They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Donovan Leitch was (and to many, still is) seen as the personification of hippy flower-power music. At one point he was pegged as “Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan.” He made his name writing sunny psychedelic pop, but his efforts and ambitions have gone far beyond that. After the initial string of folk-pop hits, most of which are genuinely remarkable, he’s gone on to do a wide assortment of things, often with some pretty prestigious collaborators, suggesting that there’s more to Donovan than just his hippy-dippy songs about love.
In his 68 years upon this earth, he’s collaborated with musicians as varied as Jeff Beck, The Happy Mondays, Alice Cooper, and Rick Rubin. He contributed the line “Sky of blue and sea of green” to “Yellow Submarine” and taught John the fingerpicking guitar technique used to such great effect on “Dear Prudence” and “Julia.” He’s appeared on the show Futurama. He’s gone on a speaking tour with David Lynch to promote Transcendental Meditation. His 1971 album HMS Donovan was a collection of famous children’s poems and tales put to music (not such a success at the time, it would likely be well-loved if released today). More recently, he put out the album Beat Café, with jazzy backing and a performance of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle.” Not to mention that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame this past February.
Seems like his birthday is a good chance to shine some sunshine on this very accomplished songwriter…
Buck Owens – Catch the Wind (Donovan Cover)
Often the success of a songwriter can be determined by the ability of the song to transcend genre restraints. The very sweet “Catch the Wind” is turned into a rolling country song and holds up beautifully. And Buck Owens knows a thing or two about writing a good song – he’s a member of the very exclusive club of artists the Beatles covered, thanks to “Act Naturally.”
Lou Rawls – Season of the Witch (Donovan Cover)
Beneath his soft voice, many of Donovan’s best songs clearly had soul. Lou Rawls makes that abundantly apparent with his organ driven funky take on “Season of the Witch,” a regularly covered song that never sounded quite like this before.
Eartha Kitt – Hurdy Gurdy Man (Donovan cover)
Ms. Kitt gets a little psychedelic on her cover of “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and it’s amazing. Her voice sends shivers through your arteries every time she says “love.” Seeing as it’s a Donovan song, there are plenty of opportunities for that to happen.
Rickie Lee Jones – Sunshine Superman (Donovan cover)
An ace at covers, Rickie Lee Jones always brings a unique take to familiar material. This jazzy go at “Sunshine Superman” is fun and funky and probably closer to what Donovan might do today.
No-Man – Colours (Donovan cover)
Copping the beat from Lou Reed, No-Man makes an interesting hip-hop influenced version of Donovan’s very sweet “Colours.” It’s a voice as soft as Donovan’s, but with a funky backing and a bit of violin. Seems pretty natural, as it turns out.
Bonobo Featuring Szjerdene – Get Thy Bearings (Donovan cover)
One of the more recent Donovan covers, Bonobo takes “Get Thy Bearings,” an early Donovan folk number, and with the help of Szjerdene he turns it into a beautiful jazzy down-tempo track. If Donovan never gives trip-hop a try (might be too late), at least we have a good idea of what it would sound like.
Plenty of great Donovan material available at his website.