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Looking past the sunshine and the mellow, Donovan predicted a “Season Of The Witch”

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In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, inspired by the new film Take Me To The River, we’re picking songs that share a title with a movie.

Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” is a bit of a conundrum: It’s an evocative track, but it’s not evocative of anything in particular. Season of the witch? Just the one? Who’s the “other cat” looking over his shoulder at the singer of “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”? Don’t Look Back-era Bob Dylan? Perhaps that’s why it’s proven so inspiring to filmmakers (and their colleagues in the marketing and music supervision departments) for the past four decades: In its lyrical images and bad-trip psychedelia, the song hints at vague, unseen threats. The paranoia that gives the song its power, the ominous signs of rabbits heading for the ditch and dropouts turned on to capitalism, is equally applicable to Stepford Wives dabbling in the dark arts, mass sacrifice via cursed masks, or Nicolas Cage slicing up 14th-century demons.


But the namesake film that comes the closest to capturing the spirit of the song is the one that had its title changed to Mean Streets mid-production. Season Of The Witch was the original name for Martin Scorsese’s breakthrough film, and its story of doomed hoods perpetually watching their backs fits Donovan’s song to a T. After all, it’s not like the singer-songwriter is spying sunshine or Saffron when he looks out his window in “Season Of The Witch”—what he sees is the hope of the ’60s curdling over into the street-level desperation that Scorsese channeled so masterfully in his ’70s filmography. With session guitarist Jimmy Page doing a dress rehearsal for the bummed-out boogie of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed And Confused,” Donovan ratchets a tension that suits a gangster film just as well as it fits a horror flick. Or, if you want to be really on the nose about it and strip the song of all its mystique—and you don’t have the budget for “Time Of The Season” or “For What It’s Worth”—it’s the perfect soundtrack for the painful social and cultural transitions alluded to in the song itself.