Philip David Ochs ( /ˈoʊks/; December 19, 1940 – April 9, 1976) was an American protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, earnest humanism, political activism, insightful and alliterative lyrics, and haunting voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and released eight albums in his lifetime.
Ochs performed at many political events, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City's Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a "left social democrat" who became an "early revolutionary" after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot, which had a profound effect on his state of mind.
After years of prolific writing in the 1960s, Ochs's mental stability declined in the 1970s. He eventually succumbed to a number of problems including bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and took his own life in 1976.
Some of Ochs's major influences were Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Bob Gibson, Faron Young, Merle Haggard, John Wayne, and John F. Kennedy. His best-known songs include "I Ain't Marching Anymore", "Changes", "Crucifixion", "Draft Dodger Rag", "Love Me I'm a Liberal", "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends", "Power and the Glory", "There but for Fortune", and "The War Is Over".
Pleasures of the Harbor was Phil Ochs' fourth full-length album and his first for A&M Records, released in 1967. It is one of Ochs's most somber albums. In stark contrast to his three albums for Elektra Records which had all been basically folk music, Pleasures of the Harbor featured traces of classical, rock and roll, Dixieland jazz and experimental synthesized music crossing with folk, in hopes of producing a "folk-pop" crossover.
The best known track is "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends", a sarcastic jab at the apathetic nature of people in certain situations, at its base the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City (which numerous people witnessed, doing nothing to help), set to a Dixieland backing. The mention of marijuana in one verse was misinterpreted, and its release as a single failed to do anything on the charts as it was banned from radio play by many stations.
"The Party" savaged high-class snobs, with Ochs taking the role of a lounge pianist, observing the ridiculous nature of their gatherings. "Flower Lady" was a six-minute narrative about contrasting characters in the city, with each anecdote having one thing in common; everyone ignores the poor woman trying to sell her flowers.
"Pleasures of the Harbor", the title track, is a bittersweet dirge to lonely sailors seeking human comfort and connection while in port. Ochs composed it after watching a screening of John Ford's 1940 film The Long Voyage Home, which starred one of Ochs' movie idols, John Wayne. It features a lilting melodic line and what some consider to be an overblown film score-like orchestration (supposedly including a young Warren Zevon), a view which Ochs himself would later on come to share.
This recording of "The Crucifixion", which closed the album, was deemed a failed experiment by Ochs, as far as its avant-garde production experiment (by Joseph Byrd) is concerned. Lyrically and musically, however, many consider the song to be Ochs' masterpiece. Its ten verses compare John F. Kennedy and Christ, and explore the "cycle of sacrifice" where we build up our leaders into heroes so that we can enjoy tearing them down. The song is said to have brought Kennedy's brother Robert to tears when Ochs performed it for him a cappella in early 1968, months before the younger Kennedy's own assassination. All live versions of the song performed in concert featured Ochs alone, with just his guitar and voice, and one of those starkly beautiful live performances is on the posthumously released compilations Chords of Fame and Farewells & Fantasies.
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