Phil Ochs

Pleasures of the Harbor

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Going into the studio after Dylan's move into rock accompaniment and Sgt. Pepper's vast expansion of pop music, Ochs wanted to make a record that reflected all these trends, and he hired producer Larry Marks, arranger Ian Freebairn-Smith, and pianist Lincoln Mayorga -- all of whom had classical backgrounds -- to help him realize his vision. The result was Pleasures of the Harbor, his most musically varied and ambitious album, one routinely cited as his greatest accomplishment. Though the lyrics were usually not directly political, they continued to reflect his established points of view. His social criticisms here were complex, and they went largely unnoticed on a long album full of long songs, many of which did not support the literal interpretations they nevertheless received. The album was consistently imbued with images of mortality, and it all came together on the abstract, electronic-tinged final track, "The Crucifixion." Usually taken to be about John F. Kennedy, it concerns the emergence of a hero in a corrupt world and his inevitable downfall through betrayal. Ochs offers no satisfying resolution; the goals cannot be compromised, and they will not be fulfilled. It was anything but easy listening, but it was an effective conclusion to a brilliant album that anticipated the devastating and tragic turn of the late '60s, as well as its maker's own eventual decline and demise.

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