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'60s Icon Donovan Returns with 'Try for the Sun'


Forty years ago, an unknown Scottish folksinger named Donovan Leitch released his first single. "Catch The Wind" was the first in a string of hits that would make Donovan a '60s icon. A new box set chronicles his career. It's called "Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan." David Greenberger has a review.


The album traces his career over four decades, starting in 1965 when he was hyped in the press as Britain's answer to Bob Dylan.

(Soundbite of "Catch The Wind")

DONOVAN: (Singing) In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty, I want to be in the warm hold of your loving mind. To feel you all around me and to take your hand along the sand, ah, but I may as well as try and catch the wind.

GREENBERGER: Although he started out as a folksinger, Donovan was never a purist. He was influenced by Celtic music and Woody Guthrie, but also, Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers and The Beatles. As his songwriting developed, Donovan incorporated new instruments and musical styles.

(Soundbite of "Sunny Goodge Street")

DONOVAN: (Singing) In dull house rooms with colored lights swinging, strange music boxes sadly tinkling, drinking the sun shining around you. `My, my,' they sigh. `My, my,' they sigh.

GREENBERGER: By 1966, Donovan had completely abandoned the stance of the solitary troubadour and reinvented himself as a psychedelic rocker.

(Soundbite of "Sunshine Superman")

GREENBERGER: His music became increasingly experimental, featuring flutes, strings and sitars, and lyrics laden with subtle drug references. It's easy to lampoon some of it now, but his best songs remain classics of the era.

(Soundbite of "Sunshine Superman")

DONOVAN: (Singing) Sunshine came softly through my a-window today. Could have tripped out easy, but I've a-changed my ways. It'll take time, I know it, but in a while you're going to be mine, I know it. We'll do it in style 'cause I made my mind up you're going to be mine. I'll tell you right now any trick in the book and now, baby, all that I can find.

GREENBERGER: The downside of being so closely associated with this period was that when flower power became passe, Donovan did, too. Although he continued recording and touring for decades, his commercial heyday lasted only about five years. It's a shame because, as this collection makes obvious, Donovan was not only prolific but incredibly innovative. Although the music is rooted in another time, it's strong enough and varied enough to be interesting today.

BLOCK: The album is called "Try for the Sun: The Journey of Donovan." Our reviewer is David Greenberger.

(Soundbite of "Hurdy Gurdy Man")

DONOVAN: (Singing) Thrown like a star in my vast sleep, I open my eyes to take a peek to find that I was by the sea gazing with tranquility. 'Twas then when the hurdy gurdy man came singing songs of love. Then when the hurdy gurdy man came singing songs of love. `Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy,' he sang. `Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy,' he sang. `Hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, hurdy gurdy, gurdy,' he sang.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greenberger