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Classic of the Week

November 03, 1994|JON MATSUMOTO

Phil Ochs

"I Ain't Marching Anymore" (1965)

Hannibal

"I Ain't Marching Anymore" is more than just a folk album. It's a vivid and moving sociopolitical document of America during the turbulent '60s. From the anthemic anti-war title track to the pro-civil rights "Talking Birmingham Jam," Phil Ochs' second album captures in stirring detail the emotions and issues that helped galvanize the American counterculture three decades ago.

Of course, it helps to be on the same political page as the leftist Ochs. The writings of this military-school-student-turned-journalism-student-turned-Dylan disciple don't allow much room for fence-sitting. Ochs wasn't one to pull punches or mince words. In the biting "Draft Dodger Rag," he puts on the shoes of an 18-year-old trying to avoid conscription during the Vietnam War. This rabble-rousing song is the album's wittiest:

. . . got a ruptured spleen and I always carry a purse,

I got eyes like a bat and my feet are flat. My asthma's getting worse.

. . . Besides I ain't no fool I'm going to school and I'm working at a defense plant.

But the nearly six-minute "Here's to the State of Mississippi" is the album's shining moment. Catchy and topical, this angry response to the murder of three civil rights workers is a cutting indictment of the racist policies and attitudes found in the deep South at the time. "Mississippi," Ochs implores, "find yourself another country to be part of."

A simply tailored album featuring nothing more than Ochs' vocals and acoustic guitar, it reveals the 24-year-old idealist's remarkable gift for enlivening issue-oriented songs with a strong sense of drama and heartfelt conviction. But Ochs, though an integral part of the celebrated Greenwich Village folk scene of the early '60s, never did attain Dylan's level of notoriety. Traveling in Africa in 1973, he suffered severe vocal cord damage during a mysterious assault. Three years later his life came to a tragic end when he hanged himself at his sister's house.

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