October 2017

The Many Colors of Donovan

Our October 2017 Icon started out as a folk singer but quickly began exploring a variety of other styles.

When he first emerged on the British music scene in 1965, Donovan owed an obvious debt to American folk sensation Bob Dylan. You can hear that influence in his somewhat nasal singing on two early hits, “Catch the Wind” and “Colours.” You can also see it: In both of these clips, Donovan’s using a rack to hold his harmonica, just as Dylan did during this time. And for “Catch the Wind,” he wears a cap that closely resembles the one Dylan wore on the front cover of his 1962 debut album.

Within a year, Donovan had moved on stylistically to a sound that incorporated hints of jazz, early 20th-century British music hall songs, and what was just beginning to be called rock (as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll)—a push toward greater sophistication that mirrored what his contemporaries the Beatles were doing at the same time. His live performance style changed as well. From this point on, he would often sit cross-legged on a carpet in concert, as Indian classical musicians do, and his dress sense became more colorful and outlandish. That’s all very much evident in the next clip, a solo acoustic version of 1967’s “Mellow Yellow.”

As the ’60s wore on, elements of harder rock, as well as Indian music, began appearing in Donovan’s work. The drony 1968 hit “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is an excellent example of this.

In the 1970s and beyond, Donovan returned to his acoustic roots—and showed that he still had a knack for penning haunting folk ballads such as this one, “Sailing Homeward,” originally released in 1973. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014, Donovan continues to perform his music around the world.