IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED
My appreciation for the music of Donovan (Leitch) has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride.
When I was a kid I was captivated by some of the early hits by Donovan. “Sunshine Superman” reached #1 and “Mellow Yellow” came close, stopping at #2, both in 1966.
As my taste in music became more mature, I looked back on those hits as novelties and moved on. That caused me to ignore future hits like “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (a weak Dylan rip off) and “Atlantis.”
But several years later I learned that he wrote a Judy Collins song I liked, “Sunny Goodge Street,” and “Season of the Witch” that was the highlight of the Kooper/Stills/Bloomfield Super Session album.
More importantly, I learned that Donovan went with the Beatles (my heroes) to Rishikesh, India in 1968. While there he taught Lennon and McCartney a finger picking guitar style that they soon employed on several White Album songs, like “Dear Prudence,” “Julia,” “Mother Nature’s Son” and the lovely evergreen “Blackbird.” That earned him some mega cred in my book.
So I did more digging and discovered this credibility and respect carried over to a long list of rock royalty… which brings me to the SotW.
“Epistle to Dippy” features Jimmy Page on guitar. Actually, Page played on numerous Donovan songs including the aforementioned “Season of the Witch” and “Sunshine Superman.”
This track “only” reached #19 in the US. The lyrics of “Epistle…” are written in the form of a letter to a friend that joined the army. In subsequent interviews Donovan has shared that he hoped is friend Dippy would hear the song and contact him. He also claims to have “bought” Dippy out of his service enlistment, apparently something you could do in England back then.
In 2008 the ithinkihatemy45s blog wrote:
The non-LP “Epistle to Dippy” is one of the best from this period, a lysergic, almost Barrett-esque single with sproingy guitars, sawing cellos, and a harpsichord break. Even though some of the lyrics are, uh, dated (“Look on yonder misty mountain / See the young monk meditating,” “Elevator in the brain hotel,” etc.), give it a pass for its great arrangement, great spaced-out vocal, and great melody; this is easily in the same league as killers “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Sunshine Superman.” Donovan’s psychedelic pop – “Dippy” in particular – seems to be the reference point for the Rolling Stones’ strange attempts at the form in 1967: “Dandelion” and “We Love You” take more from records such as this one than they do any, say, Beatles disc.
Another great Donovan song is the title track from the album Barabajagal (1969).
On this one, Donovan is backed by the Jeff Beck Group – including Beck (guitar) Ron Wood (bass) and Nicky Hopkins (keys). They rock out while at the same time giving the cut a jazzy feel. The blue chip trio of woman background singers — Lesley Duncan, Madeline Bell and Suzi Quatro – adds a special spark to the recording.
The lyrics are incomprehensible – mostly nonsense syllables – but fun to sing and listen to.
So I vote that you take Donovan seriously (if you don’t already) and give his back catalog a listen. You won’t be disappointed!
Enjoy… until next week.
You can put together a nice Greatest Hits album from Donovan’s best. He had the gift of coming up with simple and affecting melodies, so much that they transcend his often embarrassing lyrics. Tom mentions “Atlantis” which is a perfect example. The coda is fantastic, while the beginning has the same great changes yoked to lyrics that are JRR Tolkien goes to Walmart.