A two-disc set spanning 1965-73, the newly released The Essential Donovan contains all of Donovan’s big hits. The singer-songwriter was one of 2012’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, which helps make the timing perfect for a fresh career overview. Many of the most memorable pop singles of the era are here, including “Sunshine Superman,” “Mellow Yellow,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and “Atlantis.”
Among the 36 tracks are four that are new to CD in the U.S. The included early take of “The Land of Doesn’t Have to Be” from 1966 boasts a deeper, slower groove and different lyrics than the 1967 version on A Gift from a Flower to a Garden. This version was available on a U.K. reissue of Sunshine Superman. Live versions of “Sunny Goodge Street” and “Sand and Foam” from 1967 also make the U.S. CD debut. Last among the rarer tracks is a 1973 live version of “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness).” These live tracks are actually rather superfluous and a few additional album tracks would have been preferable.
Strangely, this release touts “Sunshine Superman” as the “extended version,” but at three minutes and 15 seconds it clearly is not. At just over an hour of music, disc one had more than enough room to include the longer version. The four minute 30 second version is readily available on Donovan’s Greatest Hits. That budget-priced 15 track collection remains a great way for casual or new fans to acquire Donovan’s best known songs.
Truth be told, The Essential Donovan is skimpier than it needed to be. The 36 tracks total approximately 122 minutes of music. The 1992 compilation Troubadour – The Definitive Collection 1964-1976 packed in 150 minutes of music, also on 2 CDs. I’m not sure why Epic/Legacy, who also issued that earlier compilation, chose to leave both of these new CDs far from full. Troubadour presents the stronger collection with 44 songs, including rare demos and then-previously unreleased material supplementing the main package of hits and album tracks.
The Essential Donovan has some welcome new liner notes, including an essay by Anthony DeCurtis and some warm remembrances from other artists. Unfortunately, the notes lack information about which musicians played on the various songs. The music sounds great though keep in mind that most of the early singles are presented in their original mono mixes. Depending on the listener, that may or may not be welcome. Though it’s by no means a bad collection, The Essential Donovan could have been much better if the discs had been filled to capacity.