Sunday, August 24, 2008

Donovan - Epistle To Dippy

(Epic, 1967)

In the grand scheme of such things, the ever-underappreciated Donovan doesn’t get his due. I’m not sure that there’s a meaningful musical link to be found between his work and that of today’s kiddies, but he’s clearly an influence visually and in a general spiritual/philosophical sense: There’s a definite air of Donovan-ness to freak-folk and pop guys like Devendra Banhart, MGMT, and, heck, Joanna Newsom. It’s a shame that no one in the mainstream is outright copping his musical moves, though, because Donovan’s psychedelic phase resulted in plenty of weird, memorable moments that deserve to be internalized by at least a few scene newies.

The non-LP “Epistle to Dippy” is one of the best from this period, a lysergic, almost Barrett-esque single with sproingy guitars, sawing cellos, and a harpsichord break. Even though some of the lyrics are, uh, dated (“Look on yonder misty mountain / See the young monk meditating,” “Elevator in the brain hotel,” etc.), give it a pass for its great arrangement, great spaced-out vocal, and great melody; this is easily in the same league as killers “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Sunshine Superman.” Donovan’s psychedelic pop – “Dippy” in particular – seems to be the reference point for the Rolling Stones’ strange attempts at the form in 1967: “Dandelion” and “We Love You” take more from records such as this one than they do any, say, Beatles disc.

Switching gears, it’s a jazzy beatnik trip on the other side, as “Preachin’ Love” is all tinkling pianos, brushed cymbals, and saxes accompanying Donovan’s rhythmic vocal delivery. Interesting as a contrast to the A-side and as a display of his considerable musical range, but not worth more than a play or two.


Anonymous said...

I am in agreeance with you that people didn't/don't appreciate Donovan like they should. I think Belle & Sebastien kinda sounded like him, back when they were good.

Donald Brown said...

Kudos for upping the ante for Donovan. I can't think of him w/out recalling his heralding and eventual appearance in "Don't Look Back" (hilarious), but he isn't the flake and write-off he was easily taken to be. "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was one of those mysterious tracks of psychedelic days that stayed in my mind long after it ceased getting any airplay. And "Mellow Yellow" was something of a sensation among us pre-teens at the time (word on the playground was: it's about pee-pee). Then there's "Atlantis": get past the spoken word drivel and it's a great crescendo (as Scorsese saw in using it for gangsters beating the shit out of a gangster in "Goodfellas") . . . "Dippy" I didn't know, in the day, but my daughter has brought it and other Donovan gems around, like "Colours" (and you're right, this is much more in league w/ The Stones' version of psychedelia -- "Dandelion," "She's a Rainbow," "Sing This Song Altogether" -- than the latter is with Beatles), so that eventually I've dropped some of my irony when listening to him. But that irony is because Donovan did buy into hippiedom, rather than just capitalizing on it like Beatles and Stones, and so there's an unmistakable mawkishness to it.