The Missing Music: Sandy Denny   Leave a comment

September 21, 2011

Part 4: Sandy Denny: The Dreamer

This is the fourth of ten posts about ten important women in the recording industry, each of whom died long before their time. If you haven’t already read through the introduction to this series, please follow this link to the “introduction“, and then go on to any of the individual posts.

Sandy Denny (1947-1978)

I first heard Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny, Sandy Denny, on a 1971 Fairport Convention album titled Unhalfbricking. She’s easily classified as a folksinger, out of the British School of the 1960s, but that’s too simple. As she began to stretch as an artist, she gravitated between solo projects and collaborative efforts, but never got lost in the shuffle. The voice was too beautiful to be overshadowed by anyone or anything else. If one evaluated Denny on the basis of the number of recorded tracks that bear her name, she’d already be highly ranked. The diversity of the players she worked with over the years—Dave Cousins, Richard Thompson, Gerry Conway, Trevor Lucas, Robert Plant to name a few—is quite impressive; Denny also built a name for herself in the late ’60s and early ’70s; hers was not one of those worldwide, easily recognized household names, but nevertheless, an artist with proven value as a performer, musician, and songwriter. Sandy Denny wrote the song “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”, a classic of the genre. (Many people mistakenly credit the song’s origins to Judy Collins, who had the first recording of the song that drew attention way beyond Denny’s or Fairport Convention’s core audience.)

There are many different tracks that stay with me after all this time, particularly tracks from her post-Fotheringay solo recording, The North Star Grassman And The Ravens: “Wretched Wilbur”, “Late November”, “Next Time Around”, and “Losing Game”. But my three favorite Denny compositions and recordings are “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”, “Listen, Listen”, and “I’m A Dreamer”; this last song by the English-born Denny unexpectedly contains a reference to America’s Kentucky Derby:

“I put a bet on, with a bookie, on a race they run over in Kentucky.

It’s lovely there this time of year so they say, I’ve got to get away”.

Anyone who’s been to the Derby or watched the Kentucky pomp and circumstance on television can attest to the soft, lush beauty of the event. That race is an annual throwback to a different era in America. And believe it or not the horse-racing imagery fits in this love song. And that is what “I’m A Dreamer” is; a song that’s as beautifully written as any love song. Denny’s lyrics go on to illustrate the tentative nature of love and relationships, and the images are compelling as she connects music to the relationship:

“When the music’s playing, That’s when it changes, and no longer do we seem like total strangers”.

Many a couple have had a moment when they’ve been able to sit with the one they love, put on some music, and let the melody, the lyrics, or both communicate their feelings, one to the other. Sandy Denny’s life wasn’t always smooth sailing and her early death left much undone. Perhaps that’s how she’ll be remembered, as a romantic songwriter within the chaos of her own life. Denny died in 1978. An autopsy revealed that she had an undiagnosed brain tumor. The dreamer was 31.

Prior: Tammi Terrell

Next: Minnie Riperton

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011


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Posted September 21, 2011 by Jazzdavid in Music History, Obituary, Popular Music, Uncategorized

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