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Remembering Phil Ochs

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Today, Dec. 19, would have been folk singer Phil Ochs‘ 68th birthday. You’ll have to pardon me for getting a little misty. His 1976 suicide remains a heartrending tragedy — all the more so because he’s so inexplicably underappreciated. My parents were both serious fans from the ’60s and ’70s, so I grew up with Phil’s music, and it’s never made sense to me that he isn’t as well known as colleagues and friends like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. His discography is up there with any of that era’s greats, from the raw protest music and acoustic poetry of early albums like 1965’s I Ain’t Marching Anymore and 1966’s In Concert to the more adventurous sounds of 1967’s Pleasures of the Harbor and 1969’s Rehearsals for Retirement. Through it all, he balanced his passion for social justice with subtle musicianship in a way that precious few artists before or since have been capable of.

I’d sure love to be able to hear what Phil — a devoted patriot who was never afraid to call out hypocrisy wherever he saw it — would have to say about the state of our union in 2008. Since we’ve been robbed of that chance, all we can do is listen to the music he made back then, like the performance of his signature “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” below. Sadly, that song is as relevant as ever today. Anyone else wishing we still had Phil Ochs on the scene going into 2009?

More on protest music:
EW gave a reissued Phil Ochs concert from 1968 a well-deserved A review
EW also gave a comprehensive Ochs box set an A review
Tom Morello told us his favorite protest songs
EW rated protest songs by Jill Scott, Prince, and more