Here’s a clip of Judee Sill singing her song ‘The Kiss’ in 1973, a standout track from the album Heart Food, released that year.
Hover over the image and click the ‘play’ button. Enlarge the viewing window by clicking on the magnifying glass icon.
Judee Sill is looked upon by many as a sort of female Nick Drake, being somewhat of a tragic figure who completed only a small body of work before passing away. Sill made two records which were given a release during her lifetime; 1971’s Judee Sill and the aforementioned Heart Food. A third album, the existence of which was little more than a rumour at one time, was only recently released under the name Dreams Come True which incorporates songs intended for the original release along with bonus tracks.
Although her music is similar in feel to Nick Drake’s in some ways – lots of strings, acoustic guitar, and melancholy to match – Sill’s is distinctly more American-sounding, incorporating a lot of Western music (as in country and…) and choral music (achieved with choirs of multitracked Judees), while featuring lyrics with some fairly overt references to spiritual concerns. She was championed by Graham Nash, who was a big fan after hearing her music on the then-fledgling Asylum label, the home of a lot of singer-songwriters at the time. He produced her hit ‘Jesus Was a Crossmaker’.
My favourite track of hers is “Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos”; a poignant, and beautiful rumination on being in a state of spiritual longing. I actually discovered her through an unlikely (on the surface at least) source. I read an interview with Andy Partridge of XTC, who is also a fan. When you hear some of the orchestral arrangements on the XTC album Apple Venus, Vol. 1, the connection with Sill becomes pretty clear. This is particularly true on a song like ‘Knights in Shining Karma‘ and ‘The Last Balloon’ on that album.
One of the things which makes Judee Sill’s music so compelling is understanding the background of the artist herself. Her heavy involvement in hard drugs offset her more tender spiritual yearnings as reflected in her music. The contrast between the two worlds she inhabited – music and heroin – give you the sense that these songs meant more than just a career for her. It must have been part of her struggle to remain in the light too.
Despite her efforts, she disappeared into the LA underground by the end of the 70s and died of an overdose. But, we’ve got her music now.