Thursday, 9 April 2020

Donovan’s 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 side 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 Hurdy Gurdy Man was a UK top five hit 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 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.



  1. Absolutely brilliant article , Stuart. So accurate,perceptive and wonderfully well - written. Don couldn't ask for a finer tribute to his (even now) grossly under - estimated talents as singer, song - writer and musician. Thanks so very much !

  2. Really enjoyed this Stuart. Some tracks I had not heard and went in search of.
    Disappointing that Donovan could not maintain this quality from the early 70's;( see Macca), and now seems to take himself too seriously and only releases on his website.
    There are artists who have meant more to me; Beatles, Lennon, Dylan, Cohen, Van, but I still think " A Gift from a Flower" is my favourite album of all time.

  3. fantastic Stuart.....you had me lost for a good hour there...Happy daze.....i'd have slip Jersey Thursday, Ballad of Geraldine, Oh Deed I Do & To Try for the Sun in there somewhere......very difficult!

  4. Takes me back 50 years great music better than anything now

  5. I was searching for something like this a few months ago and nothing to be found. How wonderful that you spent the time to do it. Great list, but my only complaint is that 7-TEASE is my favorite album of D's. Wonderful melodies, full arrangements, great performances. I can think of quite a few songs I'd put in my own Top 50, including "Sadness," "The Quest," "Your Broken Heart," and for sheer rocking goofiness, "Moon Rok," where Donovan roks! I think it's the artist's most underrated album, and that was even before I saw your list. I've been trying to get my hands on the 2-CD SUNSHINE SUPERMAN set for a few years, and am hoping to find one for under $100 some day! LOL!

  6. Wow thank you for compiling this - just been watching the film Zodiac where the theme tune is Hurdy Gurdy Man

  7. donovan was my favorite artist in 1971. i went with a friend to see if it's tuesday... not knowing that donovan was in it. i sat through the movie a second time just to see him again.

  8. thank you for a wonderful list.


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