Donovan – Ferris Wheel

• “Ferris Wheel” set to a picture of the housing album cover. Thanks to lrh1966.

9.3 “Classic Songwriter from Scotland”

From his LP “Sunshine Superman” (Epic LN-24217) in 1966.

Although it has a largely acoustic feel, the album, produced by Mickie Most, benefitted from highly skilled arrangements, which empathised with the mystical, ethereal poetry of the talented Scot. Most’s production was able to incorporate drums and electric guitars without over-imposing, and bongos, sitar, harpsichord, organ, violin, bouzouki and flute all further graced the third Donovan LP; a set which he himself regarded as his masterpiece. Frustratingly, the album’s release was blocked due to some contractual dispute with Pye Records. Adding to this frustration, Donovan was arrested in June ’66 for drug possession and this prevented him from entry to the US for a while, a penalty which would hamper his imminent promotion of the album over there.

Somewhat tragically, the LP never did see the light of day in Britain and was only finally issued in September ’66 Stateside. By this time, a cheesed-off Donovan had fled to a Greek island with his trusty creative sidekick, Gypsy Dave. Much to his surprise and delight, the insanely catchy “Sunshine Superman” shot to Number 1 in the U.S. singles chart, turning his world upside down. He recalled to Billboard Magazine: “The phone rang, and Ashley Kozak, my manager, said ‘Get yourself back to Athens, you’ve got a first-class ticket to London. ‘Superman”s released and it’s #1 all over the world.’” Little did the US playlist makers realise that “Sunshine” was a name for LSD! It’s got to be one of the most pleasing number one singles ever to sit atop the American single charts, and it opens up the album with a nod and a wink to the scenesters.

My favourite track appears on the first side, “Ferris Wheel”, which as Donovan explained in a Mojo interview: “was about a girl we met that got her hair caught in a Ferris Wheel and had to cut it off.” He can turn any old hap-penance into a thing of poetic wonder that boy: “A silver bicycle you shall ride, to bathe your mind in the quiet tide, far off as it seems your hair will mend, and a Samson’s strength to begin again”. I quite like a tale with a moral; keep reaching for those goals.

Not so hopeful is the excellent “Season of the Witch” which opens up side 2. Paranoia reigns supreme: “When I look over my shoulder, what do you think I see? Some other cat looking over his shoulder at me, and he’s strange, sure he’s strange… Beatniks are out to make it rich, oh no, must be the season of the witch” In the same Mojo interview, Donovan said:

I remember the bass line going down and Mickie saying, ‘We’ve got a problem. The engineers are saying that they can’t turn the bass up.’ I said, Why? They said, ‘Well, it’s going into the red.’ And so he said to the engineers, ‘Look, you go into the red, I’m giving you permission. Go in the red! That’s the bass sound I want. Very, very loud.’ And they said, ‘Well, we’ll have to have a meeting.’ So they went upstairs and had a meeting about whether the bass should go into the red. And they came down, they said, ‘No, I’m sorry, the equipment can’t stand it.’ So Mickie Most said, ‘Look, I’ve just made a record deal with your boss Clive Davis for $5 million and seven bands. And he’s given me $1m right now. So do you think if I phone him up, you’d give me a little bit more bass?’ And they looked at each other, and immediately realized that their jobs were on the line. They said, ‘OK, you’ve got more bass.’ We got more bass the needle went into the red, the equipment didn’t blow up. I guess next time they made that needle, they did that thing by just moving the red bit a bit farther to the right, like in Spinal Tap: ‘My amp goes up to 11!’

Well done Mickie and Donovan! It can be hard work this art business but, as this album demonstrates, it’s worth all the blood, sweat and tears…

Featured in my recently published Album Chart of 1966.

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