Chords Of Fame

Album: Phil Ochs' Greatest Hits (1970)
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Songfacts®:

  • One of more incisive songs about how fame intertwines with music, this song is encapsulated in the line:

    God help the troubadour who tries to be a star

    Phil Ochs was a transgressive folk singer who in the early '60s was a contemporary of Bob Dylan. But as Dylan moved away from protest music, Ochs embraced it, setting them on opposite paths in terms of popularity. Ochs retained a loyal following, but throughout his career was only known to those au fait with the folk music scene. Still, he experienced fame more than most, which gave him some perspective. His thoughts on the subject are apparent in this song, which concludes:

    The more that you will find success
    The more that you will fail
  • Ochs felt that music of the '60s was of lasting value, as opposed to what he saw in the '70s. Speaking with Bruce Pollock, he explained: "You take a whole life, whether it's 10 years or 60 years and say, what has this person done, what has he accomplished, if anything? He's now dead, what has he left behind him of value? And I think the people who made that contribution in the '60s can rest on that."
  • Ochs did a bit of performance art to accompany this song, which was part of an album called Phil Ochs' Greatest Hits even though every song was a new, original composition. On the cover, he dressed like Elvis Presley, wearing a gaudy gold suit. About a month after it was released, he played a show at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, where he sang a selection of Elvis hits. The crowd was packed with scenesters and minor celebrities like Tiny Tim, throwing a blanket of irony on "Chords Of Fame," which he introduced by saying, "They give you the gold suit, and then kill you."

    Ochs became more reclusive over the next few years and fell into bouts of depression. In 1976, he killed himself at age 35.
  • Van Dyke Parks, known for his work with The Beach Boys, produced this track.

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