Richie Havens – Here Comes The Sun (1971)
The first time that most people had ever seen or heard Richie
Havens wasn’t at Woodstock. It was when they saw Woodstock the movie. That’s the thing about Woodstock.
Only a relative handful of people knew much about what happened there – and there
was nothing resembling a consensus on even the basics – until long after the
So not in 1969. Not even necessarily 1970. For a lot of people, it wasn’t
even until well into 1971, when Woodstock was awarded the Best Documentary
Oscar in April and the film was subsequently re-released into theaters with a much, much
higher profile than before.
As a result, quite a few of the performers featured in the
film had their chart peaks and released their best-selling albums not in 1969,
not in 1970, but in 1971. These included performers as varied as Joan Baez, The
Who, and Melanie, among others – like Richie Havens.
Richie been kicking around Greenwich Village since the 50s, when Beatnik poets were still the biggest draws in the local clubs. He wasn’t the first act
scheduled to appear at Woodstock. He was simply the only one there at all by the time the crowds were
starting to get restless, and promoters were already afraid that the whole thing
was about to get away from them.
The legend is that he played the better part of three hours
as staff kept pushing him back on stage to keep the crowd occupied, and
that having sung every song he knew (including “Handsome Johnny”, already on
its way to becoming a standard), he was left to make something up on the spot,
riffing on “Freedom” over the base of “Motherless Child”.
While the reality is somewhat less dramatic than the legend,
what we saw in the film was jaw-dropping. It translated into chart success in 1971,
with by far his highest charting album, Alarm Clock (peaking at #29; his next album
peaked at just #55, with no others after that breaking into the Top 100), and the
one and only charting single of his long and distinguished career in the spring
of 1971, a glorious cover of “Here Comes The Sun”.
Richie’s version is so different from The Beatles that there’s
really no point in arguing which is better. They barely seem like even the same song, but I’m glad we live in a world where we have both. I think it’s also safe to say that even if we’d never had The
Beatles version, Richie’s version would have been a hit on its own. He packed an incredible amount of music into
his 72 years, and this one is one of the true gems.
This live version has an even shaggier charm than the
version on Alarm Clock, and if Woodstock the movie taught us anything, it’s that
the best part of any Richie Havens performance isn’t his soothingly ragged
voice, or the relentless innovation and drive of his open-chord strumming, but
the pleasure of watching him play and sing.
“Here Comes The Sun” spent 14 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart,
peaking at #16 on May 21, 1971, just about a month after Woodstock won its
Oscar. Even more than that one, this is the version you need to hear…and see.