Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Donovan -- "Season of the Witch" (1966)

When I look over my shoulder,
What do you think I see ?
Some other cat looking over
His shoulder at me

Donovan was perhaps the hippy-dippiest of all the musicians of the sixties.  His hits included "Sunshine Superman" (a #1 single in the US), "Mellow Yellow" (#2), "Wear Your Love like Heaven," and "Atlantis."

Donovan Leitch
But Donovan did have a "heavy" side.  One of his very best songs was "Hurdy Gurdy Man," which had a much harder sound and feel than songs like "Mellow Yellow." 

Donovan tried to get Jimi Hendrix to play guitar when he recorded "Hurdy Gurdy Man."  Hendrix was not available, so Donovan asked Jimmy Page (who was then in the Yardbirds).  

Although Donovan has said at times that Page did play on this song, Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones -- who played bass on "Hurdy Gurdy Man," was the arranger, and also booked the musicians for the recording session -- and other witnesses say the guitarist was Alan Parker, a well-known studio musician.  (Jeff Beck was the guitar player on one take, but the producer chose to wipe that take and use Parker instead.)

John Paul Jones
While Jones was working on the "Hurdy Gurdy Man" sessions, he heard that the Yardbirds were breaking up and approached Page about forming a new band.  That's how Led Zeppelin was formed.

George Harrison wrote another verse for "Hurdy Gurdy Man," which Donovan recorded, but the producer had to cut out either the Harrison verse or a guitar solo to keep the song's running time below three minutes.  He chose to edit out Harrison's verse.

The other famous "heavy" Donovan song, of course, is "Season of the Witch" -- a song which really has nothing to do with witches or witchcraft, and everything to do with paranoia or perhaps multiple-personality disorder or some other mental disorder.  Or maybe it's just about drugs.  (It's usually safe to assume a song from this era had something to do with drugs.) 

Donovan's version of the song was almost five minutes long, which was far too long for a single (at least in 1967).  Most of the cover versions of the song -- and there have been a lot, many of them very good -- are even longer.  The structure of the song seems to lend itself to leisurely performances with long instrumental passages.

Did you know that Donovan is the father of actress Ione Skye?  (Like her father, she dropped her last name -- which is Leitch -- as well.)

Ione Skye is best known for her role in Say Anything, one of the great teen movies of all time.  That movie co-starred John Cusack, and was written and directed by Cameron Crowe.  

Ione Skye and John Cusack in "Say Anything"

Crowe and John Hughes were the masters of the teen-movie genre.  (Crowe, who had been a writer for Rolling Stone magazine before going Hollywood, also wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and wrote and directed Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire.)

Don't tell me you didn't love the scene in Say Anything when Cusack  stands outside her bedroom window holding up a boombox playing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" to demonstrate his love and devotion!  

By the way, Ione was one of the Nereids, who were sea nymphs in Greek mythology.  Skye is a large Scottish island.  (Donovan is a Scotsman.)

Also by the way, Donovan was only 19 when he had his first #1 hit in the UK.  He was barely 20 when the Sunshine Superman album -- which included "Season of the Witch" -- was released.  (Do I say "by the way" too much?)

Here's Donovan's version of "Season of the Witch":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Season of the Witch - Sunshine Superman

Here's a link you can use if you prefer Amazon:

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