Donovan was a highly derivative artist. He always appeared to be jumping on the latest stylistic bandwagon, be it commercial folk, folk rock, protest music, pop-psychedelia, the singer-songwriter vogue, or even heavy metal. Nevertheless, his popularity was not unwarranted; he was an extremely gifted composer and projected considerable sincerity and warmth both live and on record.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he relocated to London with his family at age ten. Following a year of college, he attempted to break into the music business by recording demos of his material. These recordings would enable him to land a regular slot on the British rock TV variety show, Ready Steady Go, in early 1965. The program provided a springboard to the U.K. pop charts.
Donovan’s British recordings, combined with an appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, laid the groundwork for commercial success in America. Following the acoustic-flavored hits, "Catch the Wind" (Hickory 1309; 1965; #23), "Colours" (Hickory 1324; 1965; #61), and "Universal Soldier" (Hickory 1338; 1965; #53), Donovan—under the sure hand of producer Mickie Most—began recording more rock-oriented songs. His chart singles—most notably, "Sunshine Superman" (Epic 10045; 1966; #1), "Mellow Yellow" (Epic 10098; 1966; #2), "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (Epic 10345; 1967; #5), and "Atlantis" (Epic 10434; 1969; #7)—and albums—Sunshine Superman (Epic 26217; 1966; #11), Mellow Yellow (Epic 26239; 1967; #14), A Gift From a Flower to a Garden (Epic 171; 1968; #19), Donovan in Concert (Epic 26386; 1968; #18), The Hurdy Gurdy Man (Epic 26420; 1968; #20), Donovan’s Greatest Hits (Epic 26439; 1969; #4), Barabajagal (Epic 26481; 1969; #23), Open Road (Epic 30125; 1970; #16), and Cosmic Wheels (Epic 32156; 1973; #25)—featured a diversified palette of instrumental colors and mystical lyrics. Much of his flower-power aura derived from his conversion in 1967 to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s brand of meditation—as opposed to drug use—as a means of mind expansion.
When the hits stopped coming, Donovan shifted his attention to scoring films, including If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium (1969), The Pied Piper (German, 1972), Tangled Details (animation feature, 1973), and Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973). He also composed a theatrical revue, 7-Tease (1975; a hard-rock soundtrack was issued in 1974) and published a volume of poetry, Dry Songs and Scribbles, while touring and recording sporadically. In the early 1990s, the Manchester band, Happy Mondays, helped revive interest in his work; however, real commercial success has continued to elude him. To many of today’s youth, he is best known as the father of actress Ione Skye (Say Anything, River’s Edge) and actor Donovan Leitch, Jr.
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