The Golden Age of Donegan

by: Lonnie Donegan

The Golden Age of Donegan was released on the budget Golden Guinea label in September 1962 and, if its title sounds somewhat valedictory, that's because it was. The previous month, "Pick a Bale of Cotton" handed the now-veteran performer his 30th U.K. hit single and, though nobody could have known it would also be his last, the signs were still all there. Donegan's chart placings had been steadily dipping for a couple of years -- even his biggest hits of the new decade, "My Old Man's a Dustman" and "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," succeeded as much on their novelty value as through any lingering public affection for Donegan himself. The performer, too, was moving away from his trademark skiffle sound, to investigate gospel and country -- his most recent album (from which "Pick a Bale of Cotton" was culled) overflowed with religious numbers, performed with a piety that seemed a long way from the rambunctious gaiety of "Rock Island Line" and "Cumberland Gap." And that was the situation that The Golden Age sought to remedy, as it peeled back the years and reminded listeners of the days when Lonnie Donegan led a D.I.Y. musical cult that turned British music on its ear. A straightforward gathering of early hits, then, The Golden Age of Donegan is valued today as an artifact of the golden age of British pop. But find a copy and play it loud. If you're lucky, it'll be scratchy, and the music will have to fight its way through the scene-setting pops and crackles. But, if you're even luckier, the years will roll back and you'll be given a hands-on lesson in the birth of the British rock & roll spirit. ~ Dave Thompson

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