I have to admit that getting through All The News That’s Fit To Sing was something of a chore. Were it not for the fact it was a Phil Ochs album, knowing what he came up with later, I probably wouldn’t bother with it at all. It seems to me an album made too early, lacking something of the stridency that is such an attractive part of his next couple of albums and makes the uncertainties of his later songs all the more heartbreaking.
Phil wrote a lot of songs prior to the recording of All The News…, almost certainly more than he would write after it. But that seems half the problem. It doesn’t quite feel like he ever really nails any one of them. Each one has something of interest, but not quite enough to make it worthy of serious consideration in the way that his later songs, from I Ain’t Marching Anymore onwards, most definately do.
I was thinking all this sitting on a train hurtling through Germany. It occured to me that I hoped that, much like Phil’s songs themselves, my writing about them would improve with each new album. I was, and I don’t perhaps need to admit this, a little down about much of what I have written so far – too much scratching around the surface and too little genuine connection. But then somehow that seems fitting. Much like the album, my writing about All The News…is just a start.
And then something lovely happened. Me and my girlfriend wandered into a record shop in Berlin – called The Record Shop appropriately enough – and while I ummed and aaah’d over some German 80’s pop singles I got called over. “Loook at this!”
And there was a… Phil Ochs section. A Phil Ochs section! There between Laura Nyro and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Ok, so there was only three LPs in it, but that’s beside the point. I left the shop thinking “That’s lovely, but I can’t afford it” only to return minutes later, grabbed the record and rushed to the counter, money first. Of course the lovely bloke who ran the shop hadn’t heard of Phil. I told him he was great and then did the thing I hate – “He was friends with Bob Dylan in the Sixties…”. Phil’s worst legacy, being remembered only in reference to Bob Dylan. Eurgh.
Anyway, I now own a copy of I Ain’t Marching Anymore on lovely old vinyl. I stared at it for ages in our hotel room. There was something terribly inspiring about it. The great cover photo (Phil sat amongst the messy sprawl of mid-Sixties U.S. politics), Phil’s epic-silly sleevenotes alongside Bruce Jackson’s more straightforward sleevenotes. It was exciting and interesting without even having listened to the darn thing! Phil’s prose writing always shocks me with just how much fun it was! No wonder he wrote for The Realist.
And then I got home and listened to it…I guess I need not say what effect it had because that’s what I’m going to write about over the next few months. But suffice to say, I fell in love with Phil Ochs songs all over again.
It was also a bit too expensive. But so what? It’s all in the past now anyway.