In 1976, Phil Ochs robbed us of his talent when he committed suicide. He had surrendered to the demons that accompanied his bipolar disorder. The folk artist always wanted to be famous and days before his death, he wondered if his songs would be remembered. Well, here we are still ruminating over his songs, and below are some of the best Phil Ochs songs of all time.
10. Ballad of The Carpenter
This song, written by Ewan Maccoll and released in 1965, tells the story of Jesus, from when he was born to when he died. He refers to Jesus as a working man and a hero who did not discriminate against the poor. The song is in the “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” album, and Ochs could have used it to show how people can be pitted against one another for a small group of individuals to benefit. In his way, he was encouraging unity.
9. Outside of A Small Circle of Friends
The dislike Ochs had for the liberals is evident in most of his songs, this being one of them. If Ochs were asked, he would have said the liberal-minded individuals were all bark and no bite. So, he composed this song following an incident where a woman was stabbed to death while neighbors ignored her cries for help. This story makes the first verse of this song, whose title Ochs borrowed from a phrase he heard from a Canadian acquaintance.
8. There But For Fortune
The song seems to be an autobiography because, according to Songfacts, Ochs’ songwriting career began in jail. Well, this memory happens to be the first line in “There But For Fortune.” He released the song in 1966; it goes on to tell about a homeless man, a country in ruins due to war, and an alcoholic man. Ochs experienced a war-torn country and later became an alcoholic so, perhaps this song was a prophesy of the fate that awaited him.
7. Love Me, I’m A Liberal
Liberals believed in tolerating everyone and that the government should not discriminate against certain groups of people or even individuals when administering justice. This song is, therefore, satirical. Ochs sings that he is a liberal who attends civil rights rallies and wished that even the colored children got as much a chance as everyone else. However, he does not believe in revolution. Ochs further claims that he loves black people and Puerto Ricans as long as they do not become his neighbors. He uses the song to criticize the hypocrisy in liberal politics.
6. The Power and The Glory
Ochs did not need much to compose music, all he had was an acoustic guitar when he recorded his first three albums. He released this song in 1964, and it remains relevant even today. According to an author of the Washington Post, “Power and the Glory” would have been a perfect choice during the 2017 Superbowl halftime show which Lady Gaga headlined. The song glorifies America as a powerful and beautiful land. However, Ochs added that the land was still troubled by men who loved to hate and instill fear in citizens.
5. What Are You Fighting For?
For twenty years, the Vietnam War continued, and Ochs must have been devastated by the aftermath. Therefore, in 1976, he wrote “What Are You Fighting For?” asking people to think twice before leaving their jobs to join the military. Ochs encouraged people to look beyond what they were being fed through the media. He talks about politicians lying and police not caring about human rights. For this reason, he wants people to stop prioritizing the Vietnam War yet there were so many unresolved issues in their own homes.
4. Draft Dodger Rag
By 1966, the Vietnam War had been going on for eleven years, and Ochs probably had observed that some people were not ready to be drafted. In his song, he tells the story of a teenager who gives all sorts of excuses about why he should not go to war – a ruptured spleen, poor eyesight, flat feet, and asthma among more. While it may seem like a farfetched narrative, it was happening. According to Los Angeles Times, someone like Roland Moussa was 19 when he got his draft notice. The teenager had to pretend to be mentally unstable so that he could be confined and avoid being a statistic in the Vietnam War deaths.
It is said that change is inevitable, and it is as good as rest. Ochs believed this too, and from the lyrics, he advises us to welcome change because nothing is constant. He talks about changing seasons, relationships ending, people growing up, and love growing cold. The singer urges us to appreciate the present because it can be gone in an instant.
2. I Ain’t Marching Anymore
According to History? Because It’s Here!, Ochs was passionate about politics and civil rights. He described himself as an early revolutionary and attended civil rights rallies and anti-Vietnam wars. For the folk artist, war was never the answer thus in this song he writes from the point of view of a soldier who has fought in all battles, beginning with the early British war. He has seen the futility of it all. Although he is patriotic enough to fight for his country, he is sad because, in the long run, even his brothers are casualties of war. As a result, Ochs declares he will not fight anymore.
1. When I’m Gone
It is not unusual for someone to think about what will happen when they die. Brad Paisley sang “When I Get Where I’m Going” and many artists have covered the hymn “I’ll Fly Away.” Ochs is no different and he thought about what would happen when he was dead. The late folk singer said that he would no longer suffer from pain nor would he care about any of the worries that bothered him when alive. It is a song that reminds us how fragile life can be and to live it to the fullest to avoid regrets.
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