Record Machine: “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan

Like many children born in the 1980s, “Mellow Yellow” makes me think of the soda commercials first and the song second. Donovan has a long history of not being as revered as he might have liked, so I feel compelled to at least give his famous song a better look.

Donovan - Mellow Yellow

I’m surprised that the psychedelic sleeve for the single has survived all these years in my inherited collection. Originally released in 1966, the 7” single is backed by the song “Sunny South Kensington,” which I dig. It reminds me a bit of what Beady Eye is doing now, but yes, it also further invites accusations of Donovan being a Bob Dylan knockoff.

“Mellow Yellow” is too woozy to be like Dylan and it instead ventures towards Beatles territory. I love the staccato guitar riff at the beginning, and the horns near the end. The song encompasses a lazy, stoned day, but a day one is pleased to have experienced.

There are lines near the end that reference “electrical bananas” that make that high day take a turn towards another form of self-pleasure:

Electrical banana
is going to be a sudden craze
Electrical banana
is bound to be the very next phase

I don’t know a lot about Donovan, other than him being a Scottish folk singer who veered into psychedelics, and that he inserted himself into friendships with both Dylan and the Beatles. Was he just an imitator, a hanger-on? Or was he someone using the inspiration around him to create his own work? It’s tricky to say without further study. Still, that the laid back groove of “Mellow Yellow” survives in the public consciousness nearly 50 years after its release speaks to some innate talent. I’m so pleased to have this cultural artifact in my collection.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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