Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Protest Singer

Phil Ochs
In 1964, support for the Beatles came from an unlikely place in the folk music world. On November 1 at the Village Gate in New York City, protest singer Phil Ochs invited friend and fellow folk musician Eric Anderson to the stage to sing "I Should Have Known Better." Most of the audience members thought Ochs was joking in choosing that song, and several added mock screams to imitate the semblance of Beatlemania.

John LennonOchs had just finished singing "In the Heat of the Summer," a song about the Harlem riots of 1964, which was on par with the seriousness (in terms of subject matter) of much of his material. The Beatles cover, however humorously delivered, did have a purpose for Ochs. After the song's completion, Ochs noted that he had sung it to demonstrate how protest and topical songs should be written, and that he strove to have the same high level of musical quality in the songs he wrote himself. "Now that's exciting music," he said. Elsewhere he said, in a response to a reporter's question, that "the Beatles masturbate their audience. But the music is great!"

Though Ochs traveled on tour to England in 1965, he would not meet John Lennon until 1968.

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