Remembering Phil Ochs, the "Singing Journalist"

Remembering Phil Ochs, the "Singing Journalist"

Phil Ochs was never Bob Dylan. Oh, he wanted to be Dylan, but ol' Zimmy booted that bastard right out of his limo.

"You're not a folksinger, you're a journalist."

If only Phil had accepted himself as "the singing journalist." After failing to find the commercial success he so desired, Ochs turned to pills and alcohol to find relief.

He still cared about freedom and liberty, traveling the world, rubbing elbows with true radicals and revolutionaries. But in the end he wanted to be Elvis, and no amount of gold suits and Beatles covers would make it so. On this day in 1976, Ochs took his own life, leaving behind a legacy to be sifted through.

Slowly, more and more people are discovering and appreciating Oches' music. His lyrics, while topical, contain timeless themes, you can always draw parallels as history continues to repeat itself.

So today, let's celebrate this man with five tributes to his music, because after all, "Fifty Phil Ochs fans can't be wrong!"

5. Kind of Like Spitting, Learn: The Songs of Phil Ochs Of all the artists on this list, perhaps none share Ochs's spirit more than Ben Barnett, the lone constant of Kind of Like Spitting. If you've been following underground indie music for the last two decades, then saying that Barnett is to Conor Oberst what Ochs is to Dylan just about clears everything up for you. It's fitting then, that Barnett released an entire album, with immaculate liner notes, to spread awareness of this lost singer-songwriter.

4. Ani DiFranco, "When I'm Gone" As one of three folk covers acting as the B-sides to 2000's "Swing" single, DiFranco brings her trademark mournful longing to a beautiful cover of one of Ochs's more introspective pieces. Sparse and solitary, yet affirming and resolute, the melancholy clouding his mind is apparent through the lyrics, regardless of whose voice is delivering them. He had a job to do, even if he wasn't feeling particularly up to it.

3. They Might Be Giants, "One More Parade" TMBG's John Linnell's distinctive nasal delivery is nearly a dead ringer for Ochs' warbling tenor (once panned by legandary music critic Robert Christgau). If it weren't for the ever-present klezmer vibe, the two versions might be indistinguishable. And the absurdity of a war march as a parade fits perfectly with the Giants' subversively smart quirk.


2. Joan Baez, "There But For Fortune" Baez was one of Ochs' contemporaries, and perhaps one the best-known and beloved at that. Baez's cover charted in the States and went Top 10 in the UK, it was the closest Ochs ever got to the big-time success he so craved. It is said that Ochs bared his humanity most openly on this track, and in the wake of his death it reads almost as an autobiographical statement.

1. Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" There is no better tribute to Ochs's cunning wit and biting satire than Biafra and Nixon's constant updating of this underrated classic. Biafra has changed the lyrics to reflect the Clinton, W. and Obama eras. It's heartbreaking to think that just two years after his death the Dead Kennedys would emerge. Just imagine what could have happened if Ochs had joined forces with Biafra...

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