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Top 5 Richie Havens albums

Where to start your Richie Havens collection

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It probably didn't seem so at the time, but having performed at Woodstock goes a long way on an artist's resume. He may not have played for crowd that large (or played for so long -- over three hours) but Richie Havens had been around the track a few times by the time he got to Woodstock.

Havens' first album was released in 1965, four years before Woodstock. By the time he was filling in for the first four scheduled acts who were caught in traffic, he had five studio albums in his catalog. The one that had been released three months earlier had been his most successful up to that point, cracking the Top 100 with a chart peak at #80.

The last album Havens recorded before his death (Nobody Left to Crown in 2008) was his 21st studio release. He also had two live albums and six compilations in his catalog. Those numbers are a little daunting, so I've culled out my picks for the best of the best, the five Richie Havens albums that should be on your music bucket list.

'Mixed Bag' - 1967

Richie Havens - Mixed Bag
Polydor Records

I'll come clean right off the bat and tell you that one of the reasons I put Mixed Bag at the top of the list is that it's the first Richie Havens album I ever heard, the one through which I discovered music so appropriate to the times (late '60s, early '70s) and how they affected me, it was almost as if he knew what I was thinking and feeling.

Personal considerations aside, if you could have only one Havens album, this is the one I would recommend. It is a great showcase for his distinctive voice, his trademark open-tuning, thumb-strumming guitar style, and his unique interpretations of songs like Lennon-McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" and Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman".

Havens wrote two the songs on the album, "Adam" and "Three Day Eternity" and he co-wrote what became one of his best known songs, "Handsome Johnny" with Lou Gossett (yes, that Lou Gossett, aka Louis Gossett, Jr., aka guy who has Oscars and Emmys in his trophy case.)

Watch Richie Havens perform the first song heard at Woodstock, "Handsome Johnny"

Mixed Bag was Havens' third album, but it was his first on a major record label, Verve. It had just enough of a jazz feel that it actually ranked higher on the jazz chart, where it peaked at #18, than on the pop chart, where it barely broke into in the Top 200, at #182.

Mixed Bag CD Track List

"High Flyin' Bird"
"I Can't Make It Anymore"
"Morning, Morning"
"Adam"
"Follow"
"Three Day Eternity"
"Sandy"
"Handsome Johnny"
"San Francisco Bay Blues"
"Just Like a Woman"
"Eleanor Rigby"

Available on CD, vinyl LP, MP3

'Alarm Clock' - 1971

Evangeline Records

Alarm Clock was the first Richie Havens release to break into the Top 30, peaking at #29, making it the best-selling of all his albums. The album also produced Havens' best-selling single, his cover of George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" -- the only song on the album that Havens didn't write himself.

Watch Richie Havens in a live performance of "Here Comes the Sun"

Alarm Clock CD Track List

"Here Comes The Sun"
"To Give All Your Love Away"
"Younger Men Grow Older"
"Girls Don't Run Away"
"End Of The Seasons"
"Some Will Wait"
"Patient Lady"
"Missing Train"
"Alarm Clock"

Available on CD, vinyl LP, MP3

'Richard P. Havens, 1983' - 1969

Richie Havens - Richard P. Havens, 1983
Raven Records

In spite of the potentially confusing title for an album released in 1969, the concept album, Richard P. Havens, 1983 was well received, and peaked at #80 on the pop album chart. The double-LP consisted mainly of studio recordings, along with five songs recorded during a 1968 concert performance.

The album represented something of a departure for Havens in that instead of his usual minimal use backup players, more than 20 musicians were used, as were several unusual (for Havens) instruments like sitar, steel guitar, and organ. Among the session players: Stephen Stills on bass and Bruce Langhorne (who was Bob Dylan's inspiration for his song, "Mr. Tamborine Man") on guitar. The album marked Havens' debut as co-producer of one of his own albums.

Watch Richie Havens perform "Strawberry Fields Forever" at Woodstock

Richard P. Havens, 1983 CD Track List

"Stop Pulling and Pushing Me"
"For Haven's Sake"
"Strawberry Fields Forever"
"What More Can I Say John?"
"I Pity the Poor Immigrant"
"Lady Madonna"
"Priests"
"Indian Rope Man"
"Cautiously"
"Just Above My Hobby Horse's Head"
"She's Leaving Home"
"Putting out the Vibration, and Hoping It Comes Home"
"The Parable of Ramon" (live)
"With a Little Help from My Friends" (live)
"Wear Your Love Like Heaven" (live)
"Run, Shaker Life" (live)
"Do You Feel Good?" (live)
"Handsome Johnny"
"No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed"

Available on CD, vinyl LP, MP3

'Stonehenge' - 1970

Richie Havens - Stonehenge
Stormy Forest Productions

After Woodstock, Havens launched his own label, Stormy Forest, with Stonehenge, his first post-Woodstock release, being the first of five albums that would be released on his label.

Havens wrote or co-wrote more than half of the songs on the album. Songs like "Shouldn't All the World Be Dancing?" and "There's A Hole In the Future" were among the album's musical appeals for a change in the direction the world seemed to be headed at the end of the turbulent decade of the '60s.

Listen to "Prayer", written and performed by Richie Havens (Trivia: in case you're wondering who's singing backup, it's Havens. He overdubbed all of the harmony vocals on the album himself.)

Stonehenge CD Track List

"Open Our Eyes"
"Minstrel from Gault"
"It Could Be the First Day"
"Ring Around the Moon"
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
"There's A Hole In the Future"
"I Started A Joke"
"Prayer"
"Tiny Little Blues"
"Shouldn't All the World Be Dancing?"

Available on CD, vinyl LP, MP3

'Nobody Left to Crown' - 2008

Richard Thompson - Nobody Left to Crown
Verve Forecast

I started this list with an honest confession, so I'll close it the same way. Nobody Left to Crown is, purely and simply, a sentimental favorite. Nobody even wanted to consider the notion that it was to be Havens' last album, but it was. As such, it represents a historical waypoint -- the culmination of his long and distinguished career.

Sentimentality aside, this album showcase's once again the man's uncanny ability to take a song written by another artist and create an unexpected, often moving interpretation. He accomplished what he told JamBase in a 2008 interview about what he hoped to accomplish with his music. "I only know the first and last song I am going to sing when I go onstage just because that is the way I have always done it. I was moved to do this and sing these songs. My whole thing was that I was sharing something with everyone else that was given to me."

Over the years, a lot of songs by Bob Dylan and Lennon-McCartney got the inimitable Havens treatment. Along the way there were surprises, too, like Barry Gibbs' "I Started a Joke" and "Morning, Morning" by Tuli Kupferberg, counterculture icon and founder of The Fugs. Havens was still surprising us on his final album, with, for example, an unexpected interpretation of Pete Townshend's "Won't Get Fooled Again".

If it didn't measure up musically, I wouldn't include Nobody Left To Crown on this list just for the sake of sentiment. Even so, it is bittersweet listening to the album, knowing that it's the last one recorded by this American musical treasure.

Listen to "Nobody Left to Crown", the title song of his final album

Nobody Left to Crown CD Track List

"The Key"
"Say It Isn't So"
"Won't Get Fooled Again"
"Standing on the Water"
"Hurricane Waters"
"If I"
"Nobody Left to Crown"
"(Can't You Hear) Zeus's Anger Roar"
"Lives in the Balance"
"We All Know Now"
"Fates"
"The Great Mandala (The Wheel of Life)"
"One More Day"

Available on CD and MP3
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