Donovan – Sunshine Superman (1966)

Sunshine Superman is the third album from British singer-songwriter Donovan. It was released in the US in September 1966, but was not released in the UK because of a contractual dispute. Whilst still incorporating folk music, these recordings mark a distinct change in Donovan’s music, representing some of the first psychedelia released. A full rock band backs up Donovan on many of the songs, and the instrumentation had been expanded, being one of the first pop albums extensively to use the sitar and other unique musical instruments. This change is partially the result of working with producer Mickie Most, whose pop sensibilities led to chart hits for many other artists at the time.

Donovan’s lyrics began to encompass his increasing ability to portray “Swinging London” and give listeners an insider’s look into the mid-sixties pop scene. He was close to The Beatles and Brian Jones at this time, and he became widely known after “Sunshine Superman” became a chart-topper in the US, and hit number 2 in the UK. Donovan’s penchant for name-dropping in songs such as two influenced by his travel to Los Angeles, “The Trip” and “The Fat Angel” (written for Cass Elliot) coupled with his chart success helped elevate him to superstar status. In addition to noting the people in the pop scene, Donovan recorded “Bert’s Blues” for his friend and folk music notable Bert Jansch.

Contrasting this modern bent was Donovan’s fascination with medieval themes in such songs as “Legend of a Girl Child Linda” (written for Brian Jones’ girlfriend Linda Lawrence) and “Guinevere”.

Several other songs were recorded for Sunshine Superman, but did not make the cut. These include “Museum” (later rerecorded and released on Mellow Yellow), “Superlungs My Supergirl” (later rerecorded and released on Barabajagal) and “Breezes of Patchulie” (originally called “Darkness of My Night” and released on Donovan’s 1964 demo collection Sixty Four). The Sunshine Superman recordings of these songs were all included on Troubadour The Definitive Collection 1964–1976.

In 2017, Sunshine Superman was ranked the 199th greatest album of the 1960s by Pitchfork.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “Sunshine Superman” 3:15
2. “Legend of a Girl Child Linda” 6:50
3. “Three King Fishers” 3:16
4. “Ferris Wheel” 4:12
5. “Bert’s Blues” 3:56

Side two
No. Title Length
6. “Season of the Witch” 4:56
7. “The Trip” 4:34
8. “Guinevere” 3:41
9. “The Fat Angel” 4:11
10. “Celeste” 4:08

Review: Paced by the title track, one of Donovan’s best singles, 1966’s Sunshine Superman heralded the coming psychedelic age with a new world/old world bent: several ambitious psychedelic productions and a raft of wistful folk songs. Producer Mickie Most fashioned a new sound for the Scottish folksinger, a sparse, swinging, bass-heavy style perfectly complementing Donovan’s enigmatic lyrics and delightfully skewed, beatnik delivery. The two side-openers, “Sunshine Superman” and “Season of the Witch,” are easily the highlights of the album; the first is the quintessential bright summer sing-along, the second a chugging eve-of-destruction tale. The rest of Sunshine Superman is filled with lengthy, abstract, repetitive folk jams, perfect for lazy summer afternoons, but more problematic when close attention is paid. Accompanied by acoustic guitar and a chamber quartet, the second track, “Legend of a Girl Child Linda,” plods on for nearly seven minutes, Donovan’s hippie-dippie delivery rendering “lace” into “layyyzzz.” After that notable low point, he performs much better, tingling a few spines with his enunciation on the ancient-sounding folksongs “Guinevere,” “Three King Fishers,” and “Ferris Wheel.” Elsewhere, he salutes the Jefferson Airplane on “The Fat Angel” and fellow British folkie Bert Jansch on “Bert’s Blues.” Donovan’s songs are quite solid, but Mickie Most’s insistence on extroverted productions (it would grow even more pronounced with time) resulted in a collection of songs that sound good on their own but aren’t very comfortable in context. — John Bush

Schill Score: 8/10

Listen to Album on Spotify

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