Music Review: Phil Ochs - Rehearsals For Retirement
Written by David Bowling
Published February 20, 2009
The 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago marked the beginning of
Phil Ochs personal deterioration. Despite his biting songs of protest
and scathing attacks on the establishment, he always considered
himself a patriot and retained hope that a better America would
eventually emerge. That hope began to evaporate in the aftermath of
His musical reaction would be to release a bitter, dark, and deeply
personal album. Rehearsals For Retirement also moved him ever closer
to a rock 'n' roll sound and while he never completely crosses over
it helps to salvage the mostly depressing nature of this release.
Given his future, the album cover is chilling. It portrays a
tombstone with his name on it and while it was not meant to be about
his own death, the connection is obvious. He only produced one more
album of original material and would be dead within seven years. "My
life has been a death to me" are lyrics from the song "My Life,"
which is the last track on side one of the original vinyl release and
they are like a door closing which can never be re-opened.
"Pretty Smart On My Part," which leads off the album show the musical
direction that Ochs was traveling and is the highlight of the
release. His creative juices remain intact as he sings from the point
of view of a right-wing activist who plans to kill the president
among other things. The lyrics would become a part of his ongoing FBI
file. The song would have a rockish feel in spite of the sparse
arrangement. The bluntness of "I Kill Therefore I Am" is also made
palatable by the fusion of folk lyrics and rock music.
Things begin to deteriorate on the second side of the album. "The
World Began In Eden and Ended In Los Angeles" and "Doesn't Lenny Live
Here Anymore?" are a combined nine minutes of heartbreak, despair,
lack of hope, and depression. Except for "Where Were You In Chicago?"
the famous Ochs humor is mostly lacking and it is sorely missed as it
made his unyielding message accessible and palatable both to his
listeners and to himself.
Rehearsals For Retirement find Ochs poetry and ability to present a
message intact. It was his loss of faith that makes the album a
difficult listen. It remains an interesting re-action by Ochs as he
rants against the society and events beyond his control in the late
sixties. It is an album not for the weak at heart.
Music Review: Phil Ochs - Pleasures Of The Harbor
Written by David Bowling
Published February 17, 2009
In March of 1966 Phil Ochs released his In Concert album. It has
become a classic folk and protest recording. At the time it made him
a leading voice of the anti-establishment movement in the United
States. It was also his most commercially successful release as it
reached the Billboard National charts at number 150. All of this
added up to the Electra label dropping him from their roster of artists.
He quickly signed with A&M and in late October of 1967 released
Pleasures Of The Harbor. This was a different sounding Phil Ochs as
he strayed from a traditional folk presentation by adding strings and
piano while incorporating elements of jazz and classical music. It
was not the commercial breakout that he hoped for at the time but it
was as an interesting fusion of musical styles on his part and today
remains one of his most listenable efforts.
"Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends" would become one of his
signature songs. Apathy, murder, and parody are all present but they
are combined with a musical styling that runs counterpoint to the
message. "The Party" has a similar intent as it criticizes the upper
class but the song is played as if in a lounge and Ochs vocal is dead on.
"The Crucifixion" remains one of the most ambitious compositions of
his career. It traces assassination from Christ to Kennedy. There is
a beauty to the lyrics and music. If you want to hear a stripped down
and superior version of the song just check our There and Now: Live
In Vancouver where Ochs just accompanies himself on an acoustic guitar.
Several of the other songs are well constructed and contain superior
lyrics, but suffer from overproduction. "Pleasures Of The Harbor" is
a gentle song of searching by sailors who traveled from port to port.
"Flower Lady" is about being invisible to people as they pass by.
Pleasures Of The Harbor is the most modern sounding album that Phil
Ochs would produce. It also contains some of his most thoughtful and
beautiful lyrics and, in many ways, is more personal than political.
It is not the place to introduce yourself to his music but it is a
nice stop along his musical journey of life.
Music Review: Phil Ochs - Phil Ochs In Concert
Written by David Bowling
Published February 16, 2009
In Concert was the first album by Phil Ochs that I remember
purchasing as a teenager. Little did I realize at the time that a
number of tracks had been re-created in the studio due to the
defective taping of the concerts that were supposed to be used for
this release. Just how many tracks were recorded in the studio
remains open to question decades later. Nevertheless the album has a
live feel to it and his comments between songs are almost worth the
price of admission on their own. "John Wayne Plays Lyndon Johnson.
And Lyndon Johnson Plays God. I Play Bobby Dylan. A young Bobby
Dylan." And so it goes.
Despite the problems and questions, in many ways In Concert remains
his defining album. His passion and commitment to the protest
movement are self evident. Combined with his acoustic guitar
virtuosity and soaring vocals, it all adds up to one of the best folk
albums of the 1960's.
Bob Dylan's influence can be felt on some of the tracks. "Ringing Of
Revolution" is a call to the faithful and remains an anthem of the
protest movement. "(The Marines Have Landed On The Shores Of) Santa
Domingo" finds Ochs branching out into the narrative form of song.
Most of the tracks find him doing what he does best. "Bracero" is his
criticism of the wages and working conditions of immigrants. It can
only be imagined what he would think about this issue today. "Love
Me, I'm A Liberal" is another of his amusing but scathing attack
songs. "Canons Of Christianity" criticizes the hypocrisy of the
church. "There But For Fortune," which was a hit for Joan Baez, is a
song about comparisons and fate.
The oddest and most poignant composition on the album is "Changes,"
which is a straight love song and is a rare occasion of Ochs showing
a side of him removed from his political agenda. Given his body of
work it remains a gentle look into his personal life.
The final track on the original album, "When I'm Gone," could have
been used on his tombstone. It is a call for activism and a chilling
look into his personal future.
Given the state of the world today, Phil Ochs In Concert is worth a
listen as it deals with topics that are still relevant. It not only
remains one of the best statements of protest to emerge from the
sixties but shows an artist trying to make a difference while
creating some good music along the way which remains a rare combination.