Phil Ochs Gordon Friesen - Essay

Gordon Friesen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bob Dylan is 21, Phil Ochs 22, Mark Spoelstra 23, Len Chandler and Tom Paxton 25, and Peter LaFarge is the oldest of the bunch at 32…. Besides their youth they have another thing in common: they belong to a whole new school of topical songwriter-performers that has emerged in American this past year or so and is today at a peak of song production. Much of their work is of a surprisingly high artistic quality, and according to some critics may be superior as music and poetry to anything of this nature we have witnessed before. (pp. 12-13)

[It] must be said here that they are by no means just topical songwriters. Actually, they are in the main extraordinarily gifted and versatile….

[Above] all, these are keen-minded young men greatly concerned with the world around them….

They all share basic similarities. They are unafraid of "controversial" ideas and are determined that what they say shall be heard. Although each has his own individual style, their music—as well as their uninhibited approach to subject matter—is deeply grounded in American folksong. They are artists, and when they tackle such issues as peace and integration what comes out are not cliches, but good poetry which hits you where you aren't looking. (p. 13)

Ochs gets most of his songs straight out of the day's headlines ("William Worthy", "The A.M.A.", "Ballad of Oxford, Mississippi"). His lyrics are blunt and his wit razor sharp. (p. 16)

American music will never be quite the same again. The June-moon-croon-spoon days are gone. Something new has been added. (p. 23)

Gordon Friesen, "Something New Has Been Added," in Sing Out! (© 1963 Sing Out! Magazine, Inc.; 505-8th Ave., NY, NY 10018; excerpted with permission), Vol. 13, No. 4, October-November, 1963, pp. 12-13, 16, 23.∗

This young topical songwriter and singer [Phil Ochs] uses "all the news that's fit to sing"…. Ballads about situation in Cuba, Laos, Viet-Nam, to talk blues of automation and AMA, show versatility in his song range.

Ochs sings an eloquent tribute to late JFK, and song of pure poetical lyrics of present times, "There But For Fortune." He has put a few poems to music, and result is very listenable. His power is in awareness of the world situation and ability to express it with both humor and wit in musical verse.

"New Acts: Phil Ochs," in Variety (copyright 1964, by Variety, Inc.), February 26, 1964, p. 77.