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Music Review: Phil Ochs – Greatest Hits

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Greatest Hits was a last gasp from Phil Ochs. Recorded is late 1969 and released in early 1970, it would be his final studio album. Depression, prescription drugs, alcohol, and a lack of faith would lead Ochs to commit suicide on April 9, 1976. His final hurrah would be an appearance at a concert in New York’s Central Park celebrating the end of the Vietnam War on May 11, 1975. Performing before a crowd of about 100,000 people he would sing a duet with Joan Baez on “There But For Fortune” before closing with his own song, “War Is Over.”

Phil Ochs would have an influential career but there would be no hit songs. Greatest Hits would be an album of new material. The cover would show Ochs dressed in a gold suit playing the star like Elvis Presley. Inside he would refer to 50 Phil Ochs fans can’t be wrong, which again was a parody of the album Elvis’ Gold Records Volume 2: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.  

The backing musicians would read like a Who’s Who. Gene Parsons, Clarence White, Ry Cooder, Tom Scott, James Burton, Laurindo Almeida and many others would all contribute to this album. Old Brian Wilson cohort, Van Dyke Parks, would produce the affair. It all added up to a far different Phil Ochs release as he moved away from his folk roots and toward a country and rock sound.

Only one protest song is contained on the album. “Ten Cents A Coup” is a comedic skewering of Nixon and Agnew by way of praise and comparison.

“Jim Dean Of Indiana” was a tribute to James Dean but might as well have been a beautiful look into his own childhood which was a much simpler time both for him and the country. “Boy In Ohio” would follow the same lyrical path.

“Chords Of Fame” and “My Kingdom For A Car” would take his music in a country direction. Had he lived this may have been an interesting road for him to travel.

The final track was titled “No More Songs” and was like a door slamming on his career.

Phil Ochs legacy remains that of an uncompromising critic of the American establishment. Unlike Bob Dylan, he was never able to separate himself from his political agenda which would ultimately cost him his life. What is left behind is an often under appreciated catalogue of work that remains an important document of the mid to late sixties.

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