And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody, outside of a small circle of friends

Here we circle back to Phillip David Ochs, whose musical gifts were evident at an early age.  At 15, for example, he was principle clarinet soloist with the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Ohio. But it was the mid-’50s and the young man was becoming increasingly interested in what was going on in the burgeoning Rock n’ Roll and Country hemispheres, while such boyhood movie heroes as John Wayne and Audie Murphy were giving way to the rebellious likes of Brando and Dean.

By the early ‘60s Phil Ochs had adopted a persona that was part Elvis Presley / part Che Guevara, reflecting his two abiding interests, music and politics. With a passel of self-written “topical” songs under his arm he moved to New York, and quickly became an integral part of the Greenwich Village coffee house scene.  But Ochs insisted on calling himself a “singing journalist” rather than a folk singer, claiming that his songs were “built” from stories he’d read in “Newsweek” Magazine.  In 1964 he landed a record deal that led to his debut album, “All the News That’s Fit to Sing”.

Although Ochs would loosen up a little on the “singing journalist” designation, the inspiration for today’s selection was the tragic murder by stabbing of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York.  Although surrounded by witnesses, the lack of response as she cried for help soon made national news, particularly in light of the newly coined “bystander effect” (aka Genovese syndrome).  Now recognized as a social/psychological phenomenon, the bystander effect comes as a result of a “diffusion of responsibility” that occurs when individuals do not offer help in an emergency, because they see that other people are present.  The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely any one of them will help.

Featured on his fourth album, “Pleasures of the Harbor” in 1967, and perhaps his best known song, Ochs cleverly combined his disturbing lyrics with a happy honky-tonk tune to great effect and the single release began to receive plenty of airplay…until (so typical of Ochs’ “kismet”) some radio station managers began to complain, despite the clearly-intended irony, about the line: “smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer.”

The record label responded with two alternate versions, one that simply took out four musical notes (as in “smoking …. is more fun than drinking beer.”) the other removing the entire verse altogether.  Whether due to the complaints or the attempted remedies the song soon lost any momentum and vanished from mainstream playlists.

LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Monday 24 September 

Outside A Small Circle Of Friends

 Look outside the window, there’s a woman being grabbed

They’ve dragged her to the bushes and now she’s being stabbed

Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain

But Monopoly is so much fun, I’d hate to blow the game

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends

 Riding down the highway, yes, my back is getting stiff

Thirteen cars are piled up, they’re hanging on a cliff.

Maybe we should pull them back with our towing chain

But we gotta move and we might get sued and it looks like it’s gonna rain

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends

Sweating in the ghetto with the colored and the poor

The rats have joined the babies who are sleeping on the floor

Now wouldn’t it be a riot if they really blew their tops?

But they’ve got too much already and besides we’ve got the cops

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends

Oh there’s a dirty paper using sex to make a sale

The Supreme Court was so upset they sent him off to jail.

Maybe we should help the fiend and take away his fine.

But we’re busy reading Playboy and the Sunday New York Times

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends

 Smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer,

But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him thirty years

Maybe we should raise our voices, ask somebody why

But demonstrations are a drag, besides we’re much too high

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends

Oh look outside the window, there’s a woman being grabbed

They’ve dragged her to the bushes and now she’s being stabbed

Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain

But Monopoly is so much fun, I’d hate to blow the game

And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends

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