Donovan

Donovan

“I’m just mad about saffron,
Saffron’s mad about me…”

Plenty of artists have explored strange frontiers in their music, but Donovan was the ultimate psychedelic troubadour. In the late 60s, he produced an unforgettable string of songs that combined pop melodies, traditional folk elements and psychedelic sounds to create a style that was often imitated and seldom duplicated.

Donovan Philips Leitch got his start performing folk-styled songs on an acoustic guitar on the English TV show Ready, Steady, Go. He was dubbed ‘Scotland’s answer to Bob Dylan’ and soon earned British hits with the songs “Catch the Wind” and “Colours.” He made his international breakthrough in 1966 when his new producer Mickie Most encouraged him to explore a more pop-friendly and psychedelic style of music.

The first result was “Sunshine Superman,” one of the first true psychedelic singles. It caught the public’s attention with the phrase “blowing your mind” and went #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Donovan continued in the same vein on his next single, “Mellow Yellow.” This gentle, trippy tune with backup vocals from Paul McCartney quickly went to #2. The hits continued with songs like the calypso-styled “There Is A Mountain,” which set a 16th-century haiku to music, and the gentle love song “Jennifer Juniper.” The playfully poetic lyrics and the spacey sounds underneath them captured the mood of the Summer of Love perfectly and made Donovan a true pop star.

Other notable hits from this time were “The Hurdy Gurdy Man,” a moody tune delivered in a vibrato baritone voice, and “Atlantis,” an elegant, chant-like song about the ‘lost kingdom.’ One of Donovan’s most notable albums from this time was A Gift From A Flower To A Garden, a boxed double-album containing one record of rock music and one album of children’s songs. Songs from this period of Donovan’s work would also be covered by other psychedelic-oriented groups like Jefferson Airplane and Vanilla Fudge.

Donovan began to experiment with new avenues in his career as he moved into the 70s. In addition to recording albums and touring, he composed the score for the film Brother Son, Sister Moon and put together a stage show that adapted his concept album Seven-Tease into a musical theater piece. One of his most interesting credits in the 70s was singing a duet with Alice Cooper on the song “Billion Dollar Babies.”

Donovan’s poetic story-songs continue to be as influential today as they were on release. He continued to tour and record throughout the 80s and experienced a resurgence of popularity in the 90s. He celebrated his return by touring with the Happy Mondays and recording a Rick Rubin-produced album, Sutras, that featured members of the Heartbreakers and Jane’s Addiction. He continues to tour today, still every bit the troubadour he has always been.

If you grew up listening to the psychedelic hits from Donovan, we hope you’ll take a moment to share your memories with us in our comments section below.

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