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All the News That's Fit to Sing

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Album Review

Early on in his career, someone described Phil Ochs as a "singing journalist," and his first album, All the News That's Fit to Sing, represented the state of the art in topical songs in 1964. That presents a bit of a problem when listening to it today; Ochs's debut is so much a product of its time and place that it just sounds perplexing a few decades on. Remember Lou Marsh? Or William Worthy? Well, if you don't, the songs about them on this album may not mean much to you, and while the facts behind the Vietnam War, the Cuban missile crisis, and the civil rights movement are doubtless clearer in your mind, that only gives them a perversely nostalgic quality that hardly becomes them. And past the issue of topicality, All the News That's Fit to Sing captures Phil Ochs when he was still young and a bit green; his vocals are sometimes hesitant, his material is often a bit obvious, and the spare two-guitar accompaniment (Danny Kalb plays the flashier licks) is a bit too generically folkie for its own good. But Ochs' remarkable talent is still apparent despite the album's flaws; "One More Parade" and "Power and the Glory" are as striking now as the day they were written, "Too Many Martyrs" and "Celia" summon an emotional power that has outlived their topicality, and his adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells" proves his musical instincts were as keen as his lyrical ones. A flawed but engaging debut which points to the stronger work Ochs would soon put to wax.

Customer Reviews

Folk Protest Singing at its best

It is one of the more unfair facts of history that Ochs is and always has been relatively unknown compared to the much more famous Bob Dylan. Ochs' voice has a beautiful timbre that is beautifully shown off by the arrangements on this incredible album. Ochs' dry wit and sense of irony perfectly express the hypocrisy of the politicians of the Vietnam War era. Many of his songs continue to be covered as events like the Iraq War make his lyrics sadly just as relevant as they were when Ochs wrote them.

Songs such as Lou Marsh, Power and the Glory and Knock on the Door feature a haunting sound evoked by Ochs' subtle guitar playing paired with no more than Ochs' vibrato. The Ballad of William Worthy and Talking Cuban Crisis display a black sense of humour that is still relevant to the spin doctors of today's political era even if like me you are relatively unaware of the specific topical issues to which Ochs refers.

If you enjoy political folk songs, then this is one of the best albums you could buy. Even as a Gen Y, I became a massive convert as soon as a friend lent me this album.


Born: 19 December 1940 in El Paso, TX

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Phil Ochs is a figure both glorious and tragic who haunts the history of the 1960s folk revival and its aftermath. A topical singer and songwriter in the manner of Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie from the previous generation, he was forever in the shadow of Bob Dylan in terms of the recognition for his music; but unlike Dylan -- who, in retrospect, seemed to approach his work with overpowering facility and talent, but only occasional moments of definable dedication to the causes seemingly...
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