Since emerging as part of the folk scene of the mid-’60s, Judy Collins has won the hearts of millions with her angelic vocals and moving songs. In a career spanning seven decades, she’s dabbled with everything from country to rock, but never strayed from the authentic, heartfelt performances that made her name. In 2019, she proved that age was no obstacle to success with Winter Stories, an album that gave her the first number one of her career. Here’s our pick of the ten best Judy Collins songs of all time.
10. Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)
Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season) was written by folk legend Pete Seeger in the late 1950s and bought to international attention in 1965 when the Byrds added some jangly guitars and close harmonies and turned it into a global smash. Four years later, Judy Collins added her superlative vocals and picked up a top 40 hit on the easy listening charts.
Joni Mitchell’s River has been covered so many times, it’s become in danger of losing some of its charms to ubiquity. But every now and again, a new version comes along that breathes fresh life into the classic. In 2019, Collins did exactly that on the wonderful album, Winter Stories. With its soaring vocals and exhilarating harmonies, it’s a magical, superbly nuanced interpretation that captures every ounce of the original’s magic.
8. The Blizzard
In 2019, Collins earned her first-ever US number one with Winter Stories, a collaboration with Norwegian musician Jonas Fjeld which took the top spot on the Billboard Top Bluegrass Albums chart. Described by Doug Heselgrave of No Depression as a “new folk classic,” it’s a late-career masterpiece, with Collins’ soaring vocals untouched by the passing of the years. One of its chief highlights is The Blizzard, a stunning six-minute epic with an ethereal beauty that’s impossible not to be moved by.
Suzanne was written by Leonard Cohen about his relationship with dancer Suzanne Verdal. Originally composed as a poem, it got reworked as a song in 1966 when Collins recorded it for her 1966 album, In My Life. Cohen later released it as the debut single from his 1967 album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, with the pair teaming up on several occasions to perform it together. Over 40 years after its release, it remains one of the most spellbinding songs in either artist’s catalog.
6. Chelsea Morning
Collins has always been a gifted interpreter. In 1969, she applied her magic to Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning. Released as a standalone single in April 1979, it reached number 25 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart after receiving heavy airplay on easy-listening radio. It also made a dent on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 78. For an alternative take, check out the re-recorded version from her 1999 album, Forever: An Anthology.
5. Both Sides Now
Another Joni Mitchell cover next, this time the lovely Both Sides Now. As with Chelsea Morning, Collins actually beat Mitchell to the recording of the song, releasing it a full year before it made its appearance on Mitchell’s 1969 album, Clouds. It became one of the biggest commercial hits of Collins’ career, reaching number 8 on the U.S pop singles chart, number 3 on the easy listening charts, and claiming the Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance. Oddly enough, Mitchell herself has said she doesn’t like Collins’ version… although judging by its enduring popularity, she’s the only one to think so.
4. Farewell to Tarwathie
Ranked one of the best Judy Collins songs of all time by returnofrock.com, Farewell to Tarwathie is one of the most spellbinding additions to Collins’ album, Whales & Nightingales, which reached number 17 on the Billboard pop chart on its release in November 1970. With humpback whales as her backup group, Collins delivers a transcendent performance that captures the cold, lonely existence of the song’s subject whalers to perfection.
3. Someday Soon
Someday Soon was written by Canadian singer-songwriter Ian Tyson and first recorded by Tyson and Sylvia Fricker in 1963 as the duo Ian & Sylvia. In 1968, Collins’ then-boyfriend, Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills and Nash, introduced her to the song. Recalling it years later, Collins said: “One evening as Stephen and I were driving back from Malibu we started talking about Who Knows Where the Time Goes. ‘I think we need one more song,’ Stephen said: ‘What about ‘Someday Soon’? The song was perfect for me, a Colorado girl at heart. I remembered all the lyrics and we hit the freeway singing in harmony…The next day we recorded ‘Someday Soon.'” Released as a single in January 1969, it reached number 55 on the Billboard Hot 100.
2. Amazing Grace
There can’t be many folk singers who haven’t performed Amazing Grace at some time or another, but few have managed to do it quite so well as Judy Collins. As with all of its readings, the words take on a different meaning depending on which ears they fall, but no matter how you interpret the lyrics, and no matter how they apply to each individual’s life, the stark simplicity and heartfelt poignancy of Collins’ version has a universal appeal. In 2017, the song was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”
1. Send in the Clowns
In 1975, Collins enjoyed one of the biggest chart successes of her career with her take on Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns. Her deeply moving rendition of the classic took her to number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and ended up hanging around the charts for 11 weeks in total. Two years later, it was back again, this time peaking at number 19 during a 16-week stay. At the 1976 Grammy Awards, Collins picked up the Grammy for Song of the Year and a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance. All these years later, it’s still as hauntingly beautiful as ever.