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Judee Sill: Lost Pop Genius of the ’70s

I love Judee Sill. Her music is incredible. She was a tragic, melodically ingenious folk singer from Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles in the early ’70s. She’s been described as the female Brian Wilson, but has been largely forgotten by popular music history.

Sill released music through David Geffen’s Asylum Records, which also featured The Eagles, Joni Mitchell and Linda Rondstadt. Her self-titled 1971 debut Judee Sill is my favourite, and it was followed by Heart Food in 1973. However, her career never achieved great commercial success, and she fell out with Geffen and was kicked off the label.

Chronic pain caused by a car accident in the later ’70s saw her fall back into drug addiction, and she was found dead in her home in 1979, aged only 35.

Her songs reflect a traumatic life, touching upon problems with drugs and alcohol, heartbreak, and overriding influences of Christianity. Imaginings of divine intervention come through in tracks like The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown and Enchanted Sky Machines.

The music is often as simple as an acoustic guitar or piano with devastating vocal harmonies that sweep and fall like church hymns. Other times, she adds strings, lap steel slide guitar, brass, woodwind instruments, church bells and buried Hal Blaine-style drums. In fact, drummer Jim Gordon from Heart Food was apparently Blaine’s protégé.

My Man On Love is one of my favourite songs. Emotionally crushed but so pure. Of her works, it’s somehow the most reminiscent of The Beach Boys.

Jesus Was A Crossmaker is one of the best break-up songs you could ever hear.

One time I trusted a stranger
‘Cuz I heard his sweet song
And it was gently enticin’ me
Tho there was somethin’ wrong
But when I turned he was gone
Blindin’ me, his song remains remindin’ me
He’s a bandit and a heart breaker
Oh, but Jesus was a crossmaker

Are you kidding?

I first discovered Judee Sill through a book called The Best Music You’ve Never Heard. I found a lot of great sounds in that book – but Judee was the absolute best. To some extent, like all great music, she’s changed my life.

Learn more about her by listening to this BBC radio documentary.

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  • Founder and Editor of Skydreams. Producer of Telepath on FBi Radio.

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