The 1960’s were a time for rebellion and social change. The counterculture of the decade referred to the anti-establishment movement that began in the United States and the United Kingdom before spreading to areas all over the world. This state of mind influenced some of the most iconic musicians in history such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Janis Joplin. Another name that contributed with his own creative thinking and musical talent was that of the British folk singer, Donovan.
After shedding his Bob Dylan-like image, Donovan fully embraced the flower power culture. In 1966 the world was introduced to Sunshine Superman, the first single off the album by the same name. It was the third album released by Donovan, and also the most successful. In six weeks, the single sold 800,000 copies and hit number one on the Billboard Top 100. The following August the album was released to an incredibly receptive audience. It would go on to sell 250,000 copies and reach number 11 in the U.S. The album mixed notes of the folk, jazz and a distinct psychedelic sound that was gaining an immense amount of popularity in the 60’s.
The album begins with the title track, Sunshine Superman. It is without a doubt the strongest song on the album, if not the best of Donovan’s career. It has a sound that seems to combine the thought provoking lyrics of the Grateful Dead with the jazz-y sounds of Jefferson Airplane. The album gets more psychedelic with each passing song. The use of the sitar is sprinkled into songs like Three King Fishers, adding a subtle Eastern influence to the already vast array of sounds. The only low point on side A seems to be the unnecessary length to Legend of a Gild Child Linda. The song itself if showcases all the musical talent and intelligent lyrics that are present in the rest of the album, but it goes on for verse after verse of repetitive sounds which do not add much to the experience.
Side B begins strongly with Season of the Witch. Songs such as this one give listeners a taste of Donovan’s lyrics at their best. He clearly takes great pride in the thoughts he is expressing as it comes across like his own brand of poetry. The meaning behind the song is thought to be referring to people taking their own path in life during new and troubling times. He speaks of those people who are out for money, “beatniks are out to make it rich,” as well as those who are painfully stuck in their current path, “rabbits running in the ditch.” The depth of the lyrics are accompanied by the haunting, blues inspired guitar which completes the mood the song is working toward.
After Season of the Witch, Donovan goes right into The Trip. This song, along with The Fat Angel fully embraced the life of a wanderer. The light melodies and deep words embody what Donovan stood for. New and controversial ideas were being introduced every day and Donovan was using them as inspiration for his music. The album ends with Celeste. The song is a perfect end to the album. The uplifting message about getting through personal issues with the help of others was deeply understandable for many young people of the time. If there is one thing that seems to repeat itself in every generation, it is misunderstood youth.
Donovan Sunshine Superman is a classic album that seems to contain the very essence of the 1960’s. The aforementioned counterculture influenced many artists, Donovan included. The array of songs go from uplifting, to mellow, to inspirational. This is a musician who had very particular views of the world, and who found a way to express himself to the masses. The album is thought to be one of the very first psychedelic-pop albums to be written, which in turn helped develop a trend that will forever hold a place in music history. For this and so much else we have the Hurdy Gurdy Man himself to thank.