Saturday, 4 September 2010

Phil Ochs Sings for Broadside: Review

Phil Ochs Sings for Broadside, a cash-in LP release following Ochs' death in 1976, possessed a title that was only partially correct. In reality, only half of the songs were of Phil Ochs singing for Broadside magazine; the other half were in fact sung for a U.S. politician. According to the liner notes, the story went as follows:

Some time before Phil Ochs died April 9, 1976, in Far Rockaway, NY, he gave a benefit concert for Broadside. He brought us about $500. He also had the concert taped and he turned the tape over to us with the suggestion we make an LP Album out of it. "Let's give 'em one more broadside," he said. (It took us some time to realize that there was a certain tone of finality in this remark.) We played the tape and commented "there's not enough material on here to make a whole album and, besides, some of your best and strongest songs are missing." Phil laughed and pointed out "Look, you've got other tapes of mine. I don't think there's a single song I ever wrote that I didn't tape for you. Just splice on what you want. It's all yours. Have Moe Asch put it out."

The benefit concert in question actually took place in October 1974 for Ramsey Clark, who at the time was running for the U.S. Senate. That makes most of the paragraph a fabrication, with the exception of the correctly noted date and place of Ochs' passing. Why the fictitious story? Broadside magazine's founders, Sis Cunningham and Gordon Friesen, perennially strapped for cash according to their autobiography, Red Dust and Broadsides, were no doubt looking for a quick way to profit on their extensive Ochs archive of recordings. They followed this LP later that year with the Interviews with Phil Ochs LP, then in 1980 with The Broadside Tapes 1, when Michael Ochs stepped in and put a stop to any further Folkways releases bearing Phil Ochs' name (hence there never was a second volume of Broadside Tapes).

As to the content of the LP itself, the full Ramsey Clark concert is available in similar or better quality elsewhere (though only unofficially), but Phil is in fine form and it provides a rare glimpse into his latter day shows, which official CD releases have studiously steered away from. The remainder of the album is filled with rare Broadside demos - so rare in fact that the LP remains the only place to find recordings of "United Fruit" and "On Her Hand a Golden Ring," as the songs were spliced out of the original tapes during the making of the LP.

An interesting note of trivia: this LP was evidently picked up by The Clash, who in 1980 on their album Sandinista! released "Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)," which borrowed some lyrics from "United Fruit."

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