With a crystalline voice and a songbook encompassing the best of folk, pop, Broadway, and beyond, Judy Collins remains an American treasure. The Seattle native first made a splash on the Colorado folk scene; soon, she was gaining notoriety in Connecticut and then in the fertile Greenwich Village stomping grounds of New York City. It was in New York that the luminous Collins – a classical piano prodigy, talented guitarist, gifted adapter and later, songwriter, and a singer with a three-octave range – signed with Jac Holzman’s Elektra Records. An Elektra artist for 35 years, Collins’ albums reflected a vast musical imagination, a hunger to explore material from rock to art songs, and a powerful social conscience. Now, Edsel is celebrating her remarkable career with The Elektra Albums Volume One (1961-1968), collecting the eight albums she recorded in the 1960s for Holzman’s label.
The first volume of this series, due on July 19, includes the albums which made Collins a voice of a generation and on which she established herself as not only an eloquent voice of traditional folk but a champion of such songwriters as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Randy Newman:
- A Maid of Constant Sorrow (1961)
- Golden Apples of the Sun (1962)
- Judy Collins 3 (1964)
- The Judy Collins Concert (1964)
- Fifth Album (1965)
- In My Life (1966)
- Wildflowers (1967); and
- Who Knows Where the Time Goes (1968)
Collins’ debut A Maid of Constant Sorrow introduced her as a traditional folk troubadour, featuring varied material of Scottish, English, Irish, and American origin. She continued in this vein on Golden Apples of the Sun, while her appropriately-titled third album Judy Collins 3 added songs by her contemporary Bob Dylan (“Masters of War,” “Farewell”) to the mix. The small band for the LP included banjoist/guitarist/arranger Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, who would take the acoustic versions here of Pete Seeger’s “The Bells of Rhymney” and “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season),” and transform into folk-rock staples with his own band, The Byrds. Judy Collins 3 also featured songs by Woody Guthrie and Shel Silverstein in its eclectic array of folk tunes. The subsequent live album The Judy Collins Concert, too, blended traditional ballads with songs by Dylan, Silverstein, Fred Neil, Tom Paxton, and future “Papa” John Phillips (“Me and My Uncle”) – all leading lights of the folk world.
Fifth Album saw Collins crack the top 100 of the Billboard Albums Chart, and emphasized topical material from Dylan, Eric Andersen, Phil Ochs, Billy Edd Wheeler, Gordon Lightfoot, and Richard Farina. The musicians, a larger cast than usual, included John Sebastian on harmonica and Eric Weissberg on guitar and background vocals. But Collins made her biggest leap with 1966’s In My Life. Dylan and Farina were still represented (with “Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Hard Lovin’ Loser,” respectively) but the title song was a cover of a recent Beatles hit. Collins significantly supported up-and-coming poet-songwriter Leonard Cohen with her recordings of “Suzanne” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag,” and gave a boost to another future legend with her interpretation of Randy Newman’s slice of gorgeous melancholia, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today.” Foreshadowing much of her future work, she turned to the theatre for Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, and Marc Blitzstein’s dramatic “Pirate Jenny” from their musical The Threepenny Opera. The changes extended beyond the choice of material, too. Arranger-conductor Joshua Rifkin penned lavish orchestral arrangements, a far cry from the spare, acoustic charts of her previous LPs. Critics recognized Collins’ leap forward as a contemporary interpretive singer, and the album would be certified Gold by 1970.
1967’s Wildflowers broke the artist through to the commercial mainstream with her era-defining top 10 hit recording of Joni Mitchell’s now-standard “Both Sides Now.” It remains a Collins signature song to this day. The album itself went to No. 5 on the Billboard survey. Mitchell was also represented with “Michael from Mountains.” (She would record “Michael” on her 1968 debut Song to a Seagull and “Both Sides Now” on her 1969 sophomore album Clouds.) Rifkin again brought his elegant orchestrations to songs by Cohen (“Sisters of Mercy,” “Priests,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”) and Belgian chanson writer Jacques Brel (“The Song of Old Lovers”) but most notably, Collins contributed three songs of her own: “Since You Asked,” “Sky Fell,” and “Albatross.” The latter would be heard in the 1968 film The Subject Was Roses. Wildflowers, too, was certified Gold.
The final album on Edsel’s box, Who Knows Where the Time Goes, was named for the Sandy Denny composition. Produced by David Anderle, it added rock and country elements to Collins’ personal style. Guitarist James Burton, pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons, bassist Chris Ethridge (The International Submarine Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers), pianist Van Dyke Parks, and Wrecking Crew drummer and pianist Jim Gordon and Mike Melvoin all played on the eclectic LP, as did Collins’ friend and flame Stephen Stills, late of Buffalo Springfield. Who Knows… summed up Collins’ career to that point, with the traditional murder ballad “Pretty Polly” (also the B-side of her non-LP single of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”) alongside diverse melodies by Cohen, Dylan, Ian Tyson (“Someday Soon”), and Canadian singer-songwriter Rolf Kempf (“Hello, Hooray”).
Edsel’s box, designed by Phil Smee, has each album in an LP-style paper sleeve facsimile of the original sleeve and also contains a 36-page booklet with original album liner notes and credits plus a new essay by Elektra historian Mick Houghton. Look for The Elektra Albums Volume 1 (1961-1968) on July 19 from Edsel at the links below!