Friday, August 3, 2012

Donovan, dried banana peels and my intro to flower power.

DONOVAN-Mellow Yellow/Sunny South Kensington U.S. Epic 5-10098 1966
What we have here is a much treasured item from my childhood that I've managed to hang onto. Back in 1977 or so my friend was happy to share his dad's battered and forgotten 45's with me (though I'm not sure why they were so "VG" or "VG-", the singles were only 11 years old, my Embrooks 45's are that old and still in tip top shape! Guess his folks, like mine, weren't much on record care).  In my pursuit of all things British I came into possession of this.  My first Donovan 45 was a reissue on Epic's "Memory Lane" label where they'd paste two hits on a single with a suitably hippy flower label (see below).  My mind was blown and my little stereo (if you could call it that, a turntable that flipped down between to speakers and all folded up like a suitcase) played "Mellow Yellow" 24/7.  I played it for everyone.  My mother's eldest sister (my favorite aunt) was unimpressed (older and not a rock n' roll fan she remarked "I liked this better when it was "I'm Just Wild About Harry" intimating that Donno nicked it), most of my friends thought it was "weird" but this idiot son of a mom's friend (one of those awkward childhood things where two friends decided their children should be friends too) decided there was something to the lyrics and soon someone told him it was about smoking dried banana peels to get high.  Later on his mom complained to mine that she'd found banana peels under his bed that he admitted he was drying to "smoke like the song *****  ****** played me".  The older and wiser, savvy girl Pam up the street assured us it was about a vibrator ( I wasn't old or cheeky enough to ask Pam for a demonstration).  I decided I'd ask my Uncle Bill, who was married to my dad's only sibling (who herself had contributed a bevvy of 60's "British Invasion" 45's to my "cause").  He was a hip guy with wiry hair and a Fu Manchu, not unlike a 1968 Roy Wood.  He assured me that all of these were incorrect and that if I really liked the song it should be about whatever I wanted it to be about because "as way out as Donovan was he'd probably want it that way too". Fair enough!

Scan c/o

Well let's cut to the song . "Mellow Yellow" was Donovan's second U.S. single as the "new Donovan" having ditched his folkie, boho denim Dylan bit and got with it. Released in the States in October '66 (Britons would have to wait till February '67 to hear it due to some litigation issues) it rode the crest of new progressive British records that wasn't beat music and mop top haircuts, this was proto flower power. With some brilliant brass work care of the mighty arranging skills of John Paul Jones Donovan takes us on a trip that's one third Swinging London proto hippy, one third jazz/beatnik hipster and one third kiff cloud magic (magik?) as he sings in a laid back "couldn't-give-a-shit" tone. There's even a "guest" bit by Macca who can distinctly be heard uttering "yell-o" in the break in the bit where the sound of party revelry can be heard (from smoking too much dried bannana skins?) during the brilliant brass segment. Regardless of what it is about people here in the States dug it, heavily, and it went to #2 in the pop charts.

Another still from the great lost wiped from the BBC footage category

On the flipside we have the brilliant "Sunny South Kensington", one of my favorite Donovan tracks where he name checks Jean Paul Belmondo, Mary Quant and Allen Ginsberg whilst mentioning Cromwell Road and Portobello, all delivered in rapid fire beat poetry prose style singing.  The track is driven along by some kitschy harpsichord and a funky organ solo that fades into a groovy bit of bluesy ivory tinkling.

Both sides are available on the indispensable "Mellow Yellow" LP (also available in "deluxe" edition with alternate mixes, etc).

British pressing c/o

Hear "Sunny South Kensington":


C said...

That's a great tale, Mr Anorak Thing! The record player in a box, oh yes. And dried banana peels...? Vibrators...? who'd have thought? Unfortunately whenever I hear it now, even though I don't want to I can't help associating it with the phrase "yellow is mellow and brown goes down", the meaning/origin of which I'm sure you know. I don't *think* Donovan would have wanted it quite that way but who can say.

diskojoe said...

Great story Bill. "Mellow Yellow" was one of those songs that I remember hearing on the radio at lot when I was a mere tot, along with Georgie Fame's "Bonnie & Clyde".