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Donovan – The Essential Donovan

27 06 2010

Listened: Wednesday June 23

Like his countryman Nick Drake, advertisers love Donovan. I’ve heard several of his songs on TV commercials. I think their love for Donovan makes a lot more sense to me than Nick Drake. His early Dylan-like songs are very beautiful and simple and thus can be very commercially appealing. Similarly, quite a few people have covered his songs brilliantly; Joan Baez and her sister Mimi Farina do an amazing version of Catch the Wind.

I have a love-hate relationship with many of his songs though. He borders upon hippie-dippie-ness with songs like Sunshine Superman, Atlantis, and Mellow Yellow. The first Donovan song I ever heard (Sunshine Superman) was from a performance in one of the Secret Policeman’s Balls. I liked the song, but I didn’t really get a sense of the depth of what I know about Donovan now.

My second experience with Donovan was the use of Hurdy Gurdy Man in Zodiac as the Zodiac killer performs his first murder. That song still creeps me out (in a good way) to this day – being creeped out apparently impressed me much more than my prior Donovan experience. At about the same time, Catch the Wind was being used on a TV commercial and Woody told me who sang it. Woody has good taste in music, so I figured if he liked Donovan, I should give him another chance.

Based on this “Best of” alone, I’d say that Donovan is really underrated as a songwriter and musician. Especially for the early folky stuff – I need to invest in a couple of early albums. Again, though, he also does risky things like using a flute in a rock song (There Is A Mountain) and depending upon what day it is I think it’s brilliant or it reminds me too much of elevator versions of rock songs (which often use flute for the melody). The most annoying of which I ever heard was an elevator music version of a Bob Marley song in Lunardi’s supermarket, which is a particular hellhole for jazzy versions of rock songs that you don’t even recognize until they burrow into your brain as you are buying milk and you think, “What the shit? How did it come to this point that I am hearing a jazzed out Stir It Up in a supermarket where old Italian people shop?? Is the world ending??” But I digress.

Donovan does get props for a sincere shout-out to Allah though (Wear Your Love Like Heaven). Which maybe was not as big a deal back in the day, but still unconventional for sure.

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