“Oh I quite liked him”
That was my Mother’s reaction when I was crowing to her about finally getting my grubby mitts on a copy of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman. It’s always been one of those albums that I’ve found elusive. You know the ones, you either find it and can’t afford it, or have the money and it just doesn’t exist in a record shop in the land. So you can imagine my surprise when, as if by magic, I found the LP languishing at the back of a pile of unloved records on Record Store Day.
I don’t know why this album was in the “not wanted crate”, but I was going to give the album some TLC, a good home, and an appreciative audience. Luckily this was a U.S. copy – none of that contractual malarkey and an album made up for the UK market of songs from two separate albums (does this even still happen??). Anyway.
Released in 1966, this is probably one of the earliest examples of psychedelia. No really, Donovan Phillip Leitch from Scotland gave birth to psychedelia (and as an aside, he’s still going strong – he’s about to tour the UK) with this album. Primarily known for his Folk style popular in the early 60s, Sunshine Superman was a complete departure from the norm. Listening to the album there are so many varied instruments used – ranging from a full on rock band, organs, and the sitar; all in chamber-style, folk-jazz arrangements – it makes for interesting listening. That’s not to say this album is one big clashing cacophony of styles – songs seem to blend seamlessly into one, whilst keeping their individuality. I could describe this album as “shimmery”.
It feels very much of its time – a snapshot of swinging London in the mid sixties, things were turning away from the raucous sounds to a more… child out vibe. Listening to the album, you can almost tell it’s a precursor to his friends’ efforts, and yes, I’m talking about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Ok, so he may not have the same pull of those bands albums in the present, but Sunshine Superman is getting a bronze medal from me. Maybe as a thank you, in the video for “A Day in the Life”, The Beatles are playing the Sunshine Superman LP in one of the shots.
However, I may be a tad biased – one of my favourite songs (as in: I’m on a desert Island and had to take my top five songs with me – favourite) is Season of the Witch, thankfully on this album. Perhaps that was always the driving force to find this album – am I the only person that goes vinyl hunting for an album that has just one song?? This song has haunted me for so many years, yes, a dreaded earworm that really won’t go away. It’s a perfect example of early psychedelia, slow in tempo, hideously catchy and ever so slightly trippy. As an aside, John Paul Jones was on the organ and Jimmy Page was the session guitarist on the track (I’m now going to have to explain who they are to the Lover).
I wouldn’t say this album was easy listening, it’s just incredibly chilled out. Modern (for its day) it may be, but it has flashes of the medieval about it – Guinevere and The Legend of a Girl Called Linda both feel like I should be breaking out the armour and heading on down to the nearest castle (which from here would be the Tower of London, perhaps not). Listening to the majority of the album, many of the songs feel very much like a tale from the Sagas, or one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. They’re very rich in descriptions – colour, nature – and they feel very tactile. Listening with my eyes shut I want to reach out and touch what Donovan sings about. He has a very dreamlike voice, you can almost feel him transporting you on a trip to some mythical place. I like the juxtaposition between songs on the album, and I think that’s what makes it so special – whilst the 60s may have been all about the new, it was also the beginnings of looking back to the past.
Sunshine Superman is a great example of a “bottled” LP – uncork it, and you’re right back in 1966.
Stand Out Songs:
- Season of the Witch
- The Trip
- The Fat Angel (which was written for Mama Cass) ( This album is full of surprises…)
The Knitty Gritty
So this album is available on iTunes, Spotify, Deezer..
Other albums to listen to:
Rubber Soul – The Beatles
The Fifth Dimension – The Byrds