Donovan In Session At The BBC – Top Of The Pops-Saturday Club-Top Gear – 1965-1968- BBC Radio 1
Someone I haven’t played in a very long time. Donovan was an extremely popular figure from the mid-60s on. Initially marketed in the U.S. as the “British Bob Dylan”, Donovan’s first album was heavily folk-influenced. His first two singles, Catch The Wind and Colours were big hits and established Donovan as a singer-songwriter of the highest caliber. When he switched labels, and producers (the legendary Mickie Most), his style changed and became more Pop, mixed with elements of Jazz and Psychedelia and it cemented his career until 1969 when a change of producers and a change in audience tastes saw a fade in his popularity for a while.
By 1966, Donovan had shed the Dylan/Guthrie influences and become one of the first British pop musicians to adopt flower power. He immersed himself in jazz, blues, Eastern music, and the new generation of counterculture-era US West Coast bands such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. He was entering his most creative phase as a songwriter and recording artist, working with Mickie Most and with arranger, musician, and jazz fan John Cameron. Their first collaboration was “Sunshine Superman”, one of the first psychedelic pop records.
Donovan’s rise stalled in December 1965 when Billboard broke news of the impending production deal between Klein, Most, and Donovan, and then reported that Donovan was to sign with Epic Records in the US. Despite Kozak’s denials, Pye Records dropped the single and a contract dispute ensued, because Pye had a US licensing arrangement with Warner Bros. Records. As a result, the UK release of the Sunshine Superman LP was delayed for months, robbing it of the impact it would have had. Another outcome was that the UK and US versions of this and later albums differed – three of his Epic LPs were not released in the UK, and Sunshine Superman was issued in a different form in each country. Several tracks on his late 1960s Epic (US) LPs were not released in the UK for many years. The legal dispute continued into early 1966. During the hiatus, Donovan holidayed in Greece, where he wrote “Writer in the Sun”, inspired by rumors that his recording career was over. He toured the US and appeared on episode 23 of Pete Seeger’s television show Rainbow Quest in 1966 with Shawn Phillips and Rev. Gary Davis. After his return to London, he developed his friendship with Paul McCartney and contributed the line “sky of blue and sea of green” to “Yellow Submarine”.
By spring 1966, the American contract problems had been resolved, and Donovan signed a $100,000 deal with Epic Records. Donovan and Most went to CBS Studios in Los Angeles, where they recorded tracks for an LP, much composed during the preceding year. Although folk elements were prominent, the album showed increasing influence of jazz, American west coast psychedelia and folk rock – especially the Byrds. The LP sessions were completed in May, and “Sunshine Superman” was released in the US as a single in June. It was a success, selling 800,000 in six weeks and reaching No. 1. It went on to sell over one million, and was awarded a gold disc.
The LP followed in August, preceded by orders of 250,000 copies, reached No. 11 on the US album chart and sold over half a million.
The US version of the Sunshine Superman album is in chamber-style folk-jazz arrangements, and features instruments including acoustic bass, sitar, saxophone, tablas and congas, harpsichord, strings and oboe. Highlights include the swinging “The Fat Angel”, which Donovan’s book confirms was written for Cass Elliot of the Mamas & the Papas. The song is notable for naming the Jefferson Airplane before they became known internationally and before Grace Slick joined. Other tracks include “Bert’s Blues” (a tribute to Bert Jansch), “Guinevere”, and “Legend of a Girl Child Linda”, a track featuring voice, acoustic guitar and a small orchestra for over six minutes.
Donovan contributed some of the most instantly recognizable songs to be associated with the 60s. And this set of sessions recorded at the BBC between 1965 and 1968 give some clue as to just how versatile an artist he was, and just how much his music influenced a generation.
You can play this one loud – and you can also dance to it.