Artsy-craftsy types might find connect-the-dot album covers to be a bit stultifying — where’s the creativity? Connect these dots – and in this precise order, commands the album cover. Sorry, I prefer to make my own decisions.
One Donovan album I have had a hard time finding in second-hand shops is one that tickled my brain as a youngster with its D-I-Y concept: Inside the gatefold of 1973’s Cosmic Wheels, as the Unofficial Donovan website points out, “there’s a copy of The Flammarion woodcut (an anonymous wood engraving) with the note, ‘Get your cosmic crayons, kids, and colour in’.”
Black & white gatefold cover for Donovan’s 1973 album, Cosmic Wheels
With a bit of grit and a modicum of talent, you, too, can transform this monochromatic image into a dazzling cosmological work of wonderment. Clearly, no half measures will do — full and total commitment is required the moment your colored pencil is pressed into service:
Hard to believe that Cosmic Wheels hit the Top 30 on this side of the Atlantic [20 weeks on Billboard‘s album chart, peaking at the #25 position], given the challenge of locating a used copy. An edited version of “I Like You” from Cosmic Wheels would reach #66 in the US and became the last charting single Donovan would have. Billboard‘s “From the Music Capitals of the World” column reported in their April 14, 1973 edition that “Gramophone Record Company held an unusual promotion announcing the new Donovan album, Cosmic Wheels, with a slide and music presentation at the Johannesburg Planetarium.”
Thanks to brother Bryan for pointing out the quality of musical personnel who helped bring these songs to life: Chris Spedding, John ‘Rabbit‘ Bundrick, Cozy Powell, Alan White, Jim Horn, Bobby Keys, Phil Chen, and even Suzi Quatro, among others.
In a bizarre artistic move, Donovan Leitch would release the most scatological recording ever associated with almighty Columbia Records, “Intergalactic Laxative” — a song that would almost certainly incur fines from the FCC if played on radio, even today. I had originally intended to feature this album track (and B-side) as an oddball Dr. Demento-like selection … until I actually heard the song. But since I’m trying to run a clean website, regrettably I must go with the A-side instead:
In this black & white solo performance, Donovan tells us that “Celeste” is just a “pretty girl’s name” — but I respectfully disagree. I find Donovan’s original 1966 studio recording “Celeste” to be a particularly effective one in capturing a certain incipient sound (and let’s be honest, I think much of it has to do with the mellotron) – the sound, in fact, of 1967, albeit one year early in order to same time:
“Celeste” Donovan 1967
Sure enough, as one would hope, given the song’s title, an actual celeste makes its appearance around the 2:06 mark. Unlike a piano, the celeste (also known as celesta) employs its hammers to strike metal keys, not strings.
celeste by Mustel of Paris
Despite the song’s strong commercial potential (in my humble opinion), I have to say I am a little surprised to see “Celeste” remain solely an album track but with one interesting exception: “Celeste” also enjoyed release on a Sunshine Superman EP – but only for the German market.
Also worth noting: Scott (“Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair”) McKenzie released his own version of “Celeste” as the B-side of the uplifting and affirmative, “No, No, No, No, No.”
The Celeste in Rock, Pop & Soul: Not Just for Symphonies
When I read Ray Charles’ memoir (his collaboration with David Ritz), I remember my brain being tickled by the fact that Charles played a celeste – a “serious” instrument more commonly associated with an orchestra – on one of his earlier jazz-inflected blues from 1949, “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.” This blog piece about Donovan’s psych pop classic, “Celeste” got me to thinking: what other rock, pop, jazz and soul tunes have also utilized the services of a celeste? Here’s a short, though by no mean definitive, list —
"Basin Street Blues" Louis Armstrong's Hot Five 1928
"I'll Never Smile Again" Frank Sinatra 1940
"Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand" Ray Charles 1949
"In the Wee Small Hours" Frank Sinatra 1955
"Everyday" Buddy Holly 1957
"Wurlitzer and Celeste" Sun Ra 1964
"Baby It's You" The Beatles 1964
"Girl Don't Tell Me" The Beach Boys 1965
"Celeste" Donovan 1966
"Sunday Morning" Velvet Underground 1966
"The Gnome" Pink Floyd 1967
"Cadence and Cascade" King Crimson 1970
"Penetration" The Stooges 1973
Odd to find EMI recording group, Pink Floyd, issued on Capitol imprint, Tower
I dismissed Herman’s Hermits ages ago (“I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” etc.) but then, in recent years, was given a copy of their 1967 MGM album Blaze (by Tom Avazian – who else?), and had to admit that the kick-off tune was a surprisingly effective one:
“Museum” Herman’s Hermits 1967
I only just now learned that “Museum” is, in fact, a Donovan cover.