In July 1970, Scottish psychedelic folky popster Donovan released Open Road, his first album since breaking with long-time producer Mickie Most and technically the first album tentatively released by his backing band (also named Open Road). It’s a fairly rollicking affair, full of what Donovan termed “celtic rock” but which is really just scruffy rootsy rock. It’s actually not unlike Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes, though I hesitate to say so ’cause, well, god knows Donovan’s put up with enough Dylan comparisons already. For the record, Donovan would jettison the band after this album, leaving them to stumble around aimlessly before disbanding soon after.
“Riki Tiki Tavi” is head and shoulders above the rest of the album’s songs. The title comes from a Rudyard Kipling story of the same name, a tale of the mongoose Riki Tikki Tavi (note the alternate spelling) and his fight to protect an English family from a couple of vicious cobras in India. In the tune, then, Riki Tiki Tavi is any sort of supposedly benevolent organization (“i.e. the government, i.e. the church, i.e. school”) that’s abandoned its purpose. Which is to say, learn to kill your own snakes.
Okay, so it doesn’t bear up to scrutiny, or at least I’m coming up short. Either way, it’s a great departure from Donovan’s mid-’60s highly psychedelicized raga-rock and capitalizes greatly on the moods established in 1969’s infinitely good Barabajagal. It’s immediately accessible, amusingly allegorical, and a great, fuzzy singalong.
It’s also available on the expanded Donovan’s Greatest Hits, along with newly appended tracks “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting”, “Atlantis” and “Barabajagal (Love Is Hot)”. The album is essential–I mean, really.
Edit: You know what–I felt like sharing some more Donovan. The poor man doesn’t get half the credit he deserves. From breezy jazz to flower-power whimsy and all over the place elsewhere, Donovan’s an incalculable asset to ’60s rock and beyond.