Apr 13

Richie Havens: “Here Comes the Sun” (In Memoriam)

Richie Havens -- Alarm Clock

Richie Havens, 1941-2013

Legendary folk singer Richie Havens died yesterday at the age of 72, reportedly from a sudden heart attack. His was one of the most distinctive voices and styles in the folk scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s, attacking his acoustic guitar with unmatched ferocity while his deep voice alternately belted out strident protest-type songs and crooned soothing ballads.

Havens was known as much for the covers he performed as he was for his own compositions, and while I admittedly am not very well-versed in his originals, I appreciated many of his covers. He had a flair for taking Beatles songs in particular and giving them a different and very personalized spin. First and foremost among those in my mind was “Here Comes the Sun,” a live performance that appears in its best, mono form on his 1971 album, Alarm Clock. He comes quite close to surpassing the George Harrison-performed original, and at the very least makes another case for the song’s universality. Replacing the prettiness of the Beatles’ hopeful, “better things ahead” version with a more strident urgency, it’s more of a wake-up call — as in, “a new day is coming and if you don’t pay attention now you’re going to miss out.” And that urgency is what defined many of Havens’ performances — it’s hard not to notice when one of his songs comes on, and many times it’s little more than him and his guitar. In the right hands, nothing more is needed.

On a final note, Havens made a classic appearance on Sesame Street in 1975, and although I can’t be sure, this might have been one of the first times I heard his music:

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