Phil Ochs left behind dozens of demos, primarily songs that he put down on tape at the West 104th Street Manhattan offices of Broadside magazine. These aren't really "demos" in the sense of showcasing the songs for possible recording; he was recording these so that Broadside's editors could print the lyrics. Thus, there are choruses left out, and there's a lot of noise on some of them (these were done in what was essentially a newspaper office), all in the name of getting the words down, as Ochs strums his guitar and runs through the songs in a semi-formal fashion. The material is classic Ochs, earnest and topical, yet also weirdly funny and eclectic -- doing songs not only dealing with racism and workers' rights, but also about blacklist victim John Henry Faulk and the then-current controversy surrounding a memorial to Alfred Packer, a mountain guide who was convicted of eating five people to survive in a blizzard. Some of the material is surprisingly lighthearted in its tone and execution, such as "Spaceman" and "Christine Keeler." Among the serious songs, "Remember Me" is one of the best pieces he ever wrote. The strangest moment here is Ochs' cover, in a duet with Eric Andersen, of the Beatles' song "I Should've Known Better," recorded in 1964 at New York's Village Gate. Like most other rock & roll bands of the time, the Beatles were anathema to the folk audience, and Ochs' willingness to do the song, even in a spirit of fun, is startling. Perhaps the most revealing performances here, however, are "The Passing of My Life" and "That's the Way It's Gonna Be," which betray feelings of deep melancholy that might have hinted at the self-destructive suicidal tendencies that ultimately ended Ochs' life.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder