There but for Fortune (song)

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"There but for Fortune"
Song by Phil Ochs
from the album New Folks Volume 2
GenreTopical song
Songwriter(s)Phil Ochs
"There but for Fortune"
Single by Joan Baez
from the album Joan Baez/5
RecordedOctober 1964
LabelVanguard (U.S.),
Fontana (U.K.)
Songwriter(s)Phil Ochs
Producer(s)Maynard Solomon
Joan Baez singles chronology
"With God on Our Side"
"There but for Fortune"
"Cantique de Noel"
U.K. singles chronology
"We Shall Overcome"
"There but for Fortune"
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

"There but for Fortune" is a song by American folk musician Phil Ochs. Ochs wrote the song in 1963 and recorded it twice, for New Folks Volume 2 (Vanguard, 1964) and Phil Ochs in Concert (Elektra, 1966). Joan Baez also recorded "There but for Fortune" in 1964, and her version of the song became a chart hit.

The song[edit]

"There but for Fortune" consists of four verses, each one of which ends with the line "there but for fortune may go you or I". The first verse is about a prisoner.[1] The second verse describes a hobo.[2] The third verse is about a drunk who stumbles out of a bar. The final verse describes a country that has been bombed.[3][4]

One of Ochs' biographers wrote that, "of all the songs that Phil would ever write, none would show his humanity as brilliantly as the four brief verses of 'There but for Fortune'".[1]

The song's title was used as the name of the 1989 compilation album There but for Fortune, which featured material taken from three albums Ochs recorded for Elektra Records between 1964 and 1966.[5] Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune was also used as the title of Michael Schumacher's 1996 biography, as well as Kenneth Bowser's 2011 documentary on the singer's life.[1][6]

Ochs recordings[edit]

Ochs recorded "There but for Fortune" twice. In 1964 he recorded it for the Vanguard compilation New Folks Volume 2.[7] The 1964 recording was reissued on the 2000 compact disc The Early Years.

In 1966, tapes were made of Ochs's concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall and Boston's Jordan Hall. They were released as Phil Ochs in Concert. One of the songs on In Concert was "There but for Fortune".[8] Ochs introduces the song by saying it was written for him by Joan Baez, an ironic reference to her hit single.

Baez cover[edit]

In October 1964, Baez recorded "There but for Fortune" for Joan Baez/5. It was released in the U.S. as a single[4] in June, 1965, with "Daddy, You Been on My Mind", a Bob Dylan song, as the B-side. In July, it was released as a single in the U.K., where its B-side was "Plaisir D'Amour".[9]

The single became a Top Ten hit in the U.K., reaching #8.[10] It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Folk Recording".[11] In the U.S. it peaked at #50 on the Billboard chart[12] — a good showing, but not a hit.[13]

By coincidence, Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2 became a #8 hit in the U.K. at the same time "There but for Fortune" did.[10]

Baez-Ochs duet[edit]

The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975,[14] and a "War Is Over" rally was held in New York's Central Park on May 11. At the rally, Ochs and Baez sang a duet of "There but for Fortune".[15][16]

Other cover versions[edit]

"There but for Fortune" has been covered by more than a dozen performers besides Baez, including Chad and Jeremy, Eugene Chadbourne, Cher, The Gretchen Phillips Experience, Jim and Jean, The Mike Leander Orchestra, Vicky Leandros [1] (from the 1966 album "Songs und Folklore") The New Christy Minstrels, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Spokesmen, Françoise Hardy,[17] and Sammy Walker.[18] Peter, Paul and Mary's cover features a bridge between the third and forth verses, containing references to hunger and children, written by Noel Paul Stookey.[19][20] Also, a French version, "Où va la chance?", with lyrics adapted by Eddy Marnay, was originally performed by Françoise Hardy[21] and later covered by Isabelle Boulay.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Schumacher, Michael (1996). There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York: Hyperion. p. 117. ISBN 0-7868-6084-7.
  2. ^ Ochs, Phil (1964). Songs of Phil Ochs. New York: Appleseed Music. p. 9. OCLC 41480512.
  3. ^ Eliot, Marc (1989) [1979]. Death of a Rebel: A Biography of Phil Ochs. New York: Franklin Watts. p. 85. ISBN 0-531-15111-5.
  4. ^ a b Phil Ochs interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  5. ^ Deming, Mark. "Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune". AllMusic. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  6. ^ Holden, Stephen (2011-01-04). "Aspiring to Musical Power and Glory". The New York Times: C6. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  7. ^ Cohen, David (1999). Phil Ochs: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 206. ISBN 0-313-31029-7.
  8. ^ Schumacher, There But for Fortune, pp. 113–117.
  9. ^ Strong, Martin Charles (2002). The Great Rock Discography (6th ed.). Edinburgh: Canongate Books. p. 69. ISBN 1-84195-312-1.
  10. ^ a b Warner, Jay (2008). Notable Moments of Women in Music. Milwaukee, Wisc.: Hal Leonard. p. 133. ISBN 978-1-4234-2951-7.
  11. ^ Taylor, Timothy Dean (1997). Global Pop: World Music, World Markets. New York: Routledge. p. 225. ISBN 0-415-91872-3.
  12. ^ "Billboard singles". Billboard. Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  13. ^ Schumacher, There But for Fortune, p. 95.
  14. ^ Schomp, Virginia (2002). The Vietnam War. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Benchmark Books. p. 78. ISBN 0-7614-1099-6.
  15. ^ Eliot, Death of a Rebel, p. 243.
  16. ^ Schumacher, There But for Fortune, p. 305.
  17. ^ {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ Cohen, Phil Ochs, pp. 275, 277, 280, 282, 285–286, 291–292.
  19. ^ Peter; Paul & Mary (1995). "There but for Fortune". Such Is Love. Google Play Music. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  20. ^ Fisher, Trent A. (May 27, 2002). "There but for Fortune". Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  21. ^ Cohen, Phil Ochs, p. 280.
  22. ^ "Isabelle Boulay – Les Grands Espaces". Discogs. Retrieved August 27, 2016.