AOTY 2023
Donovan - Sunshine Superman
Mar 29, 2021
The History of The Albums – n°314

While the origins of Pyschedelic Rock are attributed to the Yardbirds and the Byrds, in a softer register, a certain Scotsman named Donovan became one of the pioneers of Psychedelic Pop and Folk in the same way as the Beatles, the Beach Boys or the Kinks. Nobody neglects the contribution and the influence of one of the most famous hippie of all times. This talented guitarist, songwriter and singer with an angelic voice, Donovan first started as a Folk artist before expanding his horizons to the psychedelic tendencies of the mid-60s. Still active, despite his ups and downs, Donovan has always been criticized for his personality and his world of access to hippie ideals, like many artists/people of the "sunshine and flowerpop" period of which he is one of the emblematic icons. You know that stereotype of systematically making fun of hippies or people with a rather offbeat personality. According to me this symbol is clearly part of the culture of the 60s and must reason as an old mirror of the society. It is mainly during this decade that Donovan offered us his best works, when he was only between 18 and 23 years old at that time. Precocious talent, he is mainly known for his cult classics like Hurdy Gurdy Man, Sunshine Superman, Catch The Wind Weat Your Love Like Heaven or Season Of The Witch, or his 1966 album that we will analyze today, as well as A Gift From a Flower to a Garden (1967).

Born in Glasgow in 1946, Donovan quickly fell in love with folk music. Donovan is not the kind of person who followed the beatnik trends for the sake of fashion, he has always had it in his nature and personality. That's why during his teenage years he was already traveling "the roads of self-seeking and spiritual well being", but at some point he had to make money to live. That's why he started his career in local clubs before moving to England, first to Manchester, then to Torquay and finally to London. During these different stays he will consolidate his learning of the music, as well as the traditional repertoire. Supported by his time, he will succeed in signing with Pye Records when he was barely of age in late 1964. Donovan was musically very similar to Bob Dylan at the time, which was detrimental to him in a way, but also did him half a favor. Let me explain. There were those who criticized Donovan because he was a copy of Dylan when, despite the disturbing similarities, there was nothing to prove that he had ever listened to Dylan. On the other hand, these controversies allowed him to gain popularity and thus to support his rise even more quickly. Until Sunshine Superman, Donovan was the victim of criticism, both from the press and from other artists who said that he was still looking for his own personality. Obviously Donovan was very young and didn't have the genius of Bob Dylan, but his first albums released in 1965 What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid or Fairytail are quite honorable. If the critics rained down on the opinions, Donovan will on the contrary know a very respectable commercial success, especially thanks to the help of his performance on TV on the show Ready Steady Go. If you want to immerse yourself in this Contemporary Folk period I advise you to listen to his first single Catch the Wind which is a simply delightful song

It is then that he is going to take the decision to change producers and managers, all taking the new emerging wave of the cultural psychedelism. Signed at Epic for the blow, the album Sunshine Superman is released only in the United States for contractual reasons. Composed of only 10 songs, but relatively longer than the format of the time, Sunshine Superman is not only a massive personal and artistic evolution but also one of the first Psychedelic Pop and Psychedelic Folk albums. For the first time, Donovan rolls up his sleeves to deliver an album entirely composed of original songs that he wrote, whereas the previous ones only offered covers. His atypical universe oriented towards abstract, medieval and beatnik themes will reveal to the world Donovan's writing and composing talent. Many of the songs are also inspired by the secret love that resides between him and the ex-girlfriend of Brian Jones (of the Rolling Stones) who will later become his wife. His style of interpretation, sometimes close to Baroque Pop, allows him to fully blossom in the trippy stories and landscape he creates. The album begins with the mythical eponymous single, recorded in December 1965, 2 months before the release of the cult avant-garde Psychedelic Rock of the Byrds and Yardbirds. A crucial and absolutely brilliant song. Moreover on this song he will be supported by 2 future members of Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. As for the rest of the album. For the rest of the album Donovan is accompanied by Bobby Ray , Shawn Philips (sitar) and Eddie Hoh. The album then moves on to Legend Of A Girl Child Linda, a folk/baroque pop ballad that takes you right back to the medieval period. The melodies and instrumentation are stunning. It is here that one understands the broad palette of this masterpiece, when after Three King Fishers and Ferris Wheel, 2 ballads merging folk and sitar so hallucinating that you will have the impression to take acid, the album turns towards a mixture of hyper orchestrated Blues Pop named Bert's Blues. The B-side of the album Season of the Witch which is one of the wonders of the album, offers a psychedelic version of demented avant-garde rock, which probably influenced The Velvet Underground as much in the spoken word way of approaching the verses as the bass/guitar line that creates the rhythmic. The song Guinevere writes his secret lover is a cruelly poignant romantic song. And finally the rest of the album is going to prolong this soaring atmosphere in other ballads to finish on a faultless. To conclude, if Sunshine Superman is not today an indisputable classic album that everyone idolizes, it's simply because Donovan's writing and composing talent was not equal to Dylan, Brian Wilson or Lennon/McCartney, not to mention his singing talent which was very uneven and far from equaling the most beautiful voices. However in itself, Sunshine Superman is a great album that is really of a great level compared to the albums of the time

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