Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Season of the Witch" / Donovan

The thing I love about this track is, it's not what you'd expect from Donovan Leitch, the Scottish flower child -- fact is, it smoking rocks out. That guitar line is full of slouchy blues attitude, and Donovan wails away with gusto on the refrain, "You've got to pick up every stitch!" I've never had the slightest idea what he means by that (I flash to a baffling image of Donovan knitting a Fair Isle sweater), but by God, I love it.

I know people who consider Donovan a lightweight because of that fey quality in so many of his songs -- "Mellow Yellow", "Sunshine Superman," "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" -- but when this record came out in 1966, the rock world was careening straight for the Summer of Love, psychedelia was the flavor of the month, and Donovan took to it like a duck to water. There's something trancelike in these riddling repeated phrases, the hovering two-chord progression, the floaty syncopation. It makes me high just to listen to it.

"When I look out my window," Donovan starts out, with a campy sort of off-beat emphasis, "Many sights to see. / And when I look in my window, / So many different people to be." Heavy, man. The second verse offers more of the same mirrors-within-mirrors concept: "And when I look over my shoulder, / What do you think I see ? / Some other cat looking over / His shoulder at me." It's the sort of thing that can seem very profound when you're in a certain, well, chemically enhanced frame of mind. Best not to enquire too closely, though -- by the time he gets to the "rabbits in a ditch" and the "beatniks out to make it rich" lines, I'm not hung up on the logic any more; I know they're there just for the sake of the rhyme. The video to this would definitely include abstract iridescent color puddles spreading and mutating, like slides from biology class, or a reel of film burning up in the projector. Turn on the black light and strobes now.

Trust Donovan to embrace the hippie zeitgeist so totally that he makes it his own. "Season of the Witch" has a haunting minor-key edge, but thanks to its mellow loose-limbed rhythm, it never gets too eerie or disturbing. No bad trips here, man. This song doesn't sound dated at all to me; on the contrary, between that curlicuing guitar and the noodling organ fills, it just grooves away, uncomplicated, enthusiastic. Sure, there's a witch here, but a mystical Druid-type witch, not a scary toothless warty Halloween hag. Light a candle, draw a pentagram on the floor, and see where she'll take you.

Season of the Witch sample


Anonymous said...

It took Americans to let me hear a song by a Glaswegian - I never heard this track before Steve Stills, Mike Bloomfield and Al Koopers version on Super Session. A loooooong workout in that version.

I like Don's version, but for hsi harder tracks, I prefer Barjacabacal (or whatever it's called) and Hurdy Gurdy Man!


Concatelli said...

Great commentary, Holly! I love this song, and so many others by Donovan. His world-wise lyrics, his innocent-man/child delivery and that amazing, dynamic musicianship make this song as appealing today as it was the day it was released.

angela said...

I LOVE this song. Not as much as Hurdy Gurdy Man, but it's a close second. Psychedelia at it's best. With little funk thrown in. Great review. Gracias.