels of Fire co-written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, “Politician" took on new momentum when played live and seemed to grow in stature as the tour progressed. 
In the late 60s and early 70s drum solos were de rigueur for any rock band with virtuosic tendencies.  They were not everyone’s cup of tea, however, and even the most hardened rock concert-goer will likely blanche at the thought of a 20-minute solo.  I’m with those people much of the time but always made an exception in Ginger’s case. He was a drummer of unique power and invention and I could quite happily sit though virtually anything he cared to serve up.

Ginger’s solo spot was typically the thunderous “Toad” and it appears on three of the four shows (35 minutes of it, in total).  The Oakland concert on disc one is different, however. Here the drum solo happens during “Passing The Time”. Ginger co-wrote this song (along with two other tracks on Wheels of Fire) with jazz pianist Mike Taylor who sadly died only a year later in 1969 aged 30.  Oakland was the first date of the tour and at the end of “Passing The Time” Ginger announces “We have to apologise for being a little rusty. We’ve been on holiday”.
Like most people of a certain age I first heard Cream’s “Crossroads” in 1968 on Wheels of Fire.  52 years later I’m still of the opinion it could be the greatest live rock ensemble recording ever committed to vinyl.  This powerhouse 12 bar blues thunders along at a fair old lick with not one but two life-affirming guitar solos. It’s moderately fast without being frantic.  It’s punishingly loud but still swings like crazy with every instrument cutting through the mix equally. It may be a showcase for Clapton’s guitar but it’s very much a team effort with the bass and drums doing just as much of the heavy lifting.  With almost telepathic understanding Eric, Jack and Ginger lock onto the beat, mindful of every micro-shift in tempo. At one point the song seems in danger of tripping over itself as it rushes headlong into the last verse a little too fast. But just in time they pull it back and then, a little over 4 minutes after it began, the “Crossroads” juggernaut shudders to a halt, rivets straining on the boiler and steam coming off the brakes.  “No one will ever beat it” opined Springsteen guitarist Steven Van Zandt, speaking about "Crossroads" to Rolling Stone in 2005. “They literally solo for four verses in a row… The fact that they all come back together at the end, at once, is one of the most remarkable moments on record”.  
Such was the impact of this track it went on to have a life of its own.  In 1988 Eric released Crossroads, an early multi-CD compilation and one of the biggest selling box sets of the digital era.  A decade later he launched the Crossroads Guitar Festival, a series of all-star benefit concerts which is still running today.  In 2005 Gibson guitars issued a limited edition replica of the Gibson ES335 Eric used on the 1968 recording. The original guitar was sold at auction for just under one million dollars, but you can buy one of 250 exact Crossroads replicas for a bargain US$10,000. So, while Clapton has sometimes coyly attempted to play down the importance of the original Wheels of Fire recording there’s no denying “Crossroads” holds great significance for him.

First the good news: Goodbye Live Tour 1968 features four unreleased live versions of “Crossroads”.  Now the (slightly) bad news: not one of them is quite as good as the Wheels Of Fire version recorded seven months earlier at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.  The Oakland recording has a slightly hesitant feel with the famous riff changed to something resembling the opening of the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”, albeit on steroids.  Two weeks later and the Los Angeles version is more like it. The riff is now in place but it’s played a little too fast, as is the London recording. Only in San Diego did they come close to matching the Winterland original but even here the two guitar solos don’t have quite the same impact.

Cream may have invented heavy rock and a lot more besides but they were a blues band at heart and the three versions of “Sitting On Top Of The World” drive this point home comprehensively.  The LA recording on disc two previously appeared on the 1969 album Goodbye and is perhaps the pick of the bunch (although San Diego runs it a close second).  Never was the term “power trio” more appropriate as the band bulldozes its way through this slow blues.  Ginger nails it all down at the back, rock solid and immovable. Jack is all over the fretboard like a lead player, his rasping bass bubbling through the mix, louder than any recording engineer would dare risk today.  His vocals are astounding especially considering he’s singing while playing some extremely complex bass lines. Meanwhile Eric fires off a series of exhilarating fills topped off with a solo of murderous intensity.  It’s a masterclass in muscular electric blues. Subtle it ain’t, but my goodness it sounds great. 
“Sunshine of Your Love” appears on all four discs, the extended solos taking it far beyond the rigid confines of Cream’s biggest hit single.  Much looser than the studio version, the most famous riff in all of rock takes on new life when played live. There’s a strange moment during the LA show when the bass drops out for several seconds but we assume this was nothing more than a technical glitch.  The strongest performance of "Sunshine..." by far appears on the San Diego concert. It’s also the best recorded version with all three instruments way up in the mix and Jack and Eric’s vocals strong and clear.  
"Steppin' Out" is the final number of the final show and, as the Albert Hall crowd yells for more, MC John Peel, always a master of studied indifference, signs off with the characteristically deadpan line “That really has to be it, but I’m really glad you’re here tonight.  Goodnight”. And with that, Cream leaves the stage forever (or until their 2005 reunion, 37 years later).

Cream existed simultaneously as two very different groups.  There was the studio incarnation which recorded beautifully crafted pop rock gems such as “I Feel Free”, “Strange Brew” and “Badge”, but the live band was another matter entirely.  Onstage they were a high-volume stadium monster who could justifiably claim to have drawn up the blueprint for heavy rock, jam band rock and much else besides. Part jazz, part blues and several parts rock, Cream’s improvised flights of fancy elevated music to places it had never been before.
Jack Bruce passed away in 2014 and with the recent death of Ginger Baker it’s sad to reflect that now only Eric remains, adding even more poignancy to this release, at least from the listener’s perspective.  Following Cream’s demise the baton would be picked up by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and others who took the same basic format and turned it into 70s commercial gold. For all their success, though, none of the pretenders would achieve the same legendary status or, dare I say it, quite the same level of musical excellence. 

Let’s leave the last word to Buddy Miles who, coincidentally, was about to exit his own group Electric Flag in late 1968. He comes onstage at the Los Angeles Forum to introduce who he calls, in the hip speak of the time, “Three really outasite groovy cats”. Buddy continues (presumably referencing the impending split), “What can you say? It’s happened, and we can’t do anything about it, but just remember they’ll still be there, and they’ll always be there.  That’s Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton. Ladies and gentlemen, the Cream”.

DISC ONE – OCTOBER 4, 1968 – Oakland Coliseum, Oakland (all tracks previously unreleased, except *)
1. White Room (6.19)* (previously released on Live Cream Volume II and Those Were The Days)
2. Politician (5.22)* (previously released on Live Cream Volume II and Those Were The Days)
3. Crossroads (3.57)
4. Sunshine Of Your Love (5.35)
5. Spoonful (16.47)
6. Deserted Cities Of The Heart (5.26)* (previously released on Live Cream Volume II)
7. Passing The Time (10.40)
8. I’m So Glad (7.07)

DISC TWO – OCTOBER 19, 1968 – Los Angeles Forum, Los Angeles (all tracks previously unreleased except *)
1. Introduction by Buddy Miles (1:39)
2. White Room (6.53)
3. Politician (6.41)* (previously released on Goodbye)
4. I’m So Glad (9.37)* (previously released on Goodbye and Those Were The Days)
5. Sitting On Top Of The World 4.53* (previously released on Goodbye and Those Were The Days)
6. Crossroads (4.25)
7. Sunshine Of Your Love (6.27)
8. Traintime (8.11)
9. Toad (12.55)
10. Spoonful (17.27)* (previously released on Eric Clapton’s Life In 12 Bars)

DISC THREE – OCTOBER 20, 1968 – San Diego Sports Arena, San Diego (all tracks previously unreleased)
1. White Room (6.42)
2. Politician (6.26)
3. I’m So Glad (7.53)
4. Sitting On Top Of The World (5.45)
5. Sunshine Of Your Love (5.13)
6. Crossroads (4.13)
7. Traintime (9.39)
8. Toad (14.03)
9. Spoonful (9.12)
The Oakland Coliseum, Los Angeles Forum and San Diego Sports Arena concerts were mastered from the original 1968 analogue mix reels by Kevin Reeves at Universal Mastering, Nashville, TN.

DISC FOUR – CREAM FAREWELL CONCERT NOVEMBER 26, 1968 – Royal Albert Hall, London (all tracks released on CD for the first-time)
1. White Room (8.02)
2. Politician (6.37)
3. I’m So Glad (6.53)
4. Sitting On Top Of The World (5.06)
5. Crossroads (5.03)
6. Toad (11.22)
7. Spoonful (15.47)
8. Sunshine Of Your Love (8.37)
9. Steppin’Out (5.02)
The Royal Albert Hall concert was mastered from the original 1968 analogue transfer reels by Jason NeSmith at Chase Park Transduction, Athens, GA.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Donovan - His 50 Greatest Songs – Ranked

by Stuart Penney

We’re living in extraordinary and uncertain times.  2020 will probably be the most momentous year any of us will experience in our lifetimes.  So, whether you’re in voluntary self-isolation or total lockdown, what better way to occupy that enforced leisure time than to explore some of the most captivating and original pop music from the second half of the 1960s.  Here for your delectation is a roundup of what I consider to be the top 50 Donovan songs (plus half a dozen extras I simply couldn’t leave out) in order of importance, not to say greatness. It’s a dirty job, but someone had to do it.  Please feel free to disagree.
Bubbling Under:
56: Lord of the Dance (1971)
Written in 1967 by poet Sydney Carter and set to the tune of Joseph Brackett’s 1848 American Shaker song “Simple Gifts”, “Lord of the Dance” is a singalong highlight on HMS Donovan
55: The Fat Angel (1966)
Conceived at Shawn Phillips’ Marble Arch flat and written for Mama Cass Elliot, the lyrics reference a certain recently formed San Francisco group, with the line “Fly Jefferson Airplane”.  Two years later Grace Slick’s band recorded their own version of “The Fat Angel” on the 1968 live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head.  Body shaming was an alien concept in the 60s and, however well-meaning, I suspect “The Fat Angel” might have a different title if it were written today. Find it on the US version of Sunshine Superman.
54: Please Don’t Bend (1996)
The 1996 Rick Rubin-produced Sutras was Donovan’s first album of new material in over a decade.  It was released on Rubin’s own American Recordings label with the idea of introducing Don to a new generation of fans.  Sutras failed to sell, but tracks such as “Please Don’t Bend” (on which Donovan was re-united with Danny Thompson) were well received and helped re-establish him as a current artist releasing new material.

53: The Heights of Alma (1980)
Donovan plays bouzouki on this rousing Crimean War song from the Neutronica album.  Following a run of slow sellers in the late 70s Don’s stocks were low and the LP was initially released only in Germany, France, Italy and Australia.
52: Voyage into the Golden Screen (1967)
A deceptively simple song from For Little Ones, which is the acoustic half of A Gift To A Flower To A Garden box set (the two AGFAFTAG albums were also released separately in the US and other territories).  Double tracked Jansch-style acoustic guitar and some of Donovan’s most florid lyrics make this track irresistible.  
51: Breezes of Patchulie (1966)
Perhaps because of its resemblance to “Celeste” this charming outtake from 1966 remained unreleased until the Troubadour box set in 1992.  It was later added to the Sunshine Superman CD as a bonus track.  In 2014 the song gave its name to the four CD set Breezes of Patchouli – His Studio Recordings 1966–1969.  A very early prototype version titled “Darkness of My Mind” appeared on the album Sixty-Four, released in 2004.  The spelling presumably should be Patchouli rather than Patchulie, but both variations have been seen on CD booklets over the years.

The Top 50:
50: Song Of The Wandering Aengus (1971)
With words by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) from his 1899 poetry collection Wind Among The Reeds this piece is especially remembered for its evocative final two lines: "The silver apples of the moon / The golden apples of the sun" which have been used many times elsewhere.  Donovan wrote the tune and delivers a captivating solo acoustic performance on the HMS Donovan album. 
49: Summer Day Reflection Song (1965)
The style was still acoustic folk, but the lyrics were veering toward Ginsberg-style beat poetry: “Marionette dangles death / Insensitivity is fed / By the TV wizard's wand / Whilst in the spell you're conned”.  Don plays some adept finger picking while Shawn Phillips adds 12-string guitar fills to this Fairytale track.  In 2000 the 36-track double CD Summer Day Reflection Songs collected every track Donovan recorded for the Pye label during 1965.

48: I Like You (1973)
This highly personal Cosmic Wheels track was the last Donovan single to trouble the charts anywhere in the world, creeping into the top 60 in the US and Australia.  It’s a fine song though, featuring Cozy Powell (drums), Clive Chaman (bass) and Chris Spedding (guitar).

47: Ferris Wheel (1966)
Featuring no chorus or middle eight, this hypnotic Sunshine Superman song uses just two chords throughout.  Driven by Shawn Phillips on sitar, it bears a passing resemblance to the verse of Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo”, also from 1966.  Apparently based on a true story about a girl who really did catch her hair in a ferris wheel.
46: Museum (1967)
Was there ever a better chat-up line than “Meet me under the whale in the Natural History Museum”?  This poptastic Mellow Yellow song was covered three times in 1967 by Herman’s Hermits (another Mickie Most act), Beverley (Kutner/Martyn) and Noel Harrison respectively.

45: Peregrine (1968)
Dedicated to George Harrison and taking its cue from the likes of “Blue Jay Way” and “Within You, Without You”, this song has a strong eastern flavour.  It’s driven by a harmonium drone plus bowed double bass and bongos. Find it on the Hurdy Gurdy Man album.
44: Poor Cow (1968)
“Poor Cow” has a long and convoluted history.  Originally written as “Poor Love” for an aborted Lord of the Rings project, it was re-structured with slightly different lyrics for the soundtrack of the 1967 Ken Loach movie Poor Cow. The song was eventually released as the B-side of “Jennifer Juniper” in early 1968.  A live version recorded in November 1967 was included on the Donovan In Concert album, released in August 1968.

43: In an Old-Fashioned Picture Book (1971)
Epic records declined to release HMS Donovan in America and so it was issued only in the UK on the Dawn label, Pye’s progressive rock imprint.  Presumably Epic reasoned that an acoustic double album of children’s songs and nursery rhymes wasn’t exactly destined for the top of the charts.  It was their loss, however, because HMS Donovan is a thoroughly charming record with much to recommend it.  The delightful cover painting was by John “Patrick” Byrne, who also designed sleeves for fellow Scots the Humblebums, Stealers Wheel and Gerry Rafferty.  ”Patrick” even submitted a design for the Beatles’ “White Album” which was held over until 1980 when it was used instead for The Beatles Ballads compilation.  “In An Old Fashioned Picture Book” is a typically whimsical Donovan acoustic song from the period with a great tune and some lovely acoustic guitar work. 
42: Preachin’ Love (1966)
In which our man channels Georgie Fame via a John Cameron big band jazz arrangement.  Originally the non-album UK B-side of “Mellow Yellow” and the US flip of “Epistle to Dippy”, “Preachin’ Love” was later added to the Mellow Yellow album as a bonus track.

41: Happiness Runs (1969)
Sure, it’s a cutesy children’s singalong, but that didn’t do “Yellow Submarine” any harm, did it?  “Happiness Runs” first appeared on the 1968 Donovan In Concert album where it was titled “Pebble and the Man”.  It was re-worked and re-named for Barabajagal a year later.  Performed as a canon, or round, whereby two different tunes are sung simultaneously, it features an all-star line-up of backing singers, including Graham Nash, Mike McCartney and Lesley Duncan.  “Happiness Runs” was covered by Mary Hopkin in 1969 and Bridget St. John (under the original title of “The Pebble and the Man”) in 1970.

40: Bert’s Blues (1966)
Donovan’s admiration for folk legend Bert Jansch runs deep.  In the early part of his career he recorded three Jansch covers and two self-penned tribute songs.  “Bert’s Blues” appeared on both the UK and US versions of Sunshine Superman and while John Cameron’s baroque style arrangement sounds nothing like anything Bert ever recorded, the results are a jazz/psych triumph.  Marianne Faithfull covered the song (re-titled “Good Guy”) on her 1967 album Love In A Mist.
39: Skip-a-Long Sam (1967)
Successfully blending jazz with acid folk, this A Gift From A Flower To A Garden track is a joy to behold.  With heavily treated multi layered vocals and some impressive guitar from Eric Leese, who seemingly changes chords with every beat, Wes Montgomery style, the song grooves (if not skips) along seductively.  It was covered by jazz legend Cleo Laine on her 1974 album A Beautiful Thing.
38: House of Jansch (1967)
Starting with some convincing Jansch-like solo acoustic guitar, this song gradually blossoms into a flute, sax and celeste (keyboard) extravaganza, courtesy of John Cameron.  The second of two Bert Jansch tributes written by Donovan (see also “Bert’s Blues"), “House of Jansch” appeared on the US Mellow Yellow album but remained unreleased in Britain until the CD era.  The title refers to the house at 30 Somali Road, Cricklewood, London NW2, where Bert shared an upstairs flat with fellow guitar legend John Renbourn in the mid-60s (the Young Tradition folk group lived on the ground floor).  It was literally the House of Jansch.
*The House of Jansch itself (right) – 30 Somali Road, Cricklewood
37: Universal Soldier (1965)
This famous Buffy Sainte-Marie anti-war protest song was the title track of Donovan’s first EP which reached #5 in the UK singles chart.  In the US it was added to the Fairytale album, replacing the Bert Jansch cover “Oh Deed I Do”.  There was a rumour in the 90s that Buffy had sold Donovan the rights to “Universal Soldier” but it was never confirmed.

36: Sand and Foam (1967)
Due to ongoing legal wrangles with his UK management, producer and record label, four of Donovan’s US 60s albums were not released in Britain until the CD era.  Six tracks each from the US Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow albums appeared as a catch-up amalgamation in mid-1967 with a new sleeve design, but also titled Sunshine Superman.  So, “Sand and Foam” appears on the UK version of Sunshine Superman, but on the US Mellow Yellow album.  Confused?  Written following a trip to Mexico with Gypsy Dave, this solo acoustic song also appears on the B-side of “There Is A Mountain”.

35: Celtic Rock (1970)
Open Road was Donovan’s back-to-basics album, his Let It Be, if you will.  Gone was Mickie Most and with him went the elaborate productions of the 60s, replaced with a simple 70s rock sound featuring only guitar, bass, drums and piano.  Pye records in Britain clearly weren’t expecting much in the way of sales from Open Road and Donovan was shunted sideways onto their new progressive offshoot Dawn for his last two records on the label.  As it turned out, Open Road stalled at #30 in the UK, but did rather better in America, making the top 20.  The tune of this Tolkienesque tale of heroes and trolls was recycled a year later for “Jabberwocky” on the HMS Donovan album.

 34: Celeste (1966)
“Majestic” is the only way to describe the closing track on the US Sunshine Superman album.  It rolls along on a wave of stately church organ with added harpsichord and sitar.  Like so many Donovan songs from this period it has an unforgettable melody, too. Covered by the “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” hitmaker Scott McKenzie on his 1967 debut album and erstwhile Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones on Come Into My Music Box in 1969.

33: Coulter’s Candy (1971)
This lively Scottish children’s song opens side two of HMS Donovan.  Written by Robert Coltart (1832 - 1880), “Coulter’s Candy” started life as an advertising jingle for the aniseed-flavoured confectionery he manufactured in Melrose and sold around the markets of the Scottish Border towns.  In 2019 a statue of Coltart was erected in his hometown of Galashiels.

32: Yellow Star (1973)
For Essence to Essence Mickie Most was replaced by Andrew Loog Oldham as co-producer with Donovan.  It seemed an odd pairing, but the material was strong and the results were encouraging.  “Yellow Star” has a novelty reggae feel, great lyrics and a stellar line-up of musicians. Henry McCullough and Danny Seiwell (both had recently quit Paul McCartney’s Wings), Jim Gordon (late of Derek & the Dominos) and Alan Spenner (Grease Band and Kokomo) all play on the song.

31: Turquoise (1965)
The third UK single didn’t fare nearly as well as the previous two, peaking at #30.  John Lennon clearly liked it, however, as it was one of the records on his personal jukebox which was auctioned in 1989.  The song was written for Joan Baez, who Donovan had met at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and she recorded her own version of “Turquoise” on the 1967 album Joan.
30: The Entertaining of a Shy Little Girl (1968)
An enchanting track from the Hurdy Gurdy Man album.  With charming melodic simplicity, this song is almost worthy of “White Album” era Paul McCartney.

*News story in Melody Maker, November 1966
29: New Year’s Resovolution (1970)
Thought to be inspired by Paul McCartney (who apparently loaned a guitar for the sessions) the closing track on Open Road is one of those anthemic, rolling tunes Donovan did so well.  The title is a clever combination of “Resolution” and “Revolution”.  Too clever for some, it seems, as in later years most sources (CD covers, Spotify etc) renamed it, simply, “New Year’s Resolution”.  Covered by Helen Reddy on her 1971 self-titled album. 
28: Young Girl Blues (1967)
Another song which was split between the UK Sunshine Superman and the US Mellow Yellow albums.  Performed solo with gently strummed acoustic guitar overloaded to the point of distortion, the mundane bedsit narrative is cleverly presented from a woman’s viewpoint and was instantly covered by both Marianne Faithfull and Julie Felix, almost before Donovan’s own version had appeared.

27: Maria Magenta (1973)
With Donovan on 12-string guitar plus Cozy Powell on drums, Chris Spedding on bouzouki and Clive Chaman on bass “Maria Magenta” was the second single from Cosmic Wheels.  It failed to chart but works just fine as an album track.

26: Hampstead Incident (1967)
Based around an A minor chord with a shifting bass line of A-G-F#-F-E, as found in a million other songs (some of them by Led Zeppelin) “Hampstead Incident” features a gorgeous harpsichord and string arrangement from the always reliable John Cameron.  In what was becoming a pattern, Marianne Faithfull covered the song (re-titled “In The Night Time”) on her 1967 album Love In A Mist.  Fun fact: “The Everyman” referenced in the first line of the song is a north London cinema, still operating, in Heath Street, Hampstead.  
25: Cosmic Wheels (1973)
The title track from Donovan’s last LP to chart in the UK (#15) and his final collaboration with producer Mickie Most (until 1977, at least).  An impressive line-up of musicians was assembled for the album, including Chris Spedding, Cozy Powell, John “Rabbit” Bundrick and Clive Chaman.

24: Candy Man (1965)
The first two Donovan albums were recorded at Peer Music, a small studio located in the basement of Southern Music at 8 Denmark Street in London’s West End.  In 1992 Southern Music became the last major publisher to move out of Tin Pan Alley amid the influx of guitar stores. “Candy Man” opens side two of Fairytale with a powerful acoustic performance.

23: Sunny Goodge Street (1965)
With jazz guitar chords, brass arrangement, cello and the legendary Harold McNair on flute (his first appearance on a Donovan record?) this gentle Fairytale track was a giant leap forward from the early acoustic folk material.  The line “Violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine” drew the attention of the notorious Sgt Norman Pilcher of the Drug Squad and in June 1966 Don was the first British rock star of note to be busted.  Covered by Judy Collins and Marianne Faithfull among others, it was the earliest of several Donovan songs to namecheck a London location.

22: Colours (1965)
Donovan’s simple but catchy second single reached #4 in Britain, but only #61 in the US.  He played the song in an open D tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D) with a capo on the second fret, transposing it to the key of E major.  The single version featured harmonica, which is missing on the Fairytale recording.

21: Legend Of A Girl Child Linda (1966)
A stand-out track from Sunshine Superman, this almost seven-minute song is basically a succession of 18 identical verses with no choruses, middle eight or bridge.  The magic arrives via John Cameron’s quite amazing string and woodwind arrangement which grows verse by verse, turning the simple tune into an orchestral tour de force.   Written for Linda Lawrence, now Donovan’s wife of 50 years, but in 1966 the girlfriend of Brian Jones.

20: Mellow Yellow (1967)
Sure, it’s a childlike novelty song and hippies everywhere took to smoking dried banana skins on the strength of it.  But it’s infuriatingly catchy and falls just the right side of twee. The brass arrangement by John Paul Jones (who also plays bass) is legendary and you won’t find many kids’ songs featuring John McLaughlin on guitar, or with Paul McCartney contributing background party noises.  Another huge hit, reaching #2 in America and #8 in the UK. 
19: Writer in the Sun (1967)
In which the 20-year-old Donovan considers the possibility of early retirement during an enforced lay-off due to his 1966 contractual hassles.  Another masterful John Cameron arrangement, “Writer in the Sun” features flute (Harold McNair, natch), woodwind, harpsichord and the esteemed Danny Thompson on concert bass.

18: Catch The Wind (1965)
Fresh from a three-week residency on Ready Steady Go! Donovan released his debut single in March 1965 (#4 UK, #24 US).  It was re-recorded within weeks for his first album What’s Bin Did And What’s Bin Hid and that’s the version to go for, minus the string section, but with added harmonica.  Brian “Licorice” Locking, who played with the Shadows in 1961/62, contributes upright bass.  Can you imagine a single like this making the top five today? No, me neither.

17: Sailing Homeward (1973)
The closing track on Essence to Essence first appeared (as “Riding Homeward”) on the soundtrack of the 1972 David Putnam film The Pied Piper in which Donovan played the title role.  A beautifully constructed song with a melody to die for, “Sailing Homeward” also features Carole King on piano.

16: Riki Tiki Tavi (1970)
After inventing psychedelia and heavy rock, Donovan then moved on to create hip hop with this Open Road track.  Not really, but “Riki Tiki Tavi” does feature a thoroughly convincing proto-rap section, it must be said.  The song is loosely based around Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book character although in the original story the name of the mongoose was spelled Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.  A much longer 1969 recording, featuring only Donovan plus Harold McNair on flute, appeared on the 1992 career retrospective Troubadour.

15: Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness) (1965)
Although authorship is credited to Donovan, this rhythmic two chord acoustic rocker is probably based on Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy’s 1930 recording of “Can I Do It For You” with the title changed in tribute to Don’s buddy Gypsy Dave.  Eric Burdon and the Animals quickly picked it up for their 1966 album Animalism.  In 2001 a generic recording was used in a General Motors TV commercial using the opening line of the song “I’ll buy you a Chevrolet”.  As recently as 2019 Jack White recorded a version with the Raconteurs which captured much of the energy of Donovan’s original. 
14: The Trip (1966)
One of the pivotal songs in the shift from acoustic folk into the world of psychedelic rock.  Named after a Sunset Strip club, it starts by describing an LA acid trip and goes on to reference Don’s 1965 meeting with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at London’s Savoy Hotel. 
13: Sunny South Kensington (1967)
“Come take a walk in sunny South Kensington, any day of the week”.  No one wrote so vividly about London in the Summer of Love than Donovan.  The song also name-checks Cromwell Road, Portobello Road and Mary Quant, along with beat poet Allen Ginsberg and French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.  This Mellow Yellow track is another timeless pop/psych gem with harpsichord, sitar and a full rock band.

*Kate Bush’s cover of Lord of the Reedy River with a tribute to Donovan in the runout grooves
12: Lord of the Reedy River (1971)
There can’t be many people keen enough to sit through a lightweight 100-minute feature film simply to watch a two-minute performance of an obscure song.  But that’s exactly what I did in early 1970. The location was the London Pavilion cinema in Piccadilly Circus (now part of the Trocadero Centre), the movie was If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium and the song was “Lord of the Reedy River”.  In superb close-up Donovan is seen playing the gentle ballad in a (supposed) Swiss youth hostel as a group of hip teenagers sit around smoking what we can only assume are jazz cigarettes.  The rest of this 1969 rom com is dated and forgettable, but that short clip is worth the price of admission alone. Find it on YouTube.  
Originally demoed for the Barabajagal album in 1969, “Lord of the Reedy River” turned up two years later on HMS Donovan.  This achingly beautiful tune was first released on record by Mary Hopkin on her 1969 Postcard album and later covered by Kate Bush as the B-side of her 1981 single “Sat In Your Lap”.  It was the first non-original song Kate recorded and she added a "Thank You Donovan" message etched into the run-out groove of the record.

11: Laléna (1968)
Inspired by the actress Lotte Lenya and her character in the film version of The Threepenny Opera.  One of Donovan’s prettiest, most melodic songs, “Laléna” first appeared as a US non-album single in October 1968.  It was included on the album Donovan’s Greatest Hits in January 1969 and was added to the 2005 Hurdy Gurdy Man CD as a bonus track.  
The song has been covered several times, most notably by Deep Purple on their 1969 eponymous third album.

10: Celia of the Seals (1971)
Dedicated to animal rights activist and 60s model Celia Hammond (then Jeff Beck’s girlfriend), “Celia of the Seals” is undoubtedly the most commercial track on HMS Donovan.  Featuring just guitar/vocal with Danny Thompson creating some ethereal sounds on bowed concert bass (earning him a co-credit on the record label) this charming song failed to trouble the UK charts but made #84 in America. In 1986 the Celia Hammond Animal Trust was created with the aim of opening a low-cost neutering clinic to control the feral animal population in Britain.

9: There Is A Mountain (1967)
Few artists could conjure up a catchy tune from just one chord and a strong rhythm as well as Donovan and this is a textbook example.  Harold McNair’s flute accompaniment is the icing on the cake. Another strong chart showing, reaching #8 in the UK and #11 in America.  “There Is A Mountain” has been covered several times, most famously by the Allman Brothers who turned it into the 30 minute “Mountain Jam” on their 1972 album Eat A Peach.

8: Jennifer Juniper (1968)
With harp, oboe, acoustic bass and the intrepid Harold McNair on flute, this irresistibly charming song from the Hurdy Gurdy Man album was a UK top five hit single in early 1968.  Written for Jenny Boyd, Pattie’s younger sister, who also travelled to India with Donovan and the Beatles.  Fun fact: Jenny later married and divorced Mick Fleetwood – twice.
7: Atlantis (1968)
Who doesn’t love a song with a spoken intro?  Over a gentle acoustic guitar and piano backing Donovan intones a two-minute history of the submerged kingdom before the song explodes into a repeated heavy rock coda in the style of “Hey Jude”.  Simple, but incredibly effective. “Atlantis” reached #7 in the US but stalled at #23 in Britain.

6: Sunshine Superman (Extended Version) (1966)
The first product of the highly successful collaboration with producer Mickie Most, this was Donovan’s biggest hit and is probably his best-known song.  It reached #1 in the US in mid-1966 and #2 in Britain toward the end of the same year. Recorded in December 1965, it could be argued that psychedelia started right here (can we name an earlier psych track?)  Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, then working as session men, play on the record, with Eric Ford doing the volume swells guitar parts. An extended version with a longer guitar solo appeared on Donovan’s Greatest Hits album in 1969 and that’s the one to seek out.

5: Wear Your Love Like Heaven (1967)
A Gift From A Flower To A Garden was arguably pop’s first box set and the opening track is a psych pop masterpiece.  Delightfully surreal lyrics, wonderful arrangement and a great tune earns “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” a top five place.
4: Season of the Witch (1966)
A highlight of the none-more-psychedelic Sunshine Superman album, the languid A7 to D7 chord sequence proved the perfect launchpad for improvisation.  This is possibly Donovan’s most covered song with recordings by Dr. John, Al Kooper & Stephen Stills, Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger & the Trinity, Vanilla Fudge and a dozen more.

3: Barabajagal (1969)
In which our hero invents heavy metal.  It was all Mickie Most’s idea. As producer of both Donovan and Jeff Beck, Mickie came up with the unlikely notion of putting them together to see what would happen.  As it turned out, not much of value came from the sessions, other than this solitary track (and the B-side “Trudi”), but what a mighty song it was. Recorded in May 1969 at Olympic Studios in Barnes, South West London with the entire Beck-Ola era Jeff Beck Group, comprising Ron Wood, Nicky Hopkins and Tony Newman (Rod may even have contributed backing vocals), “Barabajagal” is a three-minute slab of funk rock genius.

2: Epistle to Dippy (1967)
How to describe “Epistle to Dippy”?  Let’s just say it’s Donovan at his absolute acid rock pinnacle.  With a fabulous tune and delightfully nonsensical lyrics, this is British psychedelia 101.  Did I mention that’s Jimmy Page on guitar, making his second appearance on a Donovan record? This non-album track was issued as a US single in February 1967 and later appeared as a bonus track on the Mellow Yellow album. 

1: Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
With so many classics to choose from, picking Donovan’s best track was never going to be an easy task, but after much deliberation I’m opting for this one.  Written alongside the Beatles in India during their 1968 visit to study Transcendental Meditation under the Maharishi, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is a 3-minute psych masterpiece and one of the most original pop singles of the 60s.  It combines elements of everything that made Donovan’s records so beguiling: psychedelic whimsy, eastern influences, otherworldly vocals and a killer guitar solo. Don originally wanted Hendrix to play on the record, but Jimi was unavailable and so was second choice Jimmy Page.  Eventually the task fell to session player and future Blue Mink guitarist Alan Parker who, under the circumstances (no pressure, then?), played an absolute blinder. George Harrison wrote a few lines for the song which were not recorded and Donovan now sings the Quiet One’s 'lost verse' when he performs “Hurdy Gurdy Man” live.  It's hard to think of another record this side of the Beatles which taps into the 60s zeitgeist so comprehensively. The song has been covered at least a dozen times by the likes of Butthole Surfers, Steve Hillage and even Neil from The Young Ones. But the version to look out for must surely be the 1970 recording by Eartha Kitt from her album Sentimental Eartha.


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