Donovan – Sunshine Superman (1966): On Second Thought

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Armed with a guitar and a harmonica, Donovan entered the public eye amid the folk rock boom of 1965. The Scottish-born troubadour achieved quite an impressive feat that year, garnering attention with a trio of back-to-back solid brass singles. “Catch The Wind” and “Colours” were original compositions, while “The Universal Soldier” was a treatment of Buffy St. Marie’s anti-war anthem.

When folk rock gave way to freak rock in 1966, Donovan was properly prepared for the occasion. Although the singer-songwriter initially made his mark as a folkie, he was actually incredibly diversified, having dined on a diet of multiple musical cuisines, ranging from jazz to blues to pop to traditional rock and roll. Not only did Donovan embrace the incoming tide of psychedelia with ease, but he chipped in his own individual ideas – leading to a host of highly groundbreaking sounds.

That noted, Sunshine Superman – Donovan’s third studio album for Epic Records – concurrently responded to and expanded on the newfangled notions of the day. Bathed in exotic instrumentation and arrangements, the 10-track collection promoted world music before such a label even existed. Lysergic-laden poetry additionally wreaths the material, which harmonizes accordingly with the haunting and compelling contours engrained in the grooves.

Conceived of choppy rhythms, a burning hook and swinging guitar hoodoo, the title track of the album raced to the No. 1 spot late in the summer of 1966. Bearing lyrics about sunshine coming softly through a window, diving like a turtle for pearls, sitting on a velvet throne and the promise to blow your little mind, the tune stands as a classic of its hippy-dippy kind.

Powered by shaking tablas and hissing sitars, “Three Kingfishers” shudders with a spellbinding intensity, and “Season of the Witch” moves menacingly to a bluesy hard-edged rock pitch. Riddled with brain-bending sitar somersaults, the naval-gazing “The Fat Angel” name-drops Jefferson Airplane, who recently released their debut album and had yet to acquire transatlantic recognition. In 1969, Jefferson Airplane returned the favor by recording a version of the song which appeared on their Bless Its Pointed Little Head live project.

Elsewhere on Sunshine Superman, there’s the string-structured folk finish of “Guinevere,” the sprawling “Legend of a Girl Child Linda” and “The Trip,” which rustles and rumbles with craggy raga-rock flourishes. By dipping into the past and mixing Middle-Eastern, Indian and Celtic stylings with a fresh formula, Donovan fashioned an album that was equal parts quaint and futuristic. Gushing with enchanting and electrifying gestures, Sunshine Superman also reveals a sense of mischief.

In the beginning, Donovan was often dismissed as a minor-league Bob Dylan. But he proved critics wrong, with Sunshine Superman clocking in as a teasing taste of his imagination and creativity. Donovan kept right on churning out nuggets until the end of the decade, securing his position as an artist who played a major role in the music of the times.


Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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