Title: Donovan’s Greatest Hits
Release: 1979 Original release: 1969
Musicians:Donovan — guitar, harmonica, vocals
Mike Thompson — guitar, vocals
The Jeff Beck Group — backing instruments on “Barabajagal”
Producer: Mickie Most
Donovan’s Greatest Hits is the first greatest hits album from Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan. It was released in the United States in January 1969 on Epic Records
Donovan’s Greatest Hits is a distinct entry in Donovan’s discography for several reasons. First, it collects three singles that were previously unreleased on any album: “Epistle to Dippy”; “There Is a Mountain”; and “Laléna.” It also presents the unedited “Sunshine Superman” (one minute and fifteen seconds longer than the original 1966 single and LP release), and most of the songs appear for the first time in stereo. Lastly, Donovan’s Greatest Hits contains re-recordings of “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” with Big Jim Sullivan playing guitar. Epic Records could not obtain the right to release the original recordings of these two songs, so Donovan recorded new versions in May 1968 with a full backing band.
The version I have (the 1979 reissue) stays true to the original order of the tracks. Subsequent releases have side two starting with “Season Of The Witch”.
On March 30, 1999, Epic Legacy reissued a remastered version of Donovan’s Greatest Hits, which substitutes the original versions of “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” in place of the 1968 remakes, places side two ahead of side one, and adds four bonus tracks which were later hits after this album was first released. On July 25, 2002, Sony Music’s Legacy Records division reissued the 1999 version again.
I notice on this release that the sound quality is better than on the original LPs from whence these songs appear. Only one song, “Mellow Yellow” was re-channeled for stereo and I wish they had not done that.
Overall the sound on this LP is very nice and sounds real. One can hear every detail. Vocals are very clear and if you ever wondered what he was singing in any of these songs, listen to this LP.
There are 11 tracks on this LP, here are some highlights:
There Is A Mountain: The lyrics in this song don’t make a whole lot of sense unless you know the back story: (Thanks to Wikipedia) The lyrics refer to a Buddhist saying originally formulated by Qingyuan Weixin, later translated by D.T. Suzuki in his Essays in Zen Buddhism, one of the first books to popularize Buddhism in Europe and the US. Qingyuan writes “Before I had studied Chan (Zen) for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and rivers once again as rivers.”
Did you know there is hand-clapping in this song, you will hear it if you listen close. No, I’m not referring to that thing about the sound of one hand clapping.
Wear Your Love Like Heaven: This was the opening title of his double album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden.Sarah McLachlan covered this song for the Donovan tribute album Island of Circles; it also appeared on US printings of her 1991 album Solace. That’s really the only reason I mention it.
Season Of The Witch: This is an early example of psychedelic rock, written by Donovan and first released in September 1966 on his Epic Records (USA) album, Sunshine Superman. (The song was never released as a single but it became a very popular song with fans, enough so that Donovan himself played it live more than most of his other hits.)
Not only that, but it has been covered no less than 28 times and by such as the likes of Alice Cooper, Stephen Stills, Vanilla Fudge, Joan Jett and even Hole and Robert Plant! It has also been used in no less than 20 TV shows and movies! What a run for one song!!
The recording features Bobby Ray on bass and “Fast” Eddie Hoh on drums. The hauntingly eerie guitar is provided by Jimmy Page, then a noted session guitarist working in England. The vocals sound a bit hot on this track, but may have been done intentionally.
Mellow Yellow: This is one song that catches me straining to understand the lyrics every time. No doubt you have heard the song was rumoured to be about smoking dried banana skins, which was believed to be a hallucinogenic drug in the 1960s, though this aspect of bananas has since been debunked. According to Donovan’s notes accompanying the album Donovan’s Greatest Hits, the rumour that one could get high from smoking dried banana skins was started by Country Joe McDonald in 1966, and Donovan heard the rumour three weeks before “Mellow Yellow” was released as a single. According to The Rolling Stone Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, he admitted later the song made reference to a vibrator; an “electrical banana” as mentioned in the lyrics. This definition was re-affirmed in an interview with NME magazine: “it’s about being cool, laid-back, and also the electrical bananas that were appearing on the scene – which were ladies’ vibrators.” (Makes one wonder about smoking the bananas again).
The record had a “Beatlesque” feel to it, and was sometimes mistaken for a Beatles song. Donovan, in fact, was friends with the Beatles. Paul McCartney can be heard as one of the background revellers on this track, but contrary to popular belief, it is not McCartney whispering the “quite rightly” answering lines in the chorus, but rather Donovan himself. Donovan had a small part in coming up with the lyrics for “Yellow Submarine”, and McCartney played bass guitar (uncredited) on portions of Donovan’s Mellow Yellow album.
The thing about this track in this LP though is that it was the only one re-channeled electronically for stereo and was done so poorly that everything ends up in one speaker if played with a stereo cartridge. It is also distorted. In my opinion they should have not messed with it and left as monaural.
Hurdy Gurdy Man: This is my favorite Donovan song along with Season Of The Witch. This mix sounds better and is a little harder I think on this LP than the original LP of the same name in my opinion. It was written during a trip to India, was recorded in early 1968, and was released in May 1968 as a single. It gave its name to the album The Hurdy Gurdy Man as I mentioned, which was released in October of that year in the U.S.
The song features a harder rock sound than Donovan’s usual material, supplying a range of distorted guitars. It also features an Indian influence with the use of a tambura. The song may have been influenced by ‘Green Circles’, a psychedelic 1967 UK single by Small Faces. The similarity is in the melody of the descending verse, the strange vocal delivery, and most tellingly, the topic of being visited by an enlightened stranger. In 2012, Donovan said that he’d made friends with them in 1965. (Uh, the band Small Faces, not the enlightened visitor).
According to some sources, the song was written for the band Hurdy Gurdy (which included Donovan’s old friend and guitar mentor Mac MacLeod) with Donovan intending to be the producer, but the collaboration was cancelled due to creative disagreements, leading Donovan to record the song himself. However, there is no mention of this story in the chapter of Donovan’s autobiography that is devoted to the song – there he says that he originally wanted it to be recorded by Jimi Hendrix.
Here’s an original performance of Season Of The Witch from the sixties by Donovan:
Ok, now here’s a cover of the same song from Robert Plant: (Weird huh)?https://youtu.be/a3kVijXCylw (there is a live version, but the sound is bad, so instead I put up this one).
If you want to trip out just look up the song on YouTube, you will discover everybody has covered it.