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What’s Been Did and What’s Been Hid –Donovan’s debut album

5th July 2021

I often wake up with a song on my mind and have no idea what sparked the memory. Today I woke up with a whole selection of songs, all from an album that I have not heard in years, Donovan’s debut LP ‘What’s Been Did and What’s Been Hid’. It was released in 1965 and featured his first huge hit (and song that any guitar newbie learned at the time) Catch the Wind, and became a pretty special record in my life.

Donovan – An ongoing talent

The album was released shortly before Donovan left the Folk circuit to embrace Flower Power and Psychedelic Pop (of which I think he was king). When he started his string of ‘expanded-conscious’ inspired hits like Sunshine Superman and First there is a Mountain… my dream was to become a hippy but was too young, in the wrong country and soon to start high school.

It was when my grandfather visited us from the UK in 1966 and brought the brand new Donovan and the Paul Simon Songbook albums as presents for Gordon, my big brother, that my relationship with Donovan started. The local South African musical charts and offerings were quite dismal in those early years and to have music fresh from London was a pretty special thing.

Gordon soon worked out the chords and I copied out lyrics in my neatest handwriting and together we would sing nearly every song. These were the days when I started realising what harmony was about and would explore warbled vocal support, especially to Catch the Wind which was a simple octave jump to get results.

As popular as Catch the Wind was, it was some of the more obscure tracks that captured my 11-year-old imagination, and they are the tracks that are on repeat in my brain today. Firstly, In a bid to work them out of my system, and secondly because over 56 years they haven’t lost any of their impact. I do hope you’ll indulge me in today’s trip back to the mid-60s.

Many of the tracks on What’s Been Did and What’s Been Hid are reworkings and adaptations of other peoples songs, but there are a few exceptions and I am starting with one of them. Here’s Donovan’s smooth jazz/bluesy composition Cuttin’ Out.

Donovan had already started getting noticed on the folk circuit and by 1964 was being termed Britain’s answer to Dylan and became good friends with big names like Joan Baez, the Beatles and Brian Jones from the Stones and even has the honour of teaching John Lennon the finger-picking style that he used on Dear Prudence, Julia and Happiness is a Warm Gun. By late 1964 he was offered a recording contract with PYE Records and What’s Been Did and What’s Been Hid was released. Catch the Wind flew up the charts and Donovan’s name became fixed in music history.

My second song choice comes with a bit of an odd back story. I live in a small agricultural town and have a cattle stock yard less than a kilometre up the road. It is normally pretty quiet, but on the first Wednesday of the month the local farmers bring their cattle by the truckload to auction. The sounds of daily life are punctuated with the lowing of cattle waiting to be sold and transported to whatever fate awaits them.

You may wonder what this has to do with anything, but one of the most poignant songs on the album is about a calf being led to slaughter. The song is ‘Dona Dona’ and it was adapted from the Yiddish song Dana Dana that was written for the play Esterke produced by Aaron Zetlin in 1941. The song was covered by Joan Baez in the early 60s and re-covered by Donovan on his debut album.

You can normally find me walking my dogs past the stock-yards on the first Wednesday of the month singing this softly to the awaiting bovine clan.

Donovan’s music has endured over the years and he has continued recording and performing. His popularity during the 60’s and early 70’s waned with the emergence of punk and the jump into electronic wizardry. It was when the Rave scene emerged that we saw Donovan return to the limelight with the 1996 album Sutras and 2004’s Beat Café.

He has released 26 albums since that first release and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014. He keeps popping in and out of retirement and on 10 May 2021, the day of his 75th birthday, Donovan released the new track “I Am the Shaman”. The song is produced by David Lynch who also directed the accompanying video. It shows Donovan as what is almost a stereo-type Shaman and is a pretty strange offering – but what would you expect from David Lynch?

March this year saw the release of a new Donovan album, Lunarian, written and released to support his wife, Linda’s new book Luna Love. You can’t keep a good hippy down!

My final choice of song from the debut was a difficult one but I decided on a song about an important battle in American history, Remember the Alamois a song written by Texan folk singer and songwriter Jane Bower and details the last days of 180 soldiers during the Battle of the Alamo and names several famous figures who fought in it, including Mexican general Santa Anna and Texans: Jim Bowie, William Barrett Travis and Davy Crockett. It champions the Texans’ efforts against Mexico to establish an independent republic. The original song was resplendent with military drum beats and battle horns, but Donovan strips away all the extraneous noise to deliver a powerful rendition of the story.

Sometimes I’ll hear a Donovan song and be transported back through the years to a particular time of my life. Mellow Yellow, Atlantis, Season of the Witch and Guinevere are amongst the few songs of his that saw me grow from a confused kid to a confused adult, and I’m very glad they are. I think I’m the better for it.

Thanks for joining me for a bit of a trip into my youth. Catch you soon.

The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that does more than just share a song.

The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.

Words © Andrew Knapp 2021

Published by Loving the Music

I am a music-lover who has been fortunate enough to live through six-decades of ever-changing musical styles and genres. Loving the Music is my eclectic collection of regular music-related mini-features and whatever else tickles my musical fancy. You can also find me on the Loving the Music Facebook group and page. Happy listening - Andrew Knapp

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