Phil Ochs Musical and Lyrical Sophistication

While I keep finding more and more reason to find Phil Och’s songs almost eerily prescient about the contemporary situation (he died in 1976), I have written elsewhere about seeing him when I was a student in what we used to call Junior High (now “Middle School”), his Facebook group, and his mostly unexplored connection to the pop music of his day, the diary is actually an attempt (probably a poor one), to highlight his musical knowledge and sophistication. I am probably one of the last people in the world you would want to read talking about this, as I’ll  admit right now that even at my best, I was a poor amateur musician, and I know virtually nothing about music theory.


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Phil Ochs: Empathy, Beauty, and True Protest

One of the many things that has always struck me about Phil Ochs, was his remarkable capacity for empathy. “There But for Fortune” is the most obvious example (which I will address in another diary), but consider the following gorgeous, virtually encyclopedic, “The Flower Lady,” a meditation on self-imposed isolation, as if everybody—the rich and the poor,  artists and their art, men and women, the Left and the Right, the drunk and the dry, the young and the old—were so wrapped up in their own concerns, their own pain and suffering, that they don’t even perceive those in their midst that they could help and—at least in a small way—lessen the sum total of suffering in the world. I pick this version from a 1966 Montreal concert (there’s no video, just a still picture) because he sings all seven verses.

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Phil Ochs: The Rise and Fall of an American Idealist

Phil: Setting a Very High Ideal for Us All

In America at least, Phil Ochs was primarily known as a protest singer, and some of them were truly terrific. I think in part he wrote them because he had a very idealistic conception of America and of the American people.  That’s why I include this song, “The Power and the Glory,” which is the first song on his first album, as well as (I think) his last single. Towards the end, I believe he was consciously trying to recapture his earlier feelings of hope and optimism, as well as an intoxicating creative energy and productivity. In fact I basically look at “The Power and the Glory” as Phil’s attempt to write an early 60’s version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” Notice that a lot of responsibility is placed on the American people actively working to maintain their country as a morally upright and even empathetic nation.


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1966 Phil Ochs Concert Resurfaces. Phil, Are We Glad To See You.

Hardly a week passes when I don’t think, man, we could really use a new Phil Ochs album.

As of Friday, we’ve got one. Or, OK, the closest we’re going to get.

RockBeat Records, which specializes in digging up great vintage stuff, has released Phil Ochs – Live in Montreal 10/22/66, an 85-minute concert recording that includes 20 songs.


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Pat Wictor’s Vision of Phil Ochs

One of the most remarkable recordings that crossed my threshold in recent months is Pat Wictor’s This Is Absolutely Real: Visions and Versions of Phil Ochs. Keeping himself busy as a member of Brother Sun, it has been eight years since Pat last released a solo recording. As the trio prepares for their final tour in 2017, each member has been busy planning for the future. Greg Greenway released a solo CD in 2016, Joe Jencks just debuted his, and now we have this master work from Pat Wictor.

It would have been easy to select from the well-known setlist of Phil Ochs classics. The words of the legendary protest singer have become “standards” of the contemporary folk community since Ochs took his own life back in 1976. With the struggles we face in 2017, re-listening to the topical songs of a different era might have been welcome to some ears, but Pat took a different – and ultimately a more relevant approach.


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