Happy 50th anniversary to Judee Sill, one of the greatest, most underrated albums of the Seventies that could easily be the long-lost cousin of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. From the acoustic opener “Crayon Angels” to the euphoric penultimate track “Enchanted Sky Machines,” her self-titled debut acts as both a fan favorite and a starting point for new listeners.
Take “Jesus Was a Cross Maker,” the album’s lead single, which Sill wrote about her devastating breakup with J.D. Souther. Joni Mitchell’s producer Henry Lewy worked on the album, but Sill specifically brought in Graham Nash — hot off the success of his supergroup CSNY — to produce the track. “I thought it could be a hit record,” Nash recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Because of my involvement, I think it brought her song to a wider audience. I knew exactly how to get it where she wanted.”
Although “Jesus Was a Cross Maker” failed to chart, Sill often cited it as one of the best songs she’d ever written, and it’s remained a favorite for fans of her music. You can watch her perform it in the sepia-toned clip above — shortly before the four-minute mark — onstage at the University of Southern California on April 1st, 1973. There are so few known videos of Sill performing, and it’s endearing to watch her climb the song’s octaves while sitting in flip-flops, her guitar resting across her white peasant shirt.
More than 40 years after her death of a drug overdose, Sill is finally getting the recognition she deserves; she’s the subject of the upcoming documentary Soldier of the Heart: The Judee Sill Story. In the meantime, though, we can enjoy her albums on streaming services. “I just think it’s utterly remarkable,” Souther said of the album. “Quite possibly the best first album I’ve ever heard of anyone’s.”