Rewind album: Sunshine Superman by Donovan
Donovan is best known for poppy hits such as the bouncy Mellow Yellow, but he began his career in the early 1960s as a guitar-strumming folkie. The British press even compared him favourably to Bob Dylan, which reportedly niggled the American.
Donovan, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, first made a name for himself in 1965 with the whimsical folk single Catch the Wind, which went to number four. Sunshine Superman, which featured the groovy, guitar-based Season of the Witch, was released in the US the next year. It marked a departure for the singer-songwriter as some of the tracks featured a rockier sound, courtesy of British hit-maker Mickie Most. Sunshine Superman established Donovan as a kind of psychedelic folk artist, and he successfully rode the wave of psychedelia to the end of the1960s.
Although Donovan managed to maintain a wholesome image throughout his career, he could not avoid being caught up in the drug-oriented rock scene of London in the Swinging Sixties. He was the first British pop star to be busted by the police for drug possession, in 1966, when the authorities were ramping up their arrests of the country's rock aristocracy.
Donovan has claimed that Season of the Witch, which is easily the LP's stand-out track, was inspired by the bust, and uses the word "witch" to mean "witch-hunt".
This is probably apocryphal, as authorities such as The Donovan Unofficial Website point out that the track is actually written in 1965, before the arrest. But even so, his edgy delivery certainly picks up on the paranoid aspects of the psychedelic era.
Season of the Witch is a radical step forward for the young troubadour. Picking up on what American acts were doing, it's driven by a terse, clipped guitar figure which marks the first time Donovan played an electric guitar on record. A groovy, rolling bass and some nifty organ complete the sound.
The song has been covered a number of times, notably by Al Kooper, Steven Stills, and Mike Bloomfield on the terrific Super Session LP. The rest of the Sunshine Superstar LP is patchy. Celeste and Legend of a Girl Child Linda are horrifying examples of British folk which aim for the dramatic delivery of singer-songwriter Scott Walker, but fall cataclysmically short. The Trip, named after a Los Angeles nightclub, is a passable rocker that details an LSD experience.
But the title track of the album is an enjoyable slice of 1960s pop rock. It features Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on guitar and bass, back when the future members of Led Zeppelin were working as session musicians.
Due to a contractual dispute, the British version of the Sunshine Superman LP features a hodge-podge of tracks. The US version is the authoritative version, as it's the one Donovan wanted to release.
Richard James Havis