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Music Review: Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore

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1965 found Phil Ochs releasing his second album, I Ain’t Marching Anymore. Accompanied by only his own acoustic guitar, it showed a new maturity as it dealt with such topics as civil rights, labor struggles, and the escalation of the Vietnam War. Yet there was also a number of tracks that presented his sensitive side, which served as a nice glimpse into his private world of romanticism and sensitivity.

Overall this second album is a stronger release than All The News That’s Fit to Sing. The music is better and the lyrics have more bite. His vocals are also excellent as they have a clarity that was missing on his debut album. He had as well learned the use of phrasing to help put his message across.

Despite growing up in the Sixties and being a fan of Ochs, my favorite song is not one of his masterful protest or topical ones but rather his interpretation of the Alfred Noyes poem, “The Highwayman,” which he set to music. It's a love song of longing and death, showing his brilliance at fusing his journalistic and musical visions. I mentioned in another review that I wish he could have traveled in this direction more often as it was unique, moving, interesting, and entertaining. The poignancy of this song and similar tracks made for a nice counterpoint to the unyielding nature of his political agenda.

Two of his most enduring political songs would grace this album. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and “Draft Dodger Rag” became anthems of the Sixties anti-war movement. They would forever link Ochs to the radical left and place him outside of the musical mainstream. The first was the tale of a weary soldier, the second an amusing and bitter accusation of pro-war advocates who themselves refused to fight.

His most scathing song was “Here’s To The State Of Mississippi,” which criticized the lack of civil rights and the outright racism of the state. It remains a difficult listen today. Near the end of his life he would rework the song, retitling it “Here’s To The State Of Richard Nixon,” which proved that even during his last and unhealthy years he could still bite when necessary.

There were a couple other songs of note. “The Iron Lady” was an indictment of the death penalty. And “In The Heat Of The Summer” presents him at his passionate best.

I Ain’t Marching Anymore finds a healthy Phil Ochs at the top of his game. It would propel him to the forefront of the protest movement and remains a valuable look into the climate of the mid 1960’s.

 

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