Phil Ochs

All the News That's Fit to Sing/I Ain't Marching Anymore

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Phil Ochs' first two albums, April 1964's All the News That's Fit to Sing and February 1965's I Ain't Marching Anymore, along with the bonus tracks "Bullets of Mexico" (from the All the News That's Fit to Sing recording sessions) and an electric arrangement of "I Ain't Marching Anymore" first released as a single in the U.K. in 1966, make an excellent double-CD package in Europe-based Warner Strategic Marketing's series of reissues of the Elektra Records catalog. The albums are stylistically similar. On both, Ochs, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar (and joined on the first album by second guitarist Danny Kalb), performs a group of songs balancing stirring, anthemic political statements, tributes to heroes (Woody Guthrie in "Bound for Glory," John F. Kennedy in "That Was the President"), serious and sardonic reflections on issues in the news, and adaptations of poetry (Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells," Alfred Noyes' "The Highwayman"). Ochs' critics have sometimes missed the points of his topical songs by seizing on the passing nature of the specific incidents to which they refer. But 37 years or more later, it isn't necessary to know any more about William Worthy than is revealed in "Ballad of William Worthy" to appreciate the song's critique of U.S. State Department policy with regard to foreign travel, a critique that still holds. And Ochs' prescient attack on growing American involvement in the Vietnam War in 1964 has had repeated parallels in subsequent decades, while his observations about the civil rights struggle sadly remain relevant. For all the talk of Ochs as a singing journalist, he is really an editorial writer with a guitar, using news items to make broader points about issues ranging from union organizing to the death penalty. And he does so with biting wit and sharp observation. He may be at his best and most timeless when he aspires to the rhetorical heights of Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" in songs like "Power and the Glory" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore." But he is just as effective in using humor to make his points in "Draft Dodger Rag" and "Talking Birmingham Jam." These two albums may have turned into historical documents over time, but they continue to speak powerfully to the issues Ochs addressed, issues that in most cases had not yet been settled as of the early years of the 21st century.

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