Golden Oldies: Season of the Witch

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Come on, you remember Donovan. The Scottish troubadour who was just mad about saffron. Superman and Green Lantern didn’t have nothing on him. And in his more whimsical moments, he would put on a brocade coat and sing about Atlantis.

And in between times, he would put out gems like “Season of the Witch”. Which would rank alongside “96 Tears” and “The Passenger” as one of the all-time garage classics. There was a time when every bunch of kids with a guitar and a garage to practise in would have a go at knocking out “Season of the Witch”.

What recommends it, like “96 Tears”, is its beautiful simplicity. Two chords on the guitar, and that’s really it. Sure, there might be some swirly psychedelic organ stuff, but your two chords are the base, and all you have to remember is just to speed up a little on the chorus. And then the vocals, with Donovan half-speaking throughout. He doesn’t quite reach the levels of inexpressiveness of Iggy or Lou, never mind ?, but he does manage to make his vocalisation fit the general air of bleakness.

Groovy lyrics too, if I may say so, and this is a Donovan hallmark. There are times – you get this rather a lot with Sting – when you feel the lyricist is just randomly leafing through his rhyming dictionary. There’s a bit of that here, but Donovan had enough of a poetic sensibility to make everything feel like it hangs together, even if it doesn’t make much sense. That stuff about rabbits running in the ditch just kind of fits – I’m not sure how, but it does.

Yes, a real zinger there. If Donovan had done nothing else, he’d be worth remembering for this alone. And, in the way of these things, there are a couple of covers of “Season of the Witch” worth checking out, which manage to be radically different from the original and still work – something that usually proves the worth of a song. The first version I ever heard, oddly enough, was by Vanilla Fudge, and as you might expect from the Fudge (check out their covers of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Eleanor Rigby”), it’s about three times as long as the original and based around ludicrously overextended organ riffs.

Or, for a complete change of pace, the jazzy version by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger might appeal. But yeah, Donovan’s is hard to beat. Watch To Die For if you don’t believe me.

9 Comments

  1. Renegade Eye said,

    January 12, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    It is ridiculous that because of him, youth in the 1960s smoked banana peels.

  2. January 13, 2008 at 11:30 am

    But then we moved on to satsumas. Washed down with a nice tumbler of amyl.

    Mellow yellow indeed!

  3. Liam said,

    January 13, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    It’s the oddest thing. I bought a Donovan compilation last week for £6. The folky stuff is pleasant but the jazzy bits, like all jazz, is atrocious.

  4. Liam said,

    January 13, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    That should say “are atrocious”.

  5. Mike said,

    January 13, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    The versh waxed by Hole is perfectly acceptable but the groviest cover is that performed by The Dream Syndicate.

  6. zardoz said,

    January 14, 2008 at 1:30 am

    a youtube link to help you down that memory lane…

  7. Ed Hayes said,

    January 14, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    There was a groovy hook-up when Shaun Ryder went out with Donovan’s daughter for a while; I think Donovan did a few gigs with the Mondays and Shaun Ryder did a dj spot at Murty Macs disco near Macroom, where Donovan had his gaff.

  8. Doug said,

    January 14, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    I’ve got an ancient LP by Bloomfield, Kooper and Stills called ‘Supersession’ that has a lengthy version. Pretty good too. BTW, I am baffled by sweeping condemnations of types of music that span an enormous range of sounds and styles e.g. jazz. Or perhaps it’s not so baffling – the perpetrators are probably ignorant narrow-minded gimps.

  9. ejh said,

    January 25, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    Chap walked into the shop a few minutes ago: I had Take This Longing by Leonard Cohen on the CD player.

    “¿Es Donovan?”


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