10 Best Sandy Denny Songs

Sandy Denny is best-known to rock fans for her guest vocal on Led Zeppelin’s ‘Battle of Evermore’, and her contribution to acclaimed Fairport Convention records like Liege & Lief. But she also carved out a solo career as a singer-songwriter in the 1970s. Denny’s an impressive vocalist, warm and expressive, and she’s arguably the UK’s best female solo artist from the early 1970s singer-songwriter era. She often wrote on the piano for her 1970s work – she was classically trained as a child.

This list focuses on Denny’s catalogue after she left Fairport Convention in 1969. Her notable songs for Fairport Convention, ‘Fotheringay’ and ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, are already on my list of favourite Fairport songs, so there seemed little point in repeating them here.

The first Denny album I bought was a budget compilation entitled The Best of Sandy Denny: The Millennium Collection. This list is very similar to that 10-track compilation, which almost unerringly picks out the best moments in Denny’s catalogue. Nine of its ten songs are on this list; the tenth, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’, wasn’t eligible.

Denny’s catalogue is tragically small – this list is drawn from her album with folk-rock band Fotheringay in 1970, her reunion with Fairport on 1975’s Rising for the Moon, and four 1970s solo albums. Denny passed away in 1978 at the age of 31, attributed to her drinking and injuries sustained after falling down a flight of stairs.

Even in a small catalogue, there are significant omissions – Denny’s gorgeous reading of ‘Blackwaterside’, ‘The Lady’ from Sandy, and the heavily orchestrated ‘All Our Days’ from 1977’s Rendezvous.

10 Best Sandy Denny Songs

#10 It Suits Me Well

from Sandy, 1972
Denny puts on a working-class accent for this tune – its three verses tell the stories of a gypsy, a sailor and an old-time circus performer. Like all of the songs on this list, Denny’s playing with folk-rock royalty – along with her piano, Richard Thompson’s guitar and John Kirkpatrick’s concertina are key ingredients.

#9 Like An Old Fashioned Waltz

from Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, 1974
Nostalgia is a common theme for Denny. It’s loud and clear on this stately piano ballad, an evocation of the 1930s. “Being a romantic at heart, I tried to capture the magic of an old Hollywood movie. Two dancers alone in an enormous deserted ballroom. But where does the orchestra hide? Notice when the strings come in!” Denny’s vocal is especially gorgeous here. Country queen Emmylou Harris later covered ‘Like An Old Fashioned Waltz’.

#8 Listen, Listen

from Sandy, 1972
Denny is on 12-string guitar and Richard Thompson on mandolin for this lovely song. Denny also recorded a French version, ‘Écoute, Écoute’. It’s the quintessential Denny song with its themes of escape and back to basics.

#7 Nothing More (Fotheringay)

from Fotheringay, 1970
After leaving Fairport Convention, Denny formed another folk-rock band – Fotheringay, named after a song she wrote for her former band. It featured her future husband Trevor Lucas on vocals and guitar, as well as guitarist Jerry Donahue, bassist Pat Donaldson, and drummer Gerry Conway. Their debut LP opened with the foreboding ‘Nothing More’, a song that Denny wrote about Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson.

#6 Late November

from The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, 1971
On Denny’s first solo album, she still surrounded herself with her former bandmates from Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. Richard Thompson co-produced the record and plays the terrific stinging solo. With the sophisticated chord changes and impressionistic lyrics, ‘Late November’ feels apiece to the progressive rock of the era. It’s actually written about Denny’s premonitions of the traffic accident that killed Fairport drummer Martin Lamble in 1969 – a dream she remembered after watching a jet fighter crash into the sea at Scotland’s St Andrew’s beach.

#5 One More Chance (Fairport Convention)

from Rising For The Moon, 1975
Denny rejoined Fairport Convention for a single album in the mid-1970s. Working with superstar producer Glyn Johns, it seemed like Denny’s best chance at the stardom she craved. But its material wasn’t as strong as her solo work, aside from the standout closer ‘One More Chance’. It’s another great Denny piano ballad, this time more epic and sweeping than usual, not miles away from Pink Floyd. Jerry Donahue’s lead guitar work is excellent.

#4 Next Time Around

from The North Star Grassman and the Ravens, 1971
Denny often wrote portraits in song, and ‘Next Time Around’ is about her former boyfriend, American folkie Jackson C. Frank. Frank had convinced Denny to give up her nursing career and focus on singing. Frank released a single album in 1965, produced by Paul Simon, before returning to the US.

#3 I’m A Dreamer

from Rendezvous, 1977
Denny’s final solo album is the least-loved in her discography. The arrangements remove any vestiges of folk, instead shooting for the mainstream by smothering her songs in strings. The stuffed arrangement works for the pretty ballad ‘I’m A Dreamer’. There’s a magical moment where the female backing vocalists echo Denny’s final line – “the truth is I don’t think I’ll ever go”. The backing vocalists include Claire Torrey, famous for her contribution to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’.

#2 It’ll Take A Long Time

from Sandy, 1972
Denny uses some excellent musicians on this meditative tune – Richard Thompson is on acoustic and electric guitars, while John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick is on organ. Most striking is Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel, which winds around Denny’s vocals and shares space with the organ and guitar without ever feeling crowded. It’s a lovely song – the key change from the verse to the chorus gives the song a subtle lift.

#1 Solo

from Like An Old Fashioned Waltz, 1974
Denny often returns to the same themes in her solo work – a rejection of material trappings and a yearning for a simpler life. She declares on ‘Solo’ that she has “no time for the gent with the Mulliner Bentley”, but she’s always kept a unicorn. There’s a lovely descending chord sequence in the verse, where bassist Dave Pegg shines. It contrasts with the big chorus with its stacked vocals and Richard Thompson’s electric guitar. Thompson’s guitar solo is notably restrained, with Dave Mattacks’ drums dropping out altogether for the first half.

There are a few covers of ‘Solo’ – indie band Okkervil River have recorded it, as has former Marillion frontman Fish. Fish said, “If I was to choose my all-time favourite song then this would probably be it.”

Did I miss your favourite Sandy Denny song?

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. Do you know the name of this song she’s singing? This track is named Remember, but when I looked for a Sandy Denny song called Remember I couldn’t find one. And I looked at Fairport Convention too. This blew my mind when I heard it. But it’s just her vocal laid on top of the track even though it sounds original. And I know she didn’t actually sing on the track because it’s from the 2000s and she had been dead for years already. When I listened to her other stuff I didn’t like it half as much as I like this, Even though I thought I would.


      • You know how I found out? Someone in the comment section on YouTube mentioned it . A couple people actually. I shoulda looked there a long time ago.

  2. This playlist is really great. I’m mainly aware of Sandy Denny’s name. Other than a handful of Fairport Convention, I haven’t listened to her music. And of course her magic appearance on Zep’s “Battle of Evermore”. Her vocals were just stunning.!

    My former bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany is a fan. During one of our occasional extended music conversations, he told me Denny had the most beautiful voice in folk-rock – something along these lines.

    Based on my first impression of this playlist, I can see why he thinks very highly of her.

    • Thanks for listening! I love those ten songs. She pretty much was the queen of folk-rock, and probably could have made it as a jazz singer too.

  3. I’ve heard her mostly with Fairport Convention with a few tracks here and there. The song I know the best is Who Knows Where The Time Goes? Her songs are complex…I can see why the masses never caught on but it’s great.

    • I think she simplified out a bit as she went on – the earlier stuff on this playlist is a bit proggy,

      • I always wanted to hear more music by her. I’ve read more about her than I’ve actually heard. I’m going to listen to some today.

  4. I found the song . It’s called Autopsy, on an album from 1969 called Unhalfbricking. But it doesn’t sound as good in the original version.

    • It’s a pretty cool song to dig up, pun intended. Unhalfbricking is my least favourite of the three (!) 1969 Fairport albums, but I love the cover of Dylan’s ‘Percy’s Song’.

  5. Good summary and list, Graham.

    Same as my aversion to John Martyn and Dealer though, I really don’t like Solo. It grinds on melodramatically made worse by Dave Mattacks over elaboration and the live version I have is even worse. I fully accept that the lyrics are great though.

    I only saw her once in 1975 at the Drury Lane Theatre when she was completely the star of the show after release of Rising For the Moon. One More Chance is a very good high octane song and can just about carry the excess run throughs of Mattacks but I much prefer Stranger to Himself with her writing confident and spare and emphasized by its military drum.

    I’d have The Pond and the Stream and John the Gun, which she always did a great job of live. Sandy wrote mostly medium paced songs and used covers to vary the tempo so dramatic songs and treatments strike home to me more. Her vocal on Banks of the Nile is arguably the best of her career but its such a shame the band sound as if they are asleep until Gerry Conway comes in – I think they were trying for masterful restraint but without Thompson’s finesse it is just dull.

    I agree with Nothing More and its telling phrase ‘not even me’ suggests the hurt underneath the surface.

    There is a good body of work after the first Fairport incarnation but it was always going to be difficult to follow Tam Lin, A Sailor’s Life, Farewell Farewell, Autopsy, Fotheringay and above all Who knows Where the Time Goes? Maybe the real shame is that she didn’t grasp what a great singer and songwriter she was and her confident sparky persona lay on top of deep vulnerability and doubt.

    One of the true greats.

    • Thanks for he detailed response!

      Mattacks’ drumming has never really annoyed me. I like him on XTC’s Nonsuch as well.

      I agree about Banks of the Nile – Swarbrick might have worked well there too, but it drags on for a bit long.

      It’s a shame she never made it big – she had the voice and the songs.

  6. One of the best rock bios I’ve read in recent years was Clinton Heylin’s “What We Did Instead of Holidays: A History of Fairport Convention and Its Extended Folk-Rock Family,” which did an incredible job of explaining the group’s knotted family tree, and really brought Sandy to life in a far more three-dimensional way than I’d experienced before. Worth a read for a fan, for sure!!!


    • That sounds cool! I was reading that one reason Denny left Fairport was because the other members found Trevor Lucas really annoying.

  7. The one that I’ve heard has Solo and Old-fashioned Waltz on it. I thought Solo was about how her band broke up and everyone went solo and she was supposed to become a big star and everything. I never heard any of the other albums but I’ve listened to a Fairport Convention best-of that had a lot on it. I think it had everything they ever did cuz it was really long.

    • That’s my least favourite of her first three solo albums – it’s a bit too sedate, and it has the jazz covers that interrupt the flow. But it’s quite possible that if you don’t like that one, you won’t like the others either.

  8. I don’t think she was ever in the right context maybe. Her voice was fabulous but maybe the music she surrounded herself with didn’t bring it out very good. Maybe she needed something more spectacular to match her voice. I think that’s why her stuff doesn’t make much of an impression on me. But look how spectacular she sounded even in the context of the techno song. That happens a lot where even people with the greatest voices have trouble finding the right music for them and makes them sound as good as they really are.

    • I think she could have pretty much thrived in any voice-centered genre – her voice would have worked great in a trip-hop band for instance.

    • I got a cheap copy of Liege and Lief at a department store years ago – that’s where I started.

  9. Was not familiar with Sandy Denny by name, nor with Fairport Convention, but she had such an angelic voice. I was familiar with the song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” by hearing Judy Collins’ version, which was on a 45 single with “Both Sides Now”. And I perked up seeing John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick’s name mentioned, as I became familiar with him from his collaborative work with Welsh duo The Puss Puss Band, whose music I’ve written about several times over the past six years.

    • Bundrick pops up on quite a few Island label records in the 1970s – Bob Marley and John Martyn too. I didn’t know he was still doing stuff though – that’s cool!

  10. I was reading one of your recent posts and this one popped up in the also recommended footer. I’d been in an English folk/rock mood of late, so put these 10 songs on my regular home Spotify playlist and they have been just rocking my world . . . a super fine job picking the best by an amazing artist. I’d heard all these albums ages ago, but not much since. Was good to be reminded of the real gems on them!

    • Thank you and glad you enjoyed. As I said in the post, I used to have a ten-track Denny compilation and it had 9 of those same songs. Small catalogue so probably a bit more consensus about what her best songs are.

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