Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the most endearing figures in '60s and '70s folk pop music: Donovan Leitch is 65. Back in the day, Donovan palled around with the likes of Brian Jones, Joan Baez, and John Lennon; he was an original hippie who played a major role in popularizing psychedelic culture and did a ton of LSD that, let's be honest, probably helped him write some of his best, weirdest songs, like "Mellow Yellow" and "Season of the Witch." (In 1966, he also famously became the first major British celebrity to be arrested for marijuana possession). Just this year, Donovan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His enduring songs, many of which became Top 40 hits when they were first released, have been covered by a range of artists over the decades; in honor of his birthday, here are some of the best Donovan covers.
Glen Campbell, "Catch the Wind": "Catch the Wind" was Donovan's first single, released in March of 1965. Since then it's been covered by everyone from Cher to Sammy Hagar, but I like the Rhinestone Cowboy's version, from his 1967 Grammy-winning album Gentle on My Mind, for reproducing the original's sweetness and gentle melody.
Hüsker Dü, "Sunshine Superman": 1966's "Sunshine Superman" was Donovan's only single to hit number one on the US Billboard 100. It's hard to top the ultra-catchy original, which featured Jimmy Page on lead guitar, but Hüsker Dü's version, off their 1983 debut Everything Falls Apart, makes a worthy go at it. They keep it short (just 1:56) and smarmy, exuding a whole lot of raucous spirit.
Eartha Kitt, "Hurdy Gurdy Man": 1968's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" originally featured a verse written by George Harrison and bass by John Paul Jones. In 1972, Eartha Kitt recorded and released a cover of "Catch the Wind" as a single; "Hurdy Gurdy Man" was the B-side. Her uniquely strange voice fits the oddball song perfectly. (Also of note: Viva Voce's version of the song, which appeared as a bonus track on the vinyl edition of their 2009 LP Rose City. It's not on YouTube, but it is on the band's old Myspace page).
Herman's Hermits, "Museum": The 1967 Mellow Yellow track "Museum" has some of Donovan's cutest lyrics ("'Meet me under the whale in the Natural History Museum,' I think that's what she said"). That same year, Herman's Hermits ably covered the song for their Blaze LP.
Sarah McLachlan, "Wear Your Love Like Heaven": "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" is the opening track from Donovan's 1967 double album A Gift from a Flower to a Garden. In 1991, a pre-stardom Sarah McLachlan recorded this lovely version and included it on the US version of her sophomore album, Solace. The next year, McLachlan's "Wear Your Love" appeared on the Donovan tribute album Island of Circles, which also featured contributions from the Young Fresh Fellows and the Posies.
Lindsey Buckingham, "To Try For the Sun": "To Try For the Sun" originally appeared on Donovan's second album, 1966's Fairytale. Forty years later, Buckingham recorded his gorgeous cover that highlights the song's intricate fingerpicking guitar parts and included it on his 2006 solo album Under the Skin.
Karen Elson, "Season of the Witch": 1967's "Season of the Witch" is my favorite Donovan song--it's so weird, and I love how Donovan sounds so nonchalantly creepy singing it. The song's been covered a lot; I like Luna's version, as well as Joan Jett's, but most recently I've been impressed by supermodel-turned-singer-turned Jack White ex-wife Karen Elson's version, which appeared as a B-side to her 2010 single "The Ghost Who Walks." (It also apparently was featured on an episode of True Blood, which explains all the nerdy comments under the YouTube video). Elson pulls off the song's haunting grandeur very nicely.