Donovan

Donovan's Greatest Hits (Epic ’69, ’99) Rating: A-

First of all, this is a review of the 1999 remaster, which significantly improves upon the original release by including the original versions of “Colours” and “Catch The Wind” (the prior release contained inferior re-recordings), adding four tracks (“Atlantis,” “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting,” “Barabajagal,” “Riki Tiki Tavi”) that dated after the original release, and resequencing the track order. Although he released some recommendable proper albums, when I feel like listening to Donovan this is the album I reach for, as it contains all the songs that made him a recently inducted Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer (2012). Now, we can debate the merits of his induction, personally I could easily name 50 artists who I feel are more deserving of the honor, but this is still a very enjoyable listen. It’s weird, for years Donovan was kind of forgotten and underrated, when he wasn’t being remembered as a second rate Dylan or some kind of hippy dippie gypsy whose music was hopelessly “dated,” that is. Now it seems he’s in danger of becoming overrated, because while he had some great songs on the whole he’s certainly not an all-time great, and there is a certain datedness to his distinctively ‘60s derived music. Of course, his music has a period charm, that’s one of the things I like about him, and though Dylan was certainly an influence on songs such as the aforementioned “Colours” and “Catch The Wind,” his songs were far more naïve and psychedelic in nature, and the instrumentation (flutes, vibraphones, harpsichords, tamburas, strings, etc.) could be surprisingly adventurous. I don’t like every song here, as some of them do sound slight and/or are dated in not-so-hot ways, but at his best this Scottish psychedelic folkie earned his one-name moniker (if only a single name suffices this typically means that you’re good, or at least famous, and Donovan was one of the first, well before Dio, Bono, Sting, Prince, Beck, Bjork, and Beyonce, among others). Just look at those who have covered or been inspired by these songs: Deep Purple (the lovely “Lalena”), Hüsker Dü (the dated yet timelessly trippy #1 hit folk rocker “Sunshine Superman”), the Allman Brothers Band (“There Is A Mountain” inspired the far different, more expansive “Mountain Jam”), Al Kooper/Stephen Stills (probably my favorite version of the much-covered, harder edged “Season Of The Witch”), and Martin Scorsese (the awesome chorus of “Atlantis” was unforgettably used in the infamous Billy Batts scene in Goodfellas). Pretty diverse bunch, no? There’s also the melodic, Beatles-esque “Mellow Yellow” which helped define the most psychedelic of years (’67), the hard rocking “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” which does not feature Jimmy Page and John Bonham but it’s easy to see why for years this was thought to be the case (John Paul Jones produced it as well), and the Jeff Beck Group backed “Barabajagal,” which is strange and funky but kinda grew on me, in large part due to the inventive, offbeat percussion, which is a primary calling card of a surprising number of these tracks. So, there’s more to Donovan than his long-held reputation (at least among snobbish critics) would suggest, and I suppose it’s a good thing that he’s finally getting his due. Heck, listening to the majority of this album almost makes me think that he might be worthy of the Hall Of Fame honor after all.

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