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Phil Ochs

My new obsession is Phil Ochs, an American protest singer from the 1960s. About a month ago I was listening to the “Prairie home invasion” album by Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon and I noticed that the song “Love me I’m a liberal” was originally done by Phil Ochs. Logically, being an amazing song, I looked Phil Ochs up on youtube to hear what he sounds like. The first song that came up was “I ain’t marching anymore”. I was instantly hooked. Being totally unfamiliar with American folk music, of which Ochs is an ambassador, I was fascinated. At the same time it felt extremely familiar. After I found the entire album and listened it a few times I realised why it sounded so familiar. Bad Religion is, basically, Phil Ochs with added electric guitars and drums. The melodies are shockingly similar to Bad Religion, as is his voice to Greg Graffin’s voice. Many of the rhythmic parts of his guitar are the same tempo as Bad Religion’s faster songs. Of course, the fact that Graffin is a fan of American folk music is not a secret. A few years ago he released his second album of folk tunes.

As I write this post, Phil Ochs’s album “I ain’t marching anymore” has become one of my all time favourite albums. The lyrics on almost all the songs are very literal. Despite the lack of metaphor, which constitutes a big part of the beauty of poetry, his lyrics are not lacking in beauty and power. His messages are loud and clear and they are about injustice, human suffering and each individual’s responsibility to make a positive change. These messages are delivered with Ochs’s warm and beautiful voice accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. Consequently, most songs are emotionally charged and can offer a very powerful experience, in terms of “cultivating the soul”, to the listener.  “Here’s to the state of Mississippi“, the last song on the album, is one of the most beautiful songs and probably my favourite on the album. The first reason I love it so much is because its melody line and structure caught me off guard. Not being familiar with this kind of music, I initially found the way he starts singing each verse as well as the transition from verse to chorus very strange. The second reason I think this song is amazing is the lyrics. Lyrically it deals with racism in the state of Mississippi. It eloquently shifts from personal responsibility,  to education, jurisdiction, police, political leaders and religion and their role in perpetuating racism.

On the brilliant song posted here, Phil Ochs talks about the murder of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist, by a member of the KKK on the 12th of June 1963. Phil Ochs took his own life on the 9th of April, 1976.

7 Comments so far
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Try the album “Pleasurers of the Hatbor”!

Comment by william Curtis

“Pleasures of the Harbor”

Comment by william Curtis

Hey William, thanks! I will definitely check it out. I’m taking it slow… still enjoying the “marching” album as it is very new to me 🙂

Comment by lentil81

Nice post! What makes him different to other spoken word/folk music artists of the same era in your opinion?

…sorry, I still can’t hear the resemblance to Bad Religion!

Comment by pachoi chom pachoi chom chom

Glad you liked it 🙂 I don’t know much about other artists of the same era. I guess, if I compare him to Bob Dylan, then Phil Ochs is less pompus and also has an amazing voice 🙂 If compare him to Pete Seeger, I would say that Phil Ochs is much more lyrical.

Comment by lentil81

Glad you have found Phil. He was one of the best songwriters America has yet to produce.

Comment by celebratingphilochs

Thanks for your comment! I just checked your blog out and it looks great!

Comment by lentil81

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