Various forms of the records-that-changed-my-life meme have been making the rounds lately, so I came up with my own version, which I call “The Twenty-Five Record Albums That Changed My Life.” Throughout the coming month, I’ll write about one of these albums each weekday in the order in which I first heard them.4. Judy Collins, In My Life (Elektra) Bob Nelson, my eighth-grade social-studies teacher, dropped a bomb on my sedate musical world when he introduced me to Bob Dylan in 1968. He then proceeded to up the ante by loaning me In My Life, the 1966 album in which Judy Collins, a singer-guitarist whose first four records had established her as a key figure in the folk-music revival of the Sixties, pulled a switch on her fans. No, Collins didn’t go electric. Instead, she put out a record on which her flute-like mezzo-soprano was accompanied by a studio orchestra—and not just any studio orchestra, either, but a chamber ensemble conducted by and featuring the colorful arrangements of Joshua Rifkin, the pianist-musicologist best remembered today for recording an album of piano rags by Scott Joplin released in 1970 that spearheaded the ragtime revival.
Not only does In My Life sound different from anything that Collins and her fellow folksingers had previously recorded, but it contains an unusually wide-ranging and imaginatively chosen assortment of material. In addition to the title track, a Lennon-McCartney ballad that first appeared on Rubber Soul, it includes, among other things, Leonard Cohen’s “Dress Rehearsal Rag” and “Suzanne,” Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street,” Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” Richard Fariña’s “Hard Lovin’ Loser,” Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” and Kurt Weill’s “Pirate Jenny” (from The Threepenny Opera, performed by Collins in Marc Blitzstein’s English-language version of Bertolt Brecht’s German lyric). Pop songs didn’t get much better than that in 1966, and Collins sang them all with her usual grace and delicacy.
Nowadays I (mostly) prefer the harder-edged original versions of the songs on In My Life, but Collins’ gentle lyricism was perfectly in tune with the inchoate longings of a painfully shy thirteen-year-old boy who had only just started to notice and be excited by the mysterious differences between men and women. Not surprisingly, I fell hopelessly in love with singer and songs alike, “Suzanne” in particular, and I would listen to In My Life countless times before moving away from Smalltown, U.S.A., and moving on to grittier musical fare.
(To be continued)
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Judy Collins, introduced by Tommy Smothers, performs “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. She is lip-synching to the orchestral accompaniment from In My Life: