Friday, September 6, 2013

Song #344 of 9999 - Sunshine Superman by Donovan

Song #344 of 9999 

Title: Sunshine Superman
Artist: Donovan
Year: 1966
Album: Sunshine Superman

I'm always intrigued when I hear a song that uses the tried and true 12-bar blues progression in an interesting way. For those who are not familiar with the form it looks like this:
I / / / | / / / / | / / / / | / / / / | IV / / / | / / / / | I / / / | / / / / | V / / / | IV / / / | I / / / | / / / / |  
If it's still unclear, think about every 1950's rock and roll song you've ever heard ("Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog," "Rock Around the Clock," etc.). In this case, however, Donovan Leitch sets the chord progression over a slow not-quite-Latin chugga-chugga groove and layers of seemingly disparate instruments: upright bass, harpsichord, bongos and a slithery electric guitar that mimics the chromatic descent of the lead vocal. The first eight bars still sound so fresh and cool, reminding me of "Way Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits (another slow blues, but of the 16-bar variety) which wouldn't show up for another 20 years.

Leitch has a way with vocal harmony too, layering his droning nasal tenor on the line "cause I've made my mind up" before bringing it all together in a unison descending octave leap. It's a cool singalong moment and a perfectly executed hook. Surrounding himself with some slick session players, including Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and jazz drummer Bobby Orr, was a smart idea too. Perhaps not as adventurous or groundbreaking as "Season of the Witch" but definitely more fun to sing in the car.


  1. You know what? I never consciously noticed that this was a blues form. Maybe because I heard it as a faster 24 bars (but I recognize that it could be slow 12). 24 bars is still a blues though (Zep's "Rock and Roll" for example).

    Or maybe it's the way he sings two phrases over the first 8 bars (4 bars) of the chord. Or maybe his Scottish lilt threw me off. Or maybe I just missed it.

    Actually, I think is the fact that the melodic phrase he sings on the last 4 (2) bars of the I chord (after the V IV) is exactly the same as the phrase over the first two of the next verse. That ties the two verses together where you don't hear the repeat in the form. Adds to that slippery feel.

    And the form is abandoned for the solo section as well and the coda.

  2. I think there's a physical cut in the solo section. Sounds awkward to me. Makes me wonder if it was 12 bars originally and trimmed later.