Phil Ochs

From Academic Kids

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Phil Ochs (1940-76) Photograph from the Michael Ochs Archives

Philip David Ochs (December 19, 1940 - April 9, 1976) was a protest singer (or, as he preferred, a "topical singer") of the early 1960s, perhaps best known for his songs "Power and Glory", "There But for Fortune", "Changes", "When I'm Gone", and "I Ain't Marching Anymore". He studied journalism at Ohio State University, but dropped out in his last year. He moved to New York City and became an integral part of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. He emerged as an unpolished yet passionate vocalist who wrote poignant lyrics about war, civil rights, labor struggles and other topics of the time. He described himself as a "singing journalist," saying he built his songs from stories he read in Newsweek. He can perhaps be described as a socially conscious patriot in the tradition of Woody Guthrie.

Ochs wrote many more songs than were recorded on his first three albums (All The News That's Fit To Sing (1964), I Ain't Marching Anymore (1965), and Phil Ochs In Concert (1966)), but these records contained some of his best work. Two traditional genres that Ochs contributed to in his early performances are the talking blues and the musical reinterpretation of older poetry, for example Alfred Noyes's The Highwayman and Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells. During this early period of his career, his friend Bob Dylan said "I just can't keep up with Phil. And he's getting better and better and better."

In his later studio albums (Pleasures Of The Harbor (1967), Tape From California (1968), Rehearsals For Retirement (1969), and the ironically titled Greatest Hits (1970)) he moved away from topical songs and experimented with ensemble and even orchestral instrumentation in the hopes of producing a pop-folk hybrid that would be a "hit."

The most popular tunes from these albums were "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends," "Chords of Fame," "Pleasures of the Harbor," "Crucifixion," and "Jim Dean of Indiana". None actually became hits, although "Small Circle of Friends" received airplay before being banned from many radio stations for suggesting (perhaps ironically) that "smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer". It was the closest Ochs ever came to the Top 40.

A lifelong movie fan, Ochs worked the narratives of justice and rebellion that he saw in films as a young man into his music. He was devastated when his onetime hero John Wayne embraced the Vietnam War with what Ochs saw as the blind patriotism of The Green Berets.

Ochs was profoundly concerned with the escalation of the Vietnam War. He traveled with Chilean folksinger Victor Jara and sang with Chilean President Allende before Allende's election and the pair's subsequent assassination in 1973. Ochs organized concerts to protest these Nixon-era developments, and re-recorded his old sarcastic song "Here's To The State Of Mississippi" as "Here's To The State Of Richard Nixon".

Intensely disappointed by his lack of commercial success and haunted by other personal demons — namely alcoholism, writer's block and depression — Phil Ochs hanged himself in 1976 after a long stretch of erratic behavior. After his death, it was revealed that the FBI had a 410 page file on Ochs.

His songs have been covered by Jim and Jean, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Teenage Fanclub, Ani DiFranco, Dick Gaughan, Eugene Chadbourne, John Wesley Harding, Eddie Vedder and They Might Be Giants among many others. Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon, in their album "Prairie Home Invasion," recorded a version of "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" with updated lyrics. Phil is also mentioned in the Dar Williams song "All My Heroes Are Dead," and the Josh Joplin Group recorded an eponymous tribute to Phil on his album Useful Music.



Main Studio and Live Recordings

Compilations and Other Albums

External links


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