Photo: Paul DeMaria/New York Daily News via Getty ImagesImmortalized for his improvisational opening set Woodstock moment in which the then 28-year-old folkie channeled the unbound energy of a generation on the backbone of an old spiritual called “Motherless Child,” taking its sentiments of fear and love into alternate tuning transcendental “Freedom” jam zen, Richie Havens, who passed away at the age of 72 yesterday (April 22), was oft remembered outside of the summer of 1969 as a master cover artist. Freewheelin’ rhythms, usually with conga accompaniment, he was a majestic steam-train, equal parts Cat Stevens simplicity and CSNY cruiser, whipping around chorus and verse, usually with messages of peace and love, i.e. his countless number of Beatles renditions. In his own words, similar themes were standard. And though he didn’t pen more than two-dozen of his own songs over his career, the one’s he did reached for timeless, optimistic heights. So go five of his greatest.

Minstrel from Gaul:

Preceding that infamous “Freedom” moment at Woodstock, this was the jam that Havens opened up with on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York. A parable about a minstrel from a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age, it’s a cautionary about the balance between listening and worshipping. Which is great to wax on, considering Havens called his generation the “last speak-when-you’re-spoken-to generation.” Damn hippies: [LISTEN]

A man came down from Sinai Mountain,
with words of truth for us all
How we bowed and knelt down,
How we worshipped well
And when it came to listening,
We listened little, if at all,
If at all

Handouts in the Rain‘:

Aping large chunks of the melody from one of his favorite Dylan covers, “Just Like a Woman,” all is forgiven when Havens opens up into another bittersweet cautionary, a much more plainspoken one, laced with a proper dose of karma when man does some wrong to basic human rights and ethics, be it war, abuse, hate – they all lead to day of reckoning, reduced to taking “handouts in the rain:” [LISTEN]

Teach your children stories
You can fill them full of lies
You can make them all despise
One another… one another

But when they all find out later
And they call us by our rightful names
And send us shamefully to old age
Taking handouts in the rain

Just Above my Hobby Horse’s Head:

Reaching an era of sitar experimentation, Havens gets his George Harrison on, accessing the limitless boundaries of love and music in the company of conscious choice, never getting preachy, but instead treading new pop ground that both bridges the generational gaps mentioned in the tale, and accesses the spirit of music the great communicator: [LISTEN]

Children raise their voice, questioning all has been their choice,
Answers from within point the way to where we’ve been
And as the music plays and we become all the days
That become the years of our lives, of our lives
And we say we’ll love
Every day we say we care
Then we say we know
Every day we say we’re there

Putting Out the Vibrations, and Hoping it Comes:

A deviation from the pop sitar leanings Havens ventured into with “Just Above My Hobby Horse’s Head,” another heavily borrowing of melody and mood happens here with a kind of “Love You To” Harrison Revolver homage. Which also happens to be the summation of the man’s spirit, and countless damn hippies of yore. ‘Damn’ in the most positive sense. We owe you plenty of civil and basic human rights fists, baby boomers. And verses like this make it easy: [LISTEN]

Brighter days ahead
Let all men realize
Brighter days ahead
That this truth they prize
In their eyes
In their eyes
Brighter days ahead


Forced to come up with material to fill set times for the four bands that were stuck on roads trying to get to Max Yasgur’s farm, “Freedom” was a sweaty, last-minute decision that, as previously mentioned, would become one of the defining moments of Woodstock. Havens well warmed up, muttered to the crowd, “Freedom is what we’re all talking about getting. It’s what we’ve been looking for. I think this is it,” launched into a tantric one-chord rhythm based on a spiritual hymn his mother used to sing him and tapped socio-political catharsis with his own lyrics. RIP Havens: [LISTEN]

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from my home