Check out this list of my five favorite tunes from Phil Ochs. Listen to the playlist on Spotify.
1. “Bound for Glory” (“All the News That’s Fit to Sing” 1964) : A tribute to Woody Guthrie
This song is a lovely tribute to Woody Guthrie, who greatly influenced Phil Ochs and many folk singers of Ochs’ time. He details the life of Woody Guthrie, telling the story of his travels across the United States. He talks about the inspiration that motivated Guthrie’s song writing such as, the dust bowl, standing up for union rights and promoting social equality.
2. “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” (“I Ain’t Marching Anymore” 1965): A Civil Rights Song
Following a visit to the state of Mississippi during the summer of 1964, Phil Ochs wrote “Here’s to the State of Mississippi.” He was moved to write this song after the things he saw and experienced during his visit. During this time, Mississippi had become the symbol of racism in the South. The state had a reputation for being the most racially divided and its leaders were among the most oppressive against black communities. He outlines some of the reasons why the state has such a reputation, from unpunished, secret crimes of police and government against blacks to failing school systems.
3. “Outside a Small Circle of Friends” (“Pleasures of the Harbor” 1967): A Condemnation of Social Apathy
The basis for this tune’s lyrics involves the story of five scenarios in which a community had a chance to stand up for someone, but no one did. The scenarios include the murder of a woman on the street, while neighbors ignore her cries, a car crash in which a car is hanging on a cliff, people living in poverty, a man who is jailed for publishing a pornography magazine and a man who is jailed for marijuana. This is indicative of Ochs’ “stick it to the man,” spirit, and his “wake-up society!” message.
4. “The Party” (“Pleasures of the Harbor” 1967): A Jazzy Stick it to Socialites
There’s a lot of satire in this song. A wonderful window into the humor of Ochs’ mind, this song takes you on a tour of a socialite party where he is the pianist. This is a very different sound for Ochs, there’s no guitar, only a jazz and lounge music feel. The lyrics paint an incredibly engaging picture taking you into Ochs’ outside perspective. He points out the things that are all wrong with this culture such as, appearing to be what you’re not, being vain, and senseless competition among peers. He makes his point by describing traits of certain characters at the party. This song resonates with me personally as I grew up in suburban community in which I never did and never would belong. However, my parents taught me to be proud of who I am and to be myself. I never bought the act I was surrounded with every day, so I did a lot of watching from “the outside” too.
5. “Love Me I’m a Liberal” (“Phil Ochs in Concert”1966): Calling Out Fiberals
We could really use Phil Ochs nowadays. This song may be truer now than ever before. Ochs sings about different political scenarios in which a liberal stands by what they say when it’s convenient. However, when the situation affects the liberal personally, or is too controversial they’re out of sight.
It seems like a trend to be on the liberal side nowadays. Sometimes it feels like everyone’s a liberal, but a lot of trendy liberals have never done anything beyond agreeing with a popular opinion or a post on social media.