10 Best Judee Sill Songs

Judee Sill was a 1970s singer-songwriter from California. Her gentle songs were at odds with her tumultuous lifestyle. She spent time in prison for armed robbery and learnt music while serving as a Church organist at a reform school. She also worked as a hooker and struggled with heroin addiction during her lifetime. Despite her troubled background and obscurity, Sill’s work has been admired by songwriters like Warren Zevon, XTC’s Andy Partridge, and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold.

Sill’s recording career started promisingly – she was the first artist signed to David Geffen’s Asylum label, while she opened for Crosby and Nash. But her albums never sold well and she became disheartened opening for rock acts like Three Dog Night. Sill was dropped by Asylum after recording demos for a third record in 1974. Sill worked as a cartoonist before passing away in 1979 – she struggled with pain from a car accident, as well as addiction.

Despite a skimpy catalogue, Sill’s musical voice is distinctive. Her musical arrangements were sophisticated, with her vocal arrangements and orchestration recalling J.S. Bach. Sill wasn’t a Christian artist, but she was evidently fascinated by Christian liturgy. Sill described her music as “occult-holy-western-Baroque-gospel”.

10 Best Judee Sill Songs

#10 Waterfall

from Dreams Come True (2005)

The second disc of Dreams Come True consists of home demos. The sound quality is very rough, but given Sill’s catalogue is so small, it’s worth sifting through. The second disc includes ‘Dead Time Bummer Blues’, a track that garage-rock band The Seeds recorded in 1966. I’m picking ‘Waterfall’ more on potential than enjoyability – the sound quality makes it a tough listen, but there’s a pretty song there. If you want to hear ‘Waterfall’ in a more polished version, Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen has also recorded a version for a tribute album.

Through glistening falls
Like love comes to lead us home

#9 Soldier of the Heart

from Heart Food (1973)

‘Soldier of the Heart’ is a surprisingly straightforward song from Sill. With its fast pace, solid backbeat and conventional structure, you could imagine a mainstream artist like Linda Ronstadt singing it. But it’s a strong melody nonetheless. It also supplies the title of an upcoming documentary, Soldier of the Heart: The Forgotten Genius of Judee Sill.

Flames came rippin’ thru battle torn skies
Though wounded, I tried not to cry

#8 Enchanted Sky Machines

from Judee Sill (1971)

Sill told NME that her three main influences were Pythagoras, Bach and Ray Charles. The Bach influence is the most obvious, but there’s some R&B in this tune, with its bluesy piano figure and horns.

Then when the sceptics are wonderin’
Where all the faithful have flown
We’ll be on enchanted sky machines
The gentle are goin’ home

#7 Crayon Angels

from Judee Sill (1971)

‘Crayon Angels’ provides a beautiful opening to Sill’s debut record. I often think of her as a pianist since many of her most notable tunes are built around piano. Like much of her debut, however, ‘Crayon Angels’ features Sill on 12-string guitar. There’s a beautiful and subtle Cor Anglais part as well.

Crayon Angel songs are slightly out of tune
But I’m sure I’m not to blame

#6 That’s The Spirit

from Dreams Come True (2005)

Sill started demoing her third album in 1974 in Michael Nesmith’s studio. Due to Sill’s drug and health issues, as well as her lack of commercial success, her third album never progressed. The demos were eventually cleaned up for release by producer Jim O’Rourke in 2005. Opener ‘That’s The Spirit’ is a standout, built around a great piano figure. Sill’s music on her third album feels lighter and less ornate than before – it’s a shame she never had the chance to develop further.

Please lead me in the direction
Of my own resurrection

#5 The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown

from Judee Sill (1971)

The Washington Post’s Tim Page writes “there is sun-splashed, deliciously over-marinated California pop here, too. Brian Wilson would have been proud to have written ‘The Lamb Ran Away With the Crown’ (and the arrangement is so slick and pitch-perfect that he might have served as its producer).”

So I drew my sword and got ready
but the lamb ran away with the crown

#4 Lady-O

from Judee Sill (1971)

Before she started as a recording artist, Judee Sill was hired by a songwriter by The Turtles. Sill told Rolling Stone “So Jim Ponds called me up one day. He was with the Turtles at that time, and he had helped me out some when I was in jail. He said, ‘How’d you like to make $65 a week writin’ songs for Blimp Productions, and we’ll record ‘Lady-O’? Plus a $500 advance and a guitar.’ I said, ‘I’ll take it.’”

The Turtles’ gentle version is similar to Sill’s own version, which arrived a a couple of years later, on her 1971 debut album.

So on my heels, I’ll grow wings
Gonna ride silver strings
But I’ll see you in my holiest dreams,

#3 The Kiss

from Heart Food (1973)

Judee Sill was influential on XTC’s Andy Partridge, who told Uncut “She sits somewhere between the very controlled icing-sugar world of The Carpenters — the timbre of her voice is not dissimilar to Karen Carpenter — but her melodies are JS Bach with a 12-string guitar. They are some of the most achingly beautiful melodies and chord structures I have ever heard and I’d even say that ‘The Kiss’ is the most beautiful song ever recorded.”

Holy breath touching me, like a wind song
Sweet communion of a kiss

#2 The Donor

from Heart Food (1973)

Based on the traditional Church piece ‘Kyrie Eleison ‘, ‘The Donor’ is eight intense minutes of multi-tracked Sills in choral arrangements. It’s stunning, Sill’s musical vision at its most daring and unadulterated.

Now songs from so deep
While I’m sleepin’

#1 Jesus Was A Cross Maker

from Judee Sill (1971)

‘Jesus Was a Cross Maker’ was a late addition to Sill’s debut album. It was produced by Graham Nash, who gave Sill a more radio-friendly sound than her other work. There’s some sensitive bass playing filling out the arrangement, ‘Cross Maker’ was inspired by Sill’s breakup with Eagles associate J.D. Souther, as well as by reading Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.

In a 2014 interview, Souther reminisced about the first time he heard the song. “She came over to my house at about seven or eight in the morning,” he said. “Pounded on the door, woke me up, came in, sat on my bed, and said, ‘This is for you,’ very sourly. Then she played it for me.”

Sweet silver angels over the sea
Please come down flyin’ low for me

Are you a Judee Sill fan? Do you have a favourite?

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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. Yes, I’m a Sill fan. Great that you’re giving attention to this talented but largely unknown artist. I haven’t heard everything, but I love “Lady-O” and “Crossmaker.” Her odd enunciation bothers me somewhat, but I love The Turtles and Hollies interpretations of those songs.

    • She’s one of the most unique artists in popular music. It’s probably not surprising she wasn’t huge – her voice is a bit of an acquired taste, and even in the pre-MTV era good looks probably would have helped.

  2. I came across her story a few years ago and toyed with making a post on her. I found her when I read about Lady-O after hearing the Turtle’s version… and then I heard The Kiss and Jesus Was a Cross Maker by her and The Hollies. Those were the only 3 songs I knew.

    I’m listening to these now…I’m really impressed with The Lamb Ran Away With The Crown.

    • I like her – I found her first album in a secondhand store about 15-20 years ago. It’s not really reflected on this list, but she flirted with country sometimes too.

    • If it helps, there’s a clear top three for me, which The Kiss is part of. But it’s tough swimming against the opinion of you and Andy Partridge.

  3. I saw her in a music magazine one time, ages ago, and thought “I need to check out her music.” And now here I see her in your post, all this time later, and I think “I need to check out her music.”

  4. I have to confess I don’t know her but it sounds great. I will do some digging.

    Aside: On another page I made a comment about Justin Beiber cancelling his hometown Toronto concert on the day of. Turns out his condition is real and potentially serious, so I offer apologies to Justin, his fans etc.

    • Thanks for listening – I find her pretty interesting, although a lot of the appeal for me in his her handful of great songs (Jesus,,,, The Donor, and The Kiss).

    • The Bieber condition made the news here – I didn’t connect it to the cancellation you mentioned. I’m not a fan of Bieber’s music especially, but grateful for him helping popularise Carly Rae Jepsen.

    • Pretty similar to the last artist I covered on a song countdown (Sandy Denny). Both died in their 30s, in the late 1970s. Denny enjoyed a lot more acclaim during her lifetime, even though she never was huge commercially.

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