Forgotten Songs of the ‘70s: Judee Sill
Now I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve written Forgotten Songs of the ‘70s but that’s because there haven’t been many songs from that decade that I’ve discovered that have hit me where I live. But a few months ago, I finally tracked down a copy of long-lost folk singer Judee Sill’s self-titled debut and heard “Jesus was a Cross Maker.” When I did, it instantly became one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.
The song begins just like most folk songs of the era with a piano and a voice but this voice is much more different and extraordinary than all the rest. Judee Sill had an angelic voice that suited the song’s subject so perfectly. The melding of her voice and the piano makes for an excellent combination. As the song continues to build, more instruments come into the mix including a layer of subtle percussion that gives the song more of pop radio sheen, which does nothing to dampen the song whatsoever. As Sill continues to sing, the song begins to get stuck in your head where it has no chance of leaving. By the song’s crescendo, the introduction of a heavenly choir of backup singers give the song a heavenly glow that leaves one to wonder why this song didn’t become huge all over radio in 1972.
It’s a damn shame, at that, because if it had become a hit, Judee Sill might still be here. Already suffering from depression, the failure of her first and second album, Heart Food, drove her over the edge. Battling a heroin addiction, she retreated from music and into isolation, apparently at one point becoming a prostitute to support her addiction. She died from various ailments in 1979, a complete waste of talent. Subsequently, her music has been rediscovered over the years and “Jesus was a Cross Maker” has begun to take its place in the pantheon of great seventies folk songs.