Donovan and Facel Vega

Cars in music are everywhere. Perhaps one of the best known is Janis Joplin’s

‘Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?

My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends

Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends

So Lord won’t you buy me, a Mercedes Benz?’

Fact is that in 1968, she bought her own Porsche, a three year old 365C cabriolet from a Beverly Hills car dealer for $3500 and had it decorated with her very own psychedelic paint job by ex-roadie Dave Richards. Once she saw the paint job, she wanted more – but then that was Janis all over, wasn’t it? Always wanted more.

The result still exists as can be seen if you Google ‘Janis Joplin’s Porsche’. There are a few replicas out there too, so if you ever see a 911 painted somewhat garishly, it’s just someone with a Janis Joplin tribute paint job.

Song mentions of Ford Econolines, even Transits, Cortinas, E-types are pretty common but not surprisingly you have to look pretty hard to find a Facel mention. However there is one, thanks to Donovan, Britain’s answer to Bob Dylan in the sixties. In the mid-sixties, he recorded a song called Talking Pop Star blues and later sang it on Ready Steady Go – ITV’s answer to Top of the Pops – in 1965. The first verse on the RSG version goes like this:

‘If I get to be a big pop star

I’ll buy me a Facel Vega car

Put my buddies in the driving seat

And go and give my friends a treat

If they’ll talk to me…’

Now it’s tempting to say that his connection with Facel Vega must have been via Ringo Starr, with whom he later collaborated on Yellow Submarine and even later with other Beatles on Day in the Life. But then you would be ignoring some vital clues as you have to bear in mind the timeline that is involved and it then seems unlikely that it had anything to do with Ringo’s Facel ownership.

Donovan first recorded the song as part of a demo package for Pye records in the summer of 1964 when he was just 18. It was 3m 29s long, one of four original Donovan songs on the demo, the rest being covers. It would be 40 years until the songs off this demo were released as the album 64 after they were discovered having been archived. Remember, that was the summer of 1964.

Although the Facel that was bought by Ringo entered the UK in March 1964, it wasn’t until autumn 1964 that it appeared on Facel’s Earls Court motor show stand and was bought by Ringo – so after Donovan had recorded the first version of the song. The second version, sung on Ready Steady Go in 1965, can be heard on the internet, and is a cleaned up, more PC version, just over two minutes and omitting references to Marianne who might have gone off with a Rolling Stone and various drug inferences.

So why did Donovan mention Facel Vega in his song? There were a few Facels out there at that time, and Andrew Loog Oldham, best known as manager of the Rolling Stones, talks about riding around Soho – Donovan’s ‘manor’ – in the Lionel Bart Facel 11.

Donovan’s own career didn’t really take off until 1965 but he was soon collaborating with the Beatles on Yellow Submarine, sung by Ringo of course, and A Day in the Life, so the Beatles connection is quite strong but the song’s first appearance pre-dates this era by a matter of months. So although it sounds the more likely connection, it’s also not possible because of the date . If I ever run into Donovan or Ringo, I must remember to ask… but don’t hold your breath.



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