Sunday, November 2, 2014

Elektra Records: Amazing Grace

One of Judy Collins biggest hits was an unlikely choice to make it to the top 15 – the traditional hymn by John Newton – “Amazing Grace.” Although a popular choice of Christian congregants, the song amazingly (pun intended) hit the top 15 twice in the early 1970s. Both versions were unique.

In 1972, the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and their bagpipe instrumental peaked at #11. Judy Collins’ a cappella version, which was akin to Joan Baez’s performance at Woodstock a year earlier, peaked at #15 in 1970. During the same period, Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin both recorded “Amazing Grace” – neither charted.

Collins’ love affair with “Amazing Grace” began when she was a member of an encounter group in the 1960s. At the end of each meeting, the group sang the only song which everyone had known the words – “Amazing Grace.” To Collins, the song was a culmination of a long line of protests of the Vietnam War. After doing all she could to end the war, nothing was left but to sing “Amazing Grace.” And that she did.

Using the vocal talents of a group of friends, Collins recorded the song at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University in New York City. The venue was selected because of its excellent acoustics. Although the song did extremely well in the US, it charted eight times in the UK between 1970 and 1972. The highest position was at #5.

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