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Phil Ochs
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Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs (December 19, 1940 - April 9, 1976) was a protest singer of the early 1960s, perhaps best known for his songs "Power and Glory", "There But for Fortune", "Changes", "When I'm Gone", and "I Ain't Marching Anymore". He studied journalism at Ohio State University, but dropped out in his last year. He moved to New York City and became an integral part of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. He emerged as an unpolished yet passionate vocalist who wrote poignant lyrics about war, civil rights, labor struggles and other topics of the time. He wrote many more songs than were recorded on his first three albums (All the News That's Fit to Sing (1964), I Ain't Marching Anymore (1965), and Phil Ochs in Concert (1966)), but these records contained some of his best work. During this early period of his career, his friend Bob Dylan said "I just can't keep up with Phil. And he's getting better and better and better."

In his later studio albums (Pleasures of the Harbor (1967), Tape From California (1968), Rehearsals for Retirement (1968), and the ironically titled Phil Ochs' Greatest Hits (1970)) he moved away from topical songs and experimented with ensemble and even orchestral instrumentation in the hopes of producing a pop-folk hybrid that would be a "hit."

The most popular tunes from these albums were "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends," "Chords of Fame," "Pleasures of the Harbor," "Crucifixion," and "Jim Dean of Indiana". None actually became hits, although "Small Circle of Friends" received airplay before being banned from many radio stations for suggesting "smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer".

He was profoundly concerned with the escalation of the Vietnam War and sang with Chile's President Allende before his election and subsequent assassination in 1973. Ochs organized concerts to protest these Nixon-era developments, and re-recorded his old song "Here's To The State Of Mississippi" as "Here's To The State Of Richard Nixon".

Intensely disappointed by his lack of commercial success, however, and haunted by other personal demons -- namely alcoholism, writer's block and depression -- Phil Ochs hanged himself in 1976. His songs have been covered by Jim and Jean, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, Ani DiFranco, Dick Gaughan, Eugene Chadbourne, John Wesley Harding and They Might Be Giants among many others.

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