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Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” was one of the best songs of the British Invasion that wasn’t by The Beatles. It’s a perfect mix of psychedelia, pop, the avant-garde, and the mainstream. During an interview, the “Season of the Witch” singer said “Sunshine Superman” paved the way for the Fab Four in a sense. Let’s see what John Lennon had to say about the band’s influences.

Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’ album is in a Beatles music video

During a 2016 interview with Best Classic Rock Bands, the “Atlantis” singer recalled working with his collaborators during his peak period. “We knew we were doing something extraordinarily different and later people would say that ‘Sunshine Superman’ was the initiator not only of the psychedelic era but laid the groundwork for a lot of bands, especially The Beatles, to do exactly what they would like, with no qualms about it,” he said.

For context, “Sunshine Superman” came out in 1966. The following year, The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album that includes “A Day in the Life.” In the music video for that song, the album Sunshine Superman can be briefly glimpsed. While “Sunshine Superman” is distinct from the music of Sgt. Pepper, both masterpieces were the result of artists expanding pop music’s horizons.

How the ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ felt when ‘Sunshine Superman’ hit No. 1

Donovan was asked what it was like to know that “Sunshine Superman” became a No. 1 single. “We were more interested that it was entering the Top 20,” he said. “It was wonderful to be No. 1. The Beatles and Elvis would have multiple No. 1s but that wasn’t the main thing.

“The main thing was making the music and getting it to the fans,” he added. “The other main thing is the DJs. The DJs are really interesting because most of them in America were in suits; we had those kind of DJs in Britain too but the BBC didn’t play pop music in ’64, ’65 or ’66. The radio stations wouldn’t play us. But the fans came to see us live and they went crazy.”


How The Beatles’ ‘Michelle’ Inspired Donovan’s ‘Jennifer Juniper’

Paul McCartney said Donovan influenced John Lennon

The book All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono features an interview from 1980. In it, the “(Just Like) Starting Over” singer had plenty to say about the Fab Four’s inspirations. He mentioned an eclectic bunch, including Elvis, Bob Dylan, Ludwig van Beethoven, The Shirelles, Chuck Berry, and Bill Haley & His Comets. Donovan never comes up at any point in the interview, except when John recalls Donovan helping to write the lyrics to “Yellow Submarine.”

Paul McCartney’s recollections, however, were another story. In the 1997 book Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, Paul remembered Donovan teaching John how to play the guitar in a finger-picking style. Paul said John incorporated the technique into “Julia,” a folk ballad from The White Album. “Julia,” which references John’s relationship with his mother, Julia Lennon, is one of the most breathtakingly personal tunes in The Beatles’ catalog and it has some similarities to Donovan’s early music.

Donovan said that “Sunshine Superman” paved the way for The Beatles and there might be something to that!