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Music Reviews

PHIL OCHS/FAREWELLS & FANTASIES (Electra/Rhino Records R2 73518)

“Farewells & Fantasies” is a 3-disc box set that presents a great overview of the recorded works of Phil Ochs, a singer/songwriter whose recording career began in 1964 and lasted until he took his own life on April 9, 1976. This collection was prepared with the blessing, and help, of the Ochs family as it includes an introduction by Phil’s daughter, Meegan Lee Ochs, and photos supplied by the Michael (Phil’s brother) Ochs Archives, which I’m told is the largest private music collection in the world. Surprisingly, there are only about a half-dozen previously unreleased tracks presented here. This would lead us to believe that there aren’t any other known recordings out there. Let’s hope some turn up eventually.

I won’t pretend that I understood Phil’s era, or the man himself. The fact of the matter is that Phil’s recording career began two years before I was born, and ended when I was ten years old. I probably never even heard one of his songs while he was still alive. I decided to write this review because what I do have is a long, strong interest in folk music and song writing. I’ve been listening to folk music for years and I’ve learned the importance that Phil’s songs had then, and the strange relevance that most of them still have today. Phil had a rare ability to write a pointed lyric, and put it to music, in way that made it stick in your brain. One listen to “Power And The Glory,” “Draft Dodger Rag,” “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” “White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land,” “The War Is Over,” or “There But For Fortune” and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Phil’s songs show us that he had very strong opinions about what was going on around him and wasn’t afraid to sing about those opinions. He believed that he could change the world with his songs, and tried to do exactly that. Sure, it was the sixties, everyone was trying to do that, so what made Phil Ochs any different? Phil was different because he knew how to tell a story, not just write a song. His songs contain more details, and are more descriptive and visual, than those of his contemporaries, including Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan’s song writing skills are phenomenal, there’s absolutely no disputing that he’s one of the greatest songwriters that has ever lived, but so is Phil Ochs. That’s reason alone for you to buy a copy of this great collection.

Fully understanding the sixties is something that’s impossible for anyone in my generation. We’ve been bombarded with so many twisted portrayals and imitation hippie crap, that has been completely stripped of the ideals of the time, (i.e. Woodstock ’94?) that a true understanding really isn’t possible. So don’t keep trying. The sixties are gone, and they aren’t coming back, no matter what any marketing effort tells you. The best understanding of that era can only be obtained by reading and listening to the products of that time. The songs of Phil Ochs should be an essential part of that research.