AMERICAN MASTERS PBS- PHIL OCHS THE,FULL DOCUMENTARY-WELL WORTH WATCHING “THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE”
PHIL OCHS BIOGRAPHY
Singer-songwriter, protest music
Phil Ochs’ songs are on par with his contemporaries: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger, as well as Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack.
Phil Ochs Biography:
Phil Ochs was born in El Paso, TX, in December, 1940. While studying journalism at the Ohio State University, he met and befriended Jim Glover, whose father was one of Phil’s mentors. However, after just three years at the University, Phil moved to New York City, where he quickly infiltrated the booming Greenwich Village folk music scene.
In 1964, he released his first record and, within two years, he had enough success to play to a sold out crowd at Carnegie Hall.
In 1967, he signed a contract with A&M Records, and began recording his fourth album, Pleasures of the Harbor. Pleasures was a bit of a departure, featuring more ornate arrangements and, as a result, was not received as well as his previous solo, acoustic efforts.
While traveling in Dar Es Salaam, Phil was mugged, resulting in the loss of the higher end of his vocal range. After returning from that trip, he seemed to go on a downward spiral, suffering from severe depression and anxiety. He committed suicide in 1976, at the age of 35.
Most of Phil Ochs’ music touches on some of the most difficult issues, raising important social and political questions. There have been two biographies written about him, and a number of tribute albums; his music continues to influence and inspire topical songwriters around the world.
“Draft Dodger Rag” – Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs live at Newport Folk Festival
© Robert Corwin
Phil Ochs was undeniably one of the greatest protest songwriters to have lived. This is only one of his great compositions, and it uses Ochs’ wry whit and humor to depict a soldier trying to get out of being drafted. Through the silliness of the lyrics, Ochs was able to paint a clear picture of the opposition to the draft so many men felt during the Vietnam war era.
I’ve got the weakness woes, I can’t touch my toes, I can hardly reach my knees / and when the enemy gets close to me I’ll probably start to sneeze
SOME WELL KNOWN PROTEST SONGS
“Give Peace a Chance” – John Lennon
At the end of his week-long “bed-in” in 1969 with his new wife Yoko Ono, John Lennon had recording equipment brought into the hotel room. There, along with Timothy Leary, members of the Canadian Radha Krishna Temple, and a roomful of others, John recorded this song. It was the height of the Vietnam war, and this song became an anthem of the peace movement that summer. It has lived on in its anthemic quality since then during peace movements all over the world.
Everybody’s talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism / All we are saying is give peace a chance
“People Have the Power” – Patti Smith
Calling Patti Smith a folksinger would surely upset fans in both Folk music and Rock circles. But her anthem, “People Have the Power,” is one of the most potent, lyrical, lovely protest songs I’ve ever heard. And it’s certainly a big part of what has taken her work to legendary status. Recorded in 1988, “People Have the Power” serves as a reminder that, as she sings at the end of the song, “everything we dream can come to pass through our union” including, presumably, a world without war.
I awakened to the cry that the people have the power / To redeem the work of fools upon the meek / the graces shower / Its decreed / the people rule
“Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation” – Tom Paxton
© Elektra Records
Tom Paxton is another one of those artists who has just penned song after song of exquisite empowerment and protest. His classic “Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation” was pointedly about being drafted to serve in Vietnam, but if you substitute any international conflict, the words still ring true. The song sings about being part of an escalation of troops, fighting a never-ending war, using force to proliferate peace: all topics as topical today (unfortunately) as they were when the song was penned.
Lyndon Johnson told the nation have no fear of escalation / I am trying everyone to please / Though it isn’t really war, I’m sending 50,000 more / to help save Vietnam from the Vietnamese
“If I Had a Hammer” – Pete Seeger, Lee Hays
Peter, Paul & Mary
This is one of those songs that has seeped so far into the public consciousness that it’s included in children’s songbooks. It’s a simple, easy song to remember. It so idealistic that people can’t help but sing along. Although this was a Pete Seeger composition, it’s most frequently linked to Peter, Paul & Mary, who helped popularize it.
I’d ring out “Danger!” / I’d ring out “Warning!” / I’d ring out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land
“War” – Edwinn Starr
Originally recorded by the Temptations, this song was popularized in 1970 by Edwin Starr. The Vietnam war was at the height of its conflict, and the peace movement was gaining speed. The song talks about war in general, not specifically the one in Vietnam. The lyrics raise the question of whether there must be a better way to resolve conflict.
War, I despise because it means destruction of innocent lives / War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes / when their sons go to fight and lose their lives
“I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore” – Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore album cover
Phil Ochs was one of the most prolific “protest song” writers on the scene in the 60s and 70s. This song takes the voice of a young soldier who is refusing to fight in any more wars, after having seen and participated in so many killings at war. It’s a poetic look into the inside of the ugliness of war, and a staunch claim for Och’s “War is Over” stance.
I marched in the battle of New Orleans at the end of the early British war / I killed my brothers and so many others, but I ain’t marching anymore
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone” – Pete Seeger
That Pete Seeger really knows how to write those protest songs. This is yet another classic by Woody’s protege. The simple recurring lyrics make it completely sing-along-able. The story is of the cycle of war, beginning with young girls picking flowers that eventually end up on the graves of their dead soldier husbands. The recanting of “When will they ever learn” is so pretty and catchy that it gets sung at peace demonstrations even still.