ALL THE IMPORTANT DONOVAN ALBUMS - RANKED WORST TO BEST Part 2
by Stuart Penney
Here's the second and final part of our mammoth Donovan album extravaganza. This time we count down from 12 to the all-important number one spot. This is where we find the big sellers and the stone-cold classics. Every one of these albums is essential and every self-respecting Donovan fan should own them all.
12. Essence To Essence
UK Epic S EPC 69050
US Epic KE 32800
Producers: Andrew Oldham, Donovan
Released: December 1973 (UK) / January 1974 (US)
In which Mickie Most was replaced by Andrew Loog Oldham as Donovan's producer. It seemed an odd pairing, but the material was strong, and the results were encouraging. OK, let’s be honest, time has not been kind to the cover photos, showing Don clad in white and kneeling like a blissed-out guru or shaman figure, but don’t let that put you off, this is a fine album.
The roll call of musicians was even more impressive than the previous LP Cosmic Wheels, featuring almost all members of the Grease Band and Derek and the Dominos (minus Clapton), plus the crack LA session crew of Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel. Add Carole King, Peter Frampton, Steve Marriott and Nicky Hopkins to the mix and it begins to look like an embarrassment of riches.
Highlights include the poptastic “Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth,” a reggae tinged “Yellow Star,” “There Is An Ocean” (with Danny Thompson) and “Saint Valentine’s Angel.” The killer song by far, though, is “Sailing Homeward.” This gorgeous, timeless melody features Carole King on piano, backed with a tasteful string and woodwind arrangement.
And yet all was not quite as it seemed. According to Andrew Oldham interviewed by Guy Pratt and Gary Kemp on their excellent podcast “Rockonteurs” (find it in all the usual places where you get your podcasts), “Sailing Homeward” was not working out too well in the studio, so the concert version from Don's Japanese-only album Live In Japan: Spring Tour 1973 recorded earlier in the year was substituted (Japanese audiences are famously quiet, so no applause was picked up on the track). Oldham then took the tapes to LA where he overdubbed Carole King on piano and Tom Scott playing woodwind.
On the same podcast Oldham describes Donovan as “a fabulous hippy” who regularly “speaks about himself in the third person” - eg when pondering an arrangement, he might say “I wonder if this would work for Don?”. Warming to his theme, Andrew also cheerfully admits that he personally “straightened out” (albeit temporarily) from a long-term drug habit in order to produce Essence To Essence.
Record Collector Notes:
Early pressings had embossed title lettering on the front cover and picture labels.
In September 1974 Donovan released the UK single “Rock N Roll With Me” c/w “The Divine Daze of Deathless Delight.” Side A was a non-album cover version of the David Bowie Diamond Dogs song, while the B-side was lifted from Essence to Essence.
After eight years of success, it seemed as if Donovan’s hit-making days were over by 1973. This album failed to chart in the UK and barely made the top #200 in America, peaking at a paltry #174. It did reach #23 in Australia, however. But sales-wise, at least, it was all downhill from here.
Key Tracks: Sailing Homeward, Yellow Star, The Divine Daze of Deathless Delight
11. Fairy Tale
UK Pye NPL 18128 (mono) / Pye NSPL 18128 (stereo)
US Hickory LPM 127 (mono) / Hickory LPS 127 (stereo)
Producers: Terry Kennedy, Peter Eden, Geoff Stephens
Released: UK October 1965 / US November 1965
This is peak early Donovan acoustic era and although similar in approach to the first album, Fairy Tale is more sophisticated in every way. Eight of the 12 tracks are Donovan originals, leaving only “Candy Man” (traditional), “Circus of Sour” (Paul Bernath), “The Little Tin Soldier” (Shawn Phillips) and “Oh Deed I Do” (Bert Jansch) as the cover songs on the UK version of the album.
“Summer Day Reflection Song,” “To Try For The Sun” and “Candy Man” are some of the highlights, but best of all is “Sunny Goodge Street.”
With jazz guitar chords, brass arrangement, cello and the great Harold McNair on flute, this song was a giant step away from the acoustic folk material. The line “Violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine” was a little risqué for the time and it drew the attention of the notorious Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher of the Metropolitan Police Drug Squad.
As a result, in June 1966 Don became the first British rock star of note to be busted for possession of marijuana. Rolling Stones Brian, Mick and Keith were next, followed by the prize scalps of George, John and Yoko.
That particular lyric raised more questions than it answered, however. In my experience hash smokers are seldom, if ever, violent and, in any case, who amongst us has even seen an old school chocolate machine (let alone shook one) in more than half a century?
In November 1972 Norman Pilcher was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. In September 1973 he was sentenced to four years imprisonment with the judge commenting "You poisoned the wells of criminal justice and set about it deliberately." Pilcher died in 2021.
In addition to Harold McNair and Shawn Phillips, the Fairy Tale musicians matched the first album, with Brian “Liquorice” Locking (bass) and Skip Alan (drums). It was also recorded in the basement studio of Southern Music publishers in Denmark Street.
Covered by Judy Collins and Marianne Faithfull among others, "Sunny Goodge Street" was the earliest of several Donovan songs to namecheck a London location.
Record Collector Notes:
The front cover shows our hero looking coyly to his left (our right) wearing a battered Lee denim jacket (Lee was one of the big three US 60s jeans makers along with Levi’s and Wrangler), his shirt buttoned in a haphazard fashion.
It’s been claimed that Beverley Kutner (later to be Beverley Martyn after her marriage to John) is one of the people pictured in the background. She was very much part of the 60s UK folk scene and allegedly had romantic dalliances with both Bert Jansch and Donovan. She is pictured on the cover of It Don’t Bother Me, Bert’s second album, so it could well be her on Fairy Tale also, although the jury is still out on this one.
Beverley covered Donovan’s “Museum” on a 1967 single (Deram DM 137) and he returned the compliment with the song “Sweet Beverley” recorded during the Barabajagal sessions and eventually turning up as a bonus track on the 2005 CD.
US pressings of Fairy Tale (Hickory LPM/LPS 127) replaced “Oh Deed I Do” with “Universal Soldier” and changed the track running order slightly. The back cover featured copious sleeve notes and photos not seen on the UK version.
Early UK pressings had the back cover credit “Electric guitar on ‘Song with Your Name’ - Shawn Philips” (sic). The trouble was, no song of that name appeared on the album! Later pressings removed the credit, and the song has never surfaced. Shawn Phillips (note the spelling) did play 12-string acoustic guitar on "Summer Day Reflection Song" and "Jersey Thursday," however.
As with the debut album, Fairy Tale was reissued on Marble Arch (MAL / MALS 867) in 1969 with a new cover (showing a period incorrect image from the A Gift From A Flower To A Garden era) and minus two tracks. In this case “Colours” and “The Little Tin Soldier” were left off.
Later CD pressings featured bonus material from the Universal Soldier EP and the single “Turquoise” / “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness).”
The Bert Jansch-penned "Oh Deed I Do" was never released by Bert and aside from the Fairy Tale version, the only other recording I'm aware of is by Canadian Elyse Weinberg on her 1969 LP Elyse (Tetragrammaton T117).
Key Tracks: Sunny Goodge Street, Candy Man, Oh Deed I Do
10. Donovan’s Greatest Hits
UK Pye NPL 18283 (mono) / NSPL 18283 (stereo)
US Epic BXN 26439 / PE 26439 (stereo)
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: March 1969 (UK) / January 1969 (US)
The first official greatest hits compilation was something of a conundrum. The lawsuit brought by Donovan’s original producer and managers which had so disrupted his UK mid-60s releases reared its ugly head again in 1969. This time the album compilers were prevented from using any material recorded prior to the Mickie Most production era. That ruled out the singles “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” which had to be re-recorded specifically for this record.
The re-makes weren’t especially bad, in fact they were quite interesting, but they were so radically different to the originals that buyers expecting the familiar hit recordings were understandably miffed and not a little confused, especially as there was absolutely nothing on the sleeve to indicate the changes. “Catch the Wind” in particular was transformed from the simple acoustic ditty we knew and loved into a full band recording with Phil Spector overtones.
This sleight of hand continued through to the digital era with early CD releases also containing the re-recorded tracks. The situation was finally resolved in 1999 when an updated CD version appeared. The original 1965 recordings of “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” were then re-instated along with four bonus tracks. Although for some reason the LP sides were reversed on the new CD.
That aside, this LP has a great deal to recommend it. For example, this was the first place where the extended version of “Sunshine Superman” could be found. Running at more than a minute longer than the single it features the full guitar solo from Jimmy Page.
Elsewhere, although “Epistle To Dippy,” “Lalena” and “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” were not UK singles (and therefore not strictly “Greatest Hits” on our side of the Atlantic), it was good to finally have ready access to them in Britain.
Record Collector Notes:
Original pressings came with a deluxe eight-page stapled booklet. The LP sized photos were uniformly excellent, and most were previously unavailable elsewhere, although the nude image of the baby Donovan would probably not be used today.
“Season of the Witch” is listed on all sleeves (UK and US) as side one, track six. While this is correct for US pressings, the song actually appears as the opening track of side two on the UK Pye version.
This was the first-place true stereo versions of “Epistle To Dippy,” “Sunshine Superman,” “There Is A Mountain,” “Season Of The Witch” and “Lalena” became available.
Those controversial 1968 re-recorded versions of “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” ended up as bonus tracks on the Hurdy Gurdy Man CD which, chronologically speaking, is exactly where they belonged.
Key Tracks: Sunshine Superman (extended version), Lalena, Epistle To Dippy.
9. HMS Donovan
Dawn DNLD 4001
Released (UK Only): July 1971
Here’s a strange thing, a UK-only Donovan album. In their wisdom, Epic records declined to release HMS Donovan in America and so it was issued only in Britain on Pye’s progressive rock imprint Dawn, making this undoubtedly the rarest of all his major label LPs. Although quantities of the album were apparently exported for sale in the US.
Presumably Epic reasoned that a 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 this is a thoroughly charming record with much to recommend it. Plus, it features arguably the best sleeve design of Donovan’s entire catalogue.
Don returned to acoustic guitar for this album, which perfectly suited conventional tunes such as “Coulter’s Candy,” “Jabberwocky,” and the magnificent “Lord of The Reedy River.”
Dedicated to animal rights activist and 60s model Celia Hammond (then Jeff Beck’s girlfriend), “Celia of the Seals” is the stand-out track, and it became the only UK and US single from the album. Featuring just Don’s guitar and vocal with Danny Thompson creating some ethereal whale sounds on bowed concert bass (earning him a co-credit on the single label) this magical 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.
The fly in the ointment here (for me, at least) is the nine-minute opening track, an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” It was a brave attempt at musical theatre which overreached by some margin. The sound effects and funny voices, including speeded up and slowed down vocals, have not aged well and now sound twee and, it must be said, a little embarrassing. Speaking of twee, the less said about “The Pee Song” the better, except it almost certainly wouldn’t make it onto a record today.
Record Collector Notes:
The delightful cover painting was by John “Patrick” Byrne, who also designed sleeves for fellow Scots the Humblebums, Stealers Wheel and Gerry Rafferty. In 1968 “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. Byrne also painted a guitar in similar style for Donovan (seen here) which he played on screen in the 1972 Jacques Demy film The Pied Piper.
“Lord of the Reedy River” was first released on record by Mary Hopkin on her 1969 Postcard album and was 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.
Early pressings of HMS Donovan (estimated to be just the first 1,000 copies) came with a large fold-out poster, also designed by “Patrick.” Poor sales on release mean this is one of his rarest albums and copies with the original poster now command a huge premium online.
“Homesickness” is the album’s sole electric track. Rumoured to feature Jeff Beck on guitar, it was a leftover from the Mickie Most-produced Barabajagal sessions of 1968/69.
Although not on catalogue very long, there were three distinct pressings of HMS Donovan. First pressings with the poster appeared on the orange Dawn label. This was followed by a second pressing on the lilac label and the final version used the “sunrise” label design.
A truncated 15 track version of HMS Donovan (down from the original 28 cuts) is currently for sale on CD and digital download from Donovan’s website (www.donovan.ie). Re-titled The Living Crystal Faery Realm it’s also available on Spotify.
Key Tracks: Celia Of The Seals, Coulter’s Candy, Lord Of The Reedy River
Epic BN 26481
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: August 1969
The final Donovan album of the 60s was also his last record which did not receive a British release, for a while at least. The title track, a brilliant one-off collaboration with the Jeff Beck Group, and “Atlantis,” both massive hit singles, need no introduction here. But there are plenty of other delights to be found on this record.
The rocktastic “Superlungs My Supergirl” was recorded at least three times by Donovan and later covered in fine style by Terry Reid. At the other extreme the childlike singalong “Happiness Runs” is charm personified.
This song first appeared on the 1968 Donovan In Concert album (see #15 in part one) where it was titled “Pebble and the Man”. It was re-worked and re-named for Barabajagal a year later with an all-star line-up of backing singers, including Graham Nash, Mike McCartney and Lesley Duncan. It was also covered by Mary Hopkin in 1969 and Bridget St. John (under the original title of “The Pebble and the Man”) in 1970.
Once heard, never forgotten, “I Love My Shirt” is the kind of infuriatingly catchy throwaway that Donovan does so well (see also “The Intergalactic Laxative” on Cosmic Wheels). It later appeared as the B-side of the UK “Atlantis” single.
The 2005 CD contained no fewer than 13 (count ‘em!) bonus tracks including a number of demos, among them “Sweet Beverley,” “Good Morning Mr. Wind” and “The Swan (Lord Of The Reedy River).” The last two would be re-worked for HMS Donovan in 1971.
Key Tracks: Barabajagal, Atlantis, Superlungs My Supergirl
7. Open Road
UK Dawn DNLS 3009
US Epic E 30125
Released: September 1970 (UK) / July 1970 (US)
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 yore, replaced with a simple rock sound featuring only guitar, bass, drums and piano. Pye records in Britain clearly weren’t expecting much in the way of sales from the album and so Donovan was shunted sideways onto their new progressive offshoot Dawn for his final 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.
It was recorded at Morgan studios in Willesden, northwest London with a semi-regular band (also called Open Road), consisting of “Candy” John Carr (drums), Mike Thomson (bass and guitar) and Mike O'Neill (keyboards). Although only the trio of Donovan, Carr and Thomson are pictured on the front cover.
With Mickie Most out of the picture following Barabajagal, Donovan produced this one himself. The results were less polished than we had come to expect, but the material - dubbed Celtic Rock after the last track on side one - was strong and melodic.
Highlights included "Riki Tiki Tavi" in which Don (kind-of) invents hip hop, "Celtic Rock," "Poke At The Pope" (controversial now, not so much then) and the gorgeous closing track "New Year's Resovolution." Thought to be inspired by Paul McCartney (who apparently loaned a guitar for the sessions) the latter is one of those anthemic, rolling tunes Donovan did so well in his prime.
The title is a clever amalgamation of “Resolution” and “Revolution”. Too clever for some, it seems, as in later years almost all sources (the 2000 Repertoire CD cover, Spotify etc) renamed it, simply, “New Year’s Resolution.” It was covered by Helen Reddy on her 1971 self-titled album.
"Poke At The Pope" is an especially interesting song, theologically speaking. Direct criticism of the pontiff was not such a dangerous pursuit in 1970, but it's a very different story today, as Sinead O'Connor discovered to her cost at the 1992 Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.
A year later the tune of “Celtic Rock” was re-cycled for “Jabberwocky,” a track on 1971’s HMS Donovan.
In August 1970, a month before the album was released in the UK, Donovan played the electric half of his Isle of Wight festival set with the Open Road band. This turned out to be their only live show together, although the band continued to gig without him and even recorded an album of their own under that name.
Record Collector Notes:
Pye set up their Dawn offshoot in 1969 to release progressive and underground music, just as Decca, EMI and Philips had done with Deram, Harvest and Vertigo respectively. Dawn’s biggest act by a long way was Mungo Jerry who scored several huge hits in both the singles and LP charts. In fact, the only other Dawn artists to enjoy any UK chart success at all were Donovan with this LP (#30 in 1970) and Prelude, who reached #21 in the singles chart in 1974 with an a cappella version of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush.”
Dawn was active between 1969-75 and Open Road was the eighth LP release on the label.
Key Tracks: Riki Tiki Tavi, New Year’s Resovolution, Celtic Rock
6. The Hurdy Gurdy Man
Epic BN 26460
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: October 1968
Unless they had access to an import record store or kept a close eye on the music papers, Donovan fans in Britain might well have missed this late 1968 album entirely. Even though the legal wrangle between Pye and Epic appeared to have been settled, this record was not released in the UK until the CD era.
All of which was a real pity as it contains some of Donovan’s finest work, including the magnificent title track and “Jennifer Juniper,” both sizable hits. “The Entertaining of A Shy Little Girl” could have come straight from the pen of Paul McCartney, while “Peregrine” and “Tangier” are full of eastern promise.
Record Collector Notes:
Although not released in the UK, this album was, as usual, issued in North America, Australia, parts of Europe and even South Africa (where it appeared on CBS, instead of Epic).
The 2005 CD included seven bonus tracks, including the beautiful “Lalena” plus the re-recorded rock versions of “Colours” and “Catch the Wind” previously available only the 1969 Donovan’s Greatest Hits album (see #10).
For the first time mono was not an option and Hurdy Gurdy Man was only available in true stereo.
Key Tracks: Hurdy Gurdy Man, Jennifer Juniper, Peregrine
5. Cosmic Wheels
UK Epic S EPC 65450
US Epic KE 32156
Producers: Donovan and Michael Peter Hayes
Released: March 1973
With Mickie Most back in the co-producer’s seat (this time credited under his real name Michael Peter Hayes) and a stellar band including Cozy Powell, Chris Spedding, Alan White, Suzi Quatro, John “Rabbit” Brundick, plus the renowned horn section of Bobby Keys and Jim Horn, this was Donovan’s most commercial rock album in years, and possibly his most accessible record ever. His long-time arranger John Cameron even returned to play electric piano on the closing track “Appearances.”
After many years of legal hassles, Donovan’s records were now finally on the same label on both sides of the Atlantic and Epic records pulled out all the stops for Cosmic Wheels with some deluxe packaging and a huge promotion campaign.
The less said about “The Intergalactic Laxative” the better, I suppose. Although, I was once at a concert where an audience member requested this scatological ditty. To everyone’s delight it was performed during the encore. “I can’t believe I wrote that song” chuckled Donovan as the applause subsided. Neither can we, Don. Neither can we.
Record Collector Notes:
Cosmic Wheels reached #15 in the UK album charts and #25 in America. The singles “Maria Magenta” and “I Like You” were also released in both countries. The latter was the last Donovan single (excluding reissues) to trouble the charts anywhere in the world, creeping into the top 60 in the US and Australia.
This was also the last Donovan album to chart in the UK, although he had a few minor hits in America and elsewhere in later years. Original pressings came in a deluxe gatefold sleeve with a circular poster insert showing a topless Donovan on one side and the song lyrics on the other.
During the recording sessions at London’s Morgan Studios, Don found time to guest on the title track of Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies album which was partly recorded there.
The John Kosh designed sleeve shows Donovan playing his hand built Zemaitis “Blue Moon” guitar. This became his number one instrument until around 1996 when it was superseded by “Kelly” a green acoustic made by Danny Ferrington.
The inside cover is an extended adaptation of the Flammarion engraving by an unknown artist, so named because its first documented appearance was in Camille Flammarion's 1888 book "L'atmosphere: meteorologie populaire" ("The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology"). It depicts a traveller kneeling at the edge of the Earth where it meets the sky and peering out. He discovers a marvelous realm of circling clouds, fires and suns beyond the heavens. Cosmic Wheels, indeed.
Key Tracks: Cosmic Wheels, Maria Magenta, I Like You
4. Sunshine Superman (UK version)
Pye NPL 18181 (mono)
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: June 1967
By mid-1967 the legal problems surrounding Donovan’s UK catalogue were finally resolved. He would stay with Pye in Britain until 1973, while Epic would continue to handle his American catalogue.
Meanwhile, his British releases had fallen so far behind their US counterparts that drastic measures were called for, hence this 12-track catch-up compilation LP. Containing seven cuts from the US Sunshine Superman LP (see #3) and five from Mellow Yellow (see #2), both of which did not see a UK release until the CD era, it showcased the best tracks from each of the donor albums and it was arguably an even stronger record as a result.
|The Sonnets of Donovan Concert Programme|
While not unattractive, the LP artwork (by Mick Taylor and Sheena McCall) had a whiff of “will this do?” about it, especially the front cover typeface. Maybe that was because it was simply an adaptation of the programme design from the January 1967 concert at the Royal Albert Hall – the modestly titled “The Sonnets of Donovan.”
Record Collector Notes:
Mick Taylor (no relation to the Rolling Stones/John Mayall guitarist) and Sheena McCall provided the artwork for several Donovan albums in the 60s as well as singles, concert programmes, posters etc. Their work can be found on Sunshine Superman (US and UK versions), Mellow Yellow, A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, For Little Ones, Wear Your Love Like Heaven, Hurdy Gurdy Man, plus the 1975 Maggie Bell album Suicide Sal.
Trivia fans will delight in the knowledge that Sheena McCall is the aunt of Davina McCall, who presented the UK version of the Big Brother reality TV show for several years.
Perhaps unusually for a mid-1967 UK release, it was available in mono only, with no fake stereo version for the Brits, thankfully. The true stereo version wouldn’t arrive until the 2011 CD re-issue.
After such a long delay, it seemed like Sunshine Superman had missed the boat. It sold relatively poorly, reaching only #25 in the UK album charts. It didn’t help that Pye muddied the waters by releasing the big-selling Universal Soldier compilation LP on their budget Marble Arch imprint a few months later, which raced to #5.
Key Tracks: Writer In The Sun, Season of the Witch, Sunshine Superman
3. Sunshine Superman (US version)
Epic LN 24217 (mono) / Epic BN 26217 (stereo)
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: August 1966
This was the album where Donovan left acoustic music behind to virtually (dare I say it) invent psychedelic folk rock. Recorded at top-flight studios in Hollywood and London with masterful arrangements by John Cameron and a poptastic production by Mickie Most, Sunshine Superman was a quantum leap in every way.
The title cut (recorded at Abbey Road in December 1965 with Jimmy Page on guitar) became a worldwide hit single, while tracks such as “Celeste,” “The Trip,” and “Season of the Witch” (probably his most covered song) explored new and exciting musical territory.
Although this was the album which kick-started Donovan’s huge popularity in America, it was a different story at home. Due to the protracted contractual dispute outlined elsewhere, it was not released in this form in Britain until the CD era. A compilation containing seven tracks from this and five from the US follow-up Mellow Yellow eventually appeared in June 1967 (see #4). But the knock-on effect of the delay threw Donovan’s UK catalogue into chaos, with the result that only two of the six albums he recorded between 1966-70 were released in their intended form in Britain.
Record Collector Notes:
Sunshine Superman was Donovan's most successful American album, peaking at #11 in November 1966 and remaining in the Billboard charts for six months.
We often joke about Donovan’s thinly disguised hubris, especially his relentless claim to have influenced the Beatles’ 1968 “White Album.” But, in fact, his impact on the Fabs was real and goes back even further.
On February 10, 1967, the Beatles recorded the orchestral section of the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band closing track “A Day in the Life” at Abbey Road. The event was filmed by Tony Bramwell as a “happening” for use in a proposed TV special which never eventuated.
Alongside the 40-piece orchestra and all four Beatles, a host of famous faces were invited to attend. These included Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Pattie Boyd, Mike Nesmith, members of the art collective The Fool and, of course, Donovan.
|Screenshot from the Beatles' A Day In The Life film|
There’s a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment at exactly four minutes in the resulting fast cut edited film where we glimpse a yellow label Epic LP spinning on a turntable. If we freeze frame and zoom in we see that it’s a French pressing of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman. Although not released in the UK, the LP was issued in many other countries, including Australia and parts of Europe. We must assume that Donovan took the French album with him to the Abbey Road shoot to impress his Beatle pals and from there it ended up in the “A Day in the Life” promo film. Watch it HERE :
|French pressing as seen in the Beatles A Day In The Life film|
Once again, the original 1966 US LPs appeared in mono (good) and “electronically re-channelled for stereo” (not so good) versions. A 2011 double CD release featuring the US and UK releases finally rectified the situation with true stereo versions of most tracks for the first time, together with several bonus tracks.
In his 2006 memoir White Bicycles, Joe Boyd revealed how a track on this record inspired the name of his production company Witchseason. "I had been stumped for a name when Donovan released a song called 'Season of the Witch.' Beatniks out to make it rich. Must be the season of the witch." The distinctive Witchseason logo subsequently appeared on legendary albums Boyd produced for the Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, John Martyn and Fairport Convention.
"Season of the Witch" quickly took on a life of its own with cover versions by Vanilla Fudge, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity arriving as early as 1968. More recently Season of the Witch was the title of a 2011 Nicolas Cage supernatural horror film and in 2023 Season of the Witch: The Book of Goth by Cathi Unsworth appeared.
Key Tracks: Sunshine Superman, Season of the Witch
2. Mellow Yellow
Epic LN 24239 (mono) / Epic BN 26239 (stereo)
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: February 1967
If Sunshine Superman had mined an especially productive pop psych seam, album number four really hit the acid folk motherlode. John Cameron’s superb string and brass arrangements reached new heights on tracks such as “Writer In The Sun,” “House of Jansch” and “Young Girl Blues,” while Mickie Most’s production gave the record a radio friendly sheen.
Other than perhaps Ray Davies, few 60s musicians wrote better songs about swinging London than Donovan and “Sunny South Kensington” and “Hampstead Incident,” tapped into the upcoming Summer of Love zeitgeist perfectly.
The bulk of the album was recorded at Abbey Road, while the title track was cut at Lansdowne Studios off Ladbroke Grove in West London. It had already been a US top three single in October 1966, but UK release was delayed until February 1967 when it reached #8.
Influenced by a trip Donovan took to New Orleans where he witnessed the traditional brass bands marching through the streets, “Mellow Yellow” sounds simplistic, 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.
This was another victim of the contractual dispute between Donovan’s management and his UK record label Pye, meaning the album was not released in the UK until the CD era. It sold well in America though, reaching #14 in the Billboard album chart.
Record Collector Notes:
Yet again, the original 1967 US release appeared in mono and fake “electronically re-channelled for stereo” versions. The 2005 CD release was issued in mono only, although some of the 10 bonus tracks appeared in true stereo.
The official release date of this album is usually given as March 1967, but it was advertised in Billboard as early as February 4, so that is probably closer to the actual release date.
Donovan's effete, hippy persona has long made him a soft target for ridicule or satire (often both) and in 1985 Frank Zappa took aim at the burgeoning 60s revival in the song "We're Turning Again" from his album Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention. One line of the lyrics ran "They were mellow, they were yellow, they were wearing smelly blankets, they looked like Donovan fans." It was textbook Zappa - acerbic, sardonic and with a generous side order of comedy. Don was in excellent company here, though, as Frank also cruelly referenced Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass and Keith Moon in the same song.
Key Tracks: Writer In The Sun, Hampstead Incident, House of Jansch
1. A Gift From A Flower To A Garden
US Epic L2N 6071 (mono) / Epic B2N 171 (stereo)
UK Pye NPL 20000 (mono) / Pye NSPL 20000 (stereo)
Producer: Mickie Most
Released: December 1967 (US) / April 1968 (UK)
And so we reach the undisputed number one album in our list. Of all Donovan’s records, this remains his most admired, impressive, and enduring body of work. Arriving in an extravagantly packaged two-piece box with otherworldly psychedelic artwork, this lovingly crafted artefact must be a strong contender for pop’s first-ever boxed set. And that’s before we even get to the music.
One of the records contains 10 strange and wonderful acid rock tracks recorded with a full band, while the other features a dozen wistful solo acoustic guitar numbers with just a flute (or occasionally bird noises and a crying baby!) for accompaniment. Inside is a folder containing illustrated lyric sheets for each song from the acoustic half of the set.
The title is embossed along the spine in silver foil (on US pressings) and glued on the back of the box is a picture of Donovan holding hands with everyone’s favourite 60s guru and man of the moment, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Leading off record one, the pop/psych classic “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” is the undisputed killer track among a veritable embarrassment of riches, including the trippy “Skip-a-Long Sam,” “Mad John’s Escape,” “Little Boy In Corduroy” and what must surely be the only Shakespeare / Leitch co-composition “Under The Greenwood Tree.”
Being almost totally acoustic, record two is more low key, but “Lullaby Of Spring,” “Isle of Islay,” “The Mandolin Man and His Secret” and the rest beguile and delight in a way that only Donovan at his best could do.
Often imitated but never bettered, this is peak acid folk and one of the five greatest albums released in 1967. I’ll leave you to work out what the other four are.
Record Collector Notes:
A four-month delay meant the UK didn’t get this box set until April 1968. It didn’t chart in Britain but reached #19 in the US.
In America the two LPs were also sold individually (in mono and stereo) as Wear Your Love Like Heaven (Epic LN / BN 34349) and For Little Ones (Epic LN / BN 34350). In fact, in some territories (eg Australia, S.E. Asia and parts of mainland Europe) the box set was considered too extravagant for local release and the A Gift From A Flower To A Garden material was released only as these two separate records.
The pair were scheduled for release in Britain and were even allocated catalogue numbers (Pye NPL / NSPL 18222 For Little Ones and Pye NPL / NSPL 18223 Wear Your Love Like Heaven) but they were cancelled at the eleventh hour.
This album was a particular favourite of Nick Drake who, we are assured, especially loved the track “Skip-a-Long Sam.”
Key Tracks: Wear Your Love Like Heaven, Skip-a-Long Sam, Isle of Islay
The Hickory Years
Like so many artists who were part of the 60s British Invasion, Donovan was snapped up by one of the American independent record labels. But unlike his UK Pye label mates, the Searchers and the Kinks, who ended up on the decidedly more pop focused Kapp and Reprise labels respectively, Don found himself signed to the Nashville based Hickory records, the recording arm of the giant Acuff-Rose music publishing house.
It seemed a strange choice as Hickory was primarily a country label representing the likes of Roy Acuff and Don Gibson, with just a tiny roster of pop artists, such as Sue Thompson, the Newbeats and Frank Ifield.
Hickory had begun licensing material from the UK Pye label around 1964, issuing US singles by British artists such as Lonnie Donegan, The Overlanders, Julie Grant, Migil 5 and Joe Brown. But Donovan and (British-born Aussie) Frank Ifield appear to have been the only non-US artists to release albums on the label.
Although it had access to only the approximately 34 tracks Donovan recorded during 1965 - ie two UK Pye albums, plus the Universal Soldier EP and the first four Pye singles and B-sides - Hickory exploited the material for all it was worth, stretching it out to no fewer than five albums and eight singles between April 1965 and November 1969.
By the time the final Hickory LP The Best Of Donovan appeared in late 1969 (presumably they had the rights to the material for five years) they were even cheekily using a cover photo of Donovan in hippy garb from the psychedelic “Hurdy Gurdy Man” era, even though the material on the record dated only from his 1965 acoustic period. Four years was an eternity in the 60s, both in music and fashion.
All the Donovan albums on Hickory were released in both mono and stereo but, as was the American way back then, the so-called “stereo” LPs invariably turned out be a mix of true stereo tracks and the dreaded electronic (ie fake) stereo.
The legal shenanigans which so disrupted Donovan’s UK releases seems to have spilled over into the Hickory era too. By July 1966 when the US “Sunshine Superman” single appeared he was already contracted to the Epic label in America, and no material recorded after that point was released on Hickory, although the label continued to recycle the older 1965 tracks until their licensing deal expired in 1969.
Meanwhile, the British arm of Hickory had a very low profile, releasing only a few dozen records between 1964-66. These were distributed by Pye, naturally. Their biggest UK success came with a couple of top 20 singles by the Newbeats, a blue-eyed soul trio from Shreveport, Louisiana whose hits “Bread and Butter” and “Run Baby Run” were delivered in an improbable falsetto. Some of the Newbeats' other releases were popular on the UK Northern Soul scene of the 70s.
In Canada, Donovan's early releases appeared on the local arm of Pye records which at the time was controlled by the Allied Record Corporation. But even here several oddities appeared. Compilations such as Do You Hear Me Now! (Pye NPL / NSPL 30101) and The Real Donovan (Pye NPL / NSPL 30091) had sleeves which were unique to Canada.
Donovan’s Hickory Albums (with US chart placings)
Catch the Wind (Hickory LPM / LPS 123 - July 1965 - #30)
Fairy Tale (Hickory LPM / LPS 127 - December 1965 - #85)
The Real Donovan (Hickory LPM / LPS 135 - September 1966 - #96)
Like It Is, Was, and Evermore Shall Be (Hickory LPM / LPS 143 - March 1968 - #117)
The Best of Donovan (Hickory LPS 149 - October 1969 - #135)
Donovan’s Hickory Singles
45-1309 - Catch The Wind/Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do (April 1965)
45-1324 - Colours/Josie (July 1965)
45-1338 - Universal Soldier/Do You Hear Me Now (September 1965)
45-1375 - You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond (Edit)/The Little Tin Soldier (March 1966)
45-P-1402 - To Try For The Sun/Turquoise (July 1966)
45-P-1417 - Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)/The War Drags On (October 1966)
45-P-1470 - Sunny Goodge Street/Summer Day Reflection Song (July 1967)
45-P-1492 - Do You Hear Me Now/ Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do (January 1968)
Here's a list of Donovan’s full-length albums in release order
What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid (UK) (1965)
Catch The Wind (US) (1965)
Fairy Tale (1965)
Sunshine Superman (US) (1966)
Mellow Yellow (1967)
Sunshine Superman (UK) (1967)
A Gift From A Flower To A Garden (1967)
Donovan In Concert (1968)
Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Donovan’s Greatest Hits (1969)
Open Road (1970)
HMS Donovan (1971)
Cosmic Wheels (1973)
Live In Japan: Spring Tour 1973 (Japan only 1973)
Essence To Essence (1974)
Slow Down World (1976)
Love Is Only Feeling (1981)
Lady Of The Stars (1984)
Sixty Four (2004)
Beat Café (2004)
Shadows Of Blue (2013)
Jump In The Line (2019)
Gaelia (The Sultan Sessions) (2022)